Among the medley of stories on national television was an item about a graveyard for the Muslim community in Panjim, where loudspeakers have now been banned with the consent even of those using them. The argument in favour of the ban got clinched when it was pointed out that “loudspeakers are used not in graveyards, but in houses of worship”. Such a view assumes that sound of the decibel level found in a discotheque is a requisite for the practice of faith, when in fact the reverse is true. The magnification of sound as a consequence of being expressed through a loudspeaker makes it more, rather than less difficult to achieve the contemplative state that is most conducive to calm devotion. The reason why discos are loud is because they encourage a mood of anticipated pleasure. Excitement gets generated through the high decibel music played within the room where dancing takes place. Surely it is not such a mood that is sought to get replicated in religious places, but the opposite. Of course, it is true that often religious issues generate heat and passion that sometimes lead to arguments and even fights. However, such emotions are not natural to the spirit of genuine religious experiences, which are deepest in an ambience conducive to contemplation. Which is an ambience from where loudspeaker noise has been excluded. All loudspeaker noise. Some time ago, the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh silenced loudspeakers in a temple compound, while permitting the same in a nearby mosque. In like manner, the Trinamool Congress regime in Kolkata had sought to downscale Puja celebrations in some locations, “so as not to offend minority sentiments”. Aside from the Wahhabi fringe, it is ridiculous to assume that Muslims would object to the celebration of a festival as joyous as Durga Puja, and by making such an assumption, the Trinamool Congress is continuing the policy pursued by the Congress Party since Mahatma Gandhi gave support to the 1919 Khilafat agitation of the Ali brothers. This is to ignore the moderate majority of Muslims and treat only the extreme fringe as representative of the world’s second largest religious denomination. The empowerment that successive national governments in India gave this fringe has resulted in the skewing of policy to favour the fringe at the cost of the overwhelming majority within the Muslim community. Such empowerment of a few has, for generations, created an impasse in matters such as a resolution of the Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi legacies. So long as these three leftover problems from history do not get remedied, the danger exists of a poisoning of inter-communal relations in a way that goes against the interests of both Muslims and Hindus.
Mahatma Gandhi entered on a programme of consistent accommodation of fringe elements in the Muslim community with the noblest of intentions. He wanted a united country and was opposed to Partition, seeing in such an outcome, a moral and political defeat. After the shock to Britain of the 1914-19 war and afterwards that caused by the 1939-45 war, there was zero doubt that the British would soon hand over their subcontinental empire to its legitimate inhabitants. Freedom became an outcome close at hand once the loyalty of Indian members of the armed forces to the British Empire began to disintegrate from 1945 onwards in a series of mutinies and desertions. The real task before the Congress leadership was not the (by now inevitable) securing of freedom, but the preservation of unity within the subcontinent of India. Who would prevail, Mahatma Gandhi and his efforts at unity, or M.A. Jinnah and his bid to divide the country?
Jinnah won and Mahatma Gandhi lost, although in our history books this is not seen as a defeat, but as a natural consequence of the perfidy of the British. In reality, partition was not inevitable, except that Jinnah serially outsmarted the Congress leadership, transforming an initially weak Muslim League hand into a winning one on the back of the numerous mistakes made by the Congress Party. These include the resignation of its provincial ministries in 1939, the futile effort to “non-cooperate” with the war effort and the assumption of moral equivalence between the Axis and the Allied powers. By backing the latter during the war, Jinnah accumulated goodwill among British policymakers sufficient to ensure the final success of the “Divide & Quit” lobby. After the war, the Congress Party conceded equal representation to the much smaller Muslim League in the pre-Independence government, an advantage that was used by Jinnah to sabotage the functioning of the Congress-led government, including by ensuring immunity for individuals such as Shaheed Suhrawardy, who let loose gangs in Bengal that rampaged through a terrified Hindu community. In tune with his nature, Mahatma Gandhi forgave Suhrawardy and even took part in several joint activities with the then Chief Minister of Bengal. The post-1919 deference of the Congress leadership to the escalating demands of the Muslim League succeeded not in keeping India united, but in dividing the country, just as a similar deference to fringe elements since 1947 has resulted in a less than satisfactory situation concerning communal relations in India.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Dipak Misra is the author of the SC edict that the national anthem should get played before any film gets screened in a theatre. Presumably, such an order increases the Patriotism Quotient within the filmgoer population. Hopefully, the CJI will now consider passing another order, which is that loudspeakers get banned in all religious places of worship in the country. That would be a significant step towards ensuring the contemplative atmosphere needed for the tranquillity that is the core of faith.