Brandishing a CD and looking quite pleased with himself, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad on Monday managed to make a bit of a pun when responding to the Minister of Communications. "Let Ravi Prasadji... Ravi Ravi Shankar Prasad ji listen to this CD, and if there is anything wrong in it, then Ravi Prasadji should move a privilege notice against me," the Congress leader said, in the Rajya Sabha.
The CD in question was the video of Azad giving a speech at an event organised by the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind organisation of Islamic scholars last week. There, Azad had spoken of the need for Muslims to vocally condemn fundamentalists of any religion, including within Islam. He insisted that there was no struggle between Hindus and Muslims in the country and instead that there was only a battle of ideologies.
None of this made the news. Instead the headlines blared out Azad decision to bring up one other organisation: the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
We oppose organisations like ISIS, the way we oppose RSS. If those among us in Islam too do wrong things, they are in no way different from the RSS.— Ghulam Nabi Azad.
As can be expected, Azad's decision to stick the Islamic State in the same sentence as the RSS – the guiding organisation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – did not go down well.
"Azad comparing ISIS with RSS exhibits the intellectual bankruptcy of Congress and its unwillingness to deal with fundamentalist and cruel forces like ISIS," said RSS leader J Nand Kumar.
In Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that nothing is a bigger threat to the world currently than ISIS. "It is using tanks and armies against other religions," he said. "It offers instructions on how to rape women. To suggest it is like another organisation gives it respectability - this is what you have done, perhaps inadvertently."
While Jaitley's framework for the argument might be a little flawed – comparing the RSS to ISIS doesn't make the latter more respectable, it only attempts to tar the former – he has a point.
Azad insisted in Parliament that he didn't actually make any comparison, and asked for a privilege motion to boot him out of the House if the video proved him wrong. But his own reading of the speech he gave makes it clear that he effectively made the connection.
Hum aisi ISIS wali jaisi sangathan – listen to this 10 times, ministerji – organisations like ISIS, we are against them as much as we are against RSS. Where is the comparison? If I said RSS and ISIS are the same, that is a comparison.— Ghulam Nabi Azad
Azad is falling back on a technicality that is not only trite but also tragic. It is exceedingly unfair, and yet the impression that moderate Muslims don't speak out against terror and organisations like ISIS have stuck. This great piece attempts to demolish that impression, and yet, it persists.
While Indian Muslims have made their opposition to ISIS clear – through a fatwa signed by 70,000 clerics – the matter gets a little murkier when it comes to the Congress. That party has an embarrassing record on issues of national security and terrorism, coupled with a truly dangerous history of cynically politicising terror cases, from Ishrat Jahan to Afzal Guru, in a way that does the Muslim community no good.
Despite all this, the party has still somehow managed to hold on to its image as protector of Indian Muslims with leaders like Azad retaining some influence over the community. This mean the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha could have used his Jamiat speech to make important points about the nature of Islamic terror and the radicalisation of India Muslism, points that he did indeed touch on during his talk.
But he then went on to make a facile comparison to the RSS. That organisation is certainly dangerous, has fascist tendencies and continues to use violence and intimidation to expand its influence. But it is not the Islamic State, which is a terrorist organisation that uses warfare, murder and destruction as a means of grabbing and maintaining its hold over a huge swathe of land in West Asia.
Azad had to have known the impact his comments would have made – while Parliament is in session particularly. And if he wasn't expecting the media attention then it would only underscore how out of touch the Congress's top leadership is. |
Jaitley is being charitable by saying Azad might have inadvertently erred in putting the RSS and ISIS in the same sentences, because these days, making the comparison is like connecting just about anything to Hitler and the Nazis – it ends up devaluing your own argument rather than making a point.