Praveen Togadia can at best be described as a macabre clown. But he certainly takes himself seriously. Elated with Gujarat he has announced a count down to Hindu Rashtra in India. Secularism has two years to live. Curiously the RSS and BJP have reacted very carefully. We have been a Hindu Rashtra from time immemorial, says the RSS; we are a Hindu Rashtra by definition but we do not subscribe to Hindu Raj, adds the BJP. Words, not substance, is what Abbas Naqvi will address, while Shahnawaz Hussain will say none of this was discussed in his presence. Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj will inevitably say they cannot answer for the VHP and the PM will write more poetry about Neela Akash. Let us assume that Praveen Tagodia is no spoilt brat of the Sangh Parivar and that he believes what he says. Perhaps he should tell the Hindu majority of this country what the Hindu Rashtra would be like. Will there be any Fundamental Rights at least for Hindus “ Freedom of expression and conscience, for instance? There are, after all, different points of view in Hinduism as well. Will Nirad Chaudhary's book on Hinduism be banned? Will Sanskrit be a compulsory language? Will Gandhiji's bhajan Ishwar Allah Tero Naam have to be rewritten without reference to Allah? Will Arya Samaj followers have to return to idol worship? Will Hindu women have to fortify themselves to perform Sati and Jauhar? Will everyone look alike, speak alike, feel like Praveen Togadia? Any takers?

What a Hindu is or does is certainly no business of non-Hindus, in a sense. At least if it does not interfere with their lives. It is consistent with liberal thinking that individuals and groups choose their own conduct and preferences. In that backdrop, Togadia has only an intra Hindu community issue to handle. But what makes him target Muslims? How do they stand in the way of the Hindu way of life? If Hindus want to live their life in a particular manner, and they can collectively decide that, Muslims would not be affected. Similarly, if Muslims want to live their lives differently, Hindus have no reason to worry. Neither community can expect the other to change their preferences to suit their views. If a secular State does not prevent Hindus and Muslims from pursuing their respective priorities what more can a Hindu Rashtra offer? It is too late in the day to get anybody to give up his or her cultural aspirations. Freedom once known is not easily surrendered!

Togadia and Modi may have created a false impression that the Hindu way of life was under attack. He believes that jehad is directed against Hindus. But jehad is something different and the truth is that if a ˜jehadi' was behind the attack in Godhra he could not have been a friend of Muslims. There will be no Rashtra at all, Hindu or otherwise, if Togadia and Modi divide the country into two “ between those who understand that there is no threat from one religion to another, and those who believe that there is. Fortunately, it would not be wrong to say that, in the ultimate analysis, there are many more who want to keep the country together than a few hysterical souls who see ghosts everywhere and who leave skeletons along their footsteps.

On the assumption that a Hindu Rashtra will not necessitate the expelling of Muslims from India, there remains the issue of what irks Togadia. His intense concern about terrorism seems limited to his perception of jehad. But the terrorists are operating in the North East as well. The Land armies and Naxalities in Bihar and Andhra, part of the planned revolutionary corridor, are no less threat to India. Dawood Ibrahim may fit the description for Togadia but sundry Chhota Rajans undermine constituted authority just as much. The Maoists of Nepal are not exactly our friends and the Tamil Tigers have already caused us grave injury. None of these are jehadis and may well have thee same grievances as the so-called jehadis. On the other hand, it is a significant fact that the Al Qaida did not draw a single Indian Muslim volunteer although both British and American delinquents had joined them.

In any case, what would Togadia like the Muslims of India to do? Give up sending their children to madarsas? To rebuke, discourage or punish erring madarsas (not one of which has conclusively been shown to be unpatriotic thus far) should we create a situation that Muslim children do not get an education at all? Are there enough schools where they can find place without having to pay unaffordable fees? To keep 15 per cent of our population illiterate and uneducated cannot possibly be good policy. What else? Give up the claim to Babri Masjid? The trouble is that there is no one who can claim to speak and negotiate exclusively on behalf of Muslims. That is what Togadia will not concede and indeed Muslims do not expect. The ˜Sole Spokesman' was rejected deliberately and firmly by Indian Muslims in 1947. He cannot be switched on and off at Togadia's convenience. Furthermore, our average Hindu too will have serious reservations about a sole representative of Hinduism.

Give up the right to four marriages, Togadia might still insist. I wouldn't lose much sleep over that. Hopefully he would apply that prescription to his community as well. Statistics should show him, of late, who is into greater matrimonial alliances. In Islam it is true that four marriages are permissible “ but under very strict injunction of emotional, physical and financial equality. The world is changing and even Indian Muslims are not entirely unaffected. Surely Togadia would only be interested in the practical relevance of Muslim behaviour rather than its theoretical or theological validity. Everyone knows that polygamy is not an issue. What is an issue is how people treat each other, married or unmarried. I am not sure that he can be a role model in that area.

Exasperate Togadia with these arguments and he will, inevitably, return to Godhra. It was horrible. It was inhuman. But that a Hindu Rashtra is the answer is not so obvious. It is part of a terrorist campaign against India and we need to fight it unitedly. That is what we did when an armed police trooper, by religious persuasion a Muslim, joined his colleagues to take on the terrorists who tried to defile the Akshersham temple.

There are undoubtedly differences and disagreements between Hindus and Muslims, as there are many within themselves. But that does not make conflict imperative. On the contrary, there are shared experiences, values and aspirations that make us a nation. Anyone who wants to divide us is not a patriot. If he uses fear and violence he is no less a terrorist, being of majority or minority notwithstanding.

Salman Khurshid

Chairman, Department of Policy Planning & Coordination (DEPCO)

All India Congress Committee(AICC)