Minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah has virtually endorsed the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)’s view that all Indians were Hindus, saying she had no qualms about the term Hindu being applied equally to all citizens as a label of “national identity”.
Drawing a series of analogies from Islam, she said the Arab world called India “al-Hind” and even invoked Prophet Mohammed to say that his aunt’s daughter was named “Hinda”. Arabia’s best sword was called “Hinda” too, she said.
During a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, in which spoke about the BJP’s equation with minorities, “love jihad” and policy-making, Heptullah said the idea that all Indians were Hindus had “evolved in history”.
“Anything beyond the Hindu-Kush mountains and on this side of the Sind river is Hind. In Persian, they call it Hindustani…where the people of India live (sic),” she said.
The word Hindu actually originally referred to the national identity of people who live in this land, she said, echoing the right. “I look at it very rationally. One should not forget history.”
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had on August 17 said India was a “Hindu nation”. The right-wing ideological wellspring of the BJP argues that all Indians are Hindus in a cultural sense, despite the country’s secular Constitution and plethora of religions, races and cultures.
Bhagwat’s assertion had led the Opposition and minorities, especially Muslims, to say they fear a tougher cultural climate under the BJP. Heptullah however said the BJP “recognized” that minorities had their own individual identities too. “We respect that.”
Asked if it was right to call India’s minorities “Hindu Muslims” and “Hindu Christians”, the minister said: “It is not about right or wrong. It is about history.” She said if some people called Muslims Hindi or Hindu, that should not be “so sensitive” because it didn’t affect their “faith”.
Heptullah, a veteran Congress party member before she switched to the BJP in 2004, argued Muslims doubted the BJP because the party had been always depicted as “anti-Muslim”, saying nothing however about events, such as the destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992.
“All parties treated Muslims as a vote-bank. That bank has become diwaliya (insolvent) now because they kept taking from it without putting anything back. The BJP manifesto is very clear and comprehensive on what we plan to do for minorities.”
Asked how her government planned to reconcile the development objectives in the BJP manifesto with the growing assertiveness of the Hindu right, Heptullah said: “These doubts are created by the Opposition. Communal riots have been common only in non-BJP states.”
On the burning issue of love jihad, which Hindu outfits see as a Muslim plot designed to convert Hindu girls, Heptullah mirrored the concerns of the right, saying if a Muslim girl married a Hindu, her “parents would react in the same way”. However, she said playing up of such issues tended to “take the focus away from development”.