Some student from Aligarh Muslim University asked this to Rahul Gandhi; he used the term ‘wazir-e-azam’ to make the Muslimness stand out. Stupid.
I am happy with the way Rahul responded:
“Merit is the only password for the top job in the country, religion is no qualification. What will clinch the issue of one’s suitability (for PM) is one’s competence. Other factors are not just secondary, but insignificant. Let me tell you that even when you do have a Muslim prime minister, he will be a prime minister because he is the most capable person.”
Absolutely. It does not matter that merit is often not the criterion; there is nepotism, there is dynasty, there are mai-baaps waiting with protégées tugging at their dhoti-sherwani-saree. Yet, it is an important statement and it is time people stopped posing such queries. What does one expect from a Muslim PM, anyway?
S/he has to follow the Constitution, has to be answerable to the party General Secretary, has to do Diwali patakhas and Eid iftaar and as a sidelight add some Christmas Santa act and Sikh stuff and whatever it is that Buddhists and Jains do. In effect, be a part-time kafir, if you follow the rule books as interpreted by some rule-book types. After all this fancy dress competition, you make the rounds of various dead people’s graves, place flowers, and look sombre. Then put on an international face and go to summits where you make India sound like a global superpower, and add some concern about the environment and terrorism; usually it is the same thing if you follow Obama and not Al (I mean Gore, not Capone).
You return home and deal with the saffron rightwing, who will say you are going green. The jamaati rightwing will expect you to be jamaat type. Then the PM will hold forth on secularism this and secularism that. The world will say, look, look, India has a Muslim PM. We will be called a real democracy, while Wazir-e-whatever has no clue about little bastis, unless it is election time and one snotty Dalit kid is placed on her/his lap. Back to the jeep, Mossie begum/saab will ask for sanitiser. Some enthusiastic bloke will whisper if it has to be halal. PM will be in a fix so someone will bring out ittar-soaked wet wipes. Everyone will applaud secular India, secular PM, secular people. When what really is happening is that it is the religions, stupid. So, cut it out.
We had a Muslim President who happily signed the Emergency edict. (Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed during Indira Gandhi’s time.) Corrupt people in power, spineless fellows will remain just that. Their faith should be relegated to the private domain. It has no place in the public sphere at all.
Therefore, thumbs up to Rahul. Although he kind of tempered it by promising “there would be 30 young Muslim faces in the political centrestage in five years”. Why? How will they suddenly spring out from the merit quota?
And why must they be referred to as Muslims at all? The day we stop adding such tags in public life, we can say we have truly grown up as a society and a polity.