Source: Pakistan Today
BY HASAN AFTAB SAEED
The CDA has halted the construction of the boundary wall of the Krishna Mandir citing technical reasons. But now that the issue has been thoroughly politicised, it is unlikely anybody is going to want to touch it with a bargepole any time soon. The court has decided that the matter of funding is for the executive to decide. The executive branch has, in turn, referred the hot potato to the Council of Islamic Ideology, where it is likely to rest for a while.
It all started in the Zardari era, but that history, interesting as it is, is for another day. On the 3rd of this month, Kanwal Parvez of the PML(N) moved a resolution in the Punjab Assembly demanding that the government reverse its decision to devote for the temple funds out of taxes collected from hardworking citizens. The resolution called this a violation of the Quran and Sunnat. While it did not use the word ‘Muslims’, it mirrored the sentiment expressed by numerous religious scholars, viz. Muslims could never acquiesce to their taxes being used for such a purpose.
Parvez appeared on TV the very same day to explain her position. She started in fine style by repeating the standard formula that as a matter of principle Hindus, and all other minorities, were free to observe their religion. But lest anybody went overboard putting the principle to practice, she was quick to point out the following: 1) The state of Pakistan was founded in the name of One God, so it was unbecoming for the government to help build a temple in its capital. 2) Building such a large temple was certain to send a very confusing message to the outsiders, and to cause conflict among the citizens. 3) Since there was already a temple in Islamabad, there was no need to build another, considering the meagre population of Hindus there. This last point was the only legitimate concern of hers and one wishes she had only raised this one. But that would have hardly appealed to the targeted constituency, and the honourable member is way too smart for that. Oh, who am I kidding? Smart money is on her merely following orders from above; how much independence (and initiative) these members have is an open secret.
Politicians will after all be politicians. They often feel obliged to appeal to the baser instincts of their constituencies, so it all comes down to the common folks. Many of whom unfortunately feel that life would be unbearably boring without this sort of drama, no small thanks to our religious ‘scholars’.
Not one week after this, on the same issue in the National Assembly, Khawaja Asif – always keen to portray PML(N) as more liberal than John Locke himself – delivered a thundering speech in favour of more understanding and tolerance for other religions. He also pointed out (correctly) that the constitution guaranteed equal fundamental rights to everybody regardless of colour and creed. For once, it was hard to disagree with Asif; although if the past is anything to go by, and with the resolution freshly moved in the Punjab Assembly, this was but a continuation of PML(N)’s cynical policy to secure all bases including the crucial one in Washington. The party had thus offered something to all quarters without letting anybody know whether it was for or against the construction. Mission accomplished.
Those who have followed the happenings in this country for any length of time were hardly surprised to see PML(N) charmingly equivocal on the issue. Recall that all through the Mumtaz Qadri trial, sentencing, appeal and execution, Capt. Safdar was on the forefront of the campaign that supported Qadri, declaring him a saint. This was when others in the party were either silent or else making all the politically correct noises. Shahbaz Sharif’s 2010 appeal to the Taliban, as chief minister, to ‘spare’ Punjab because both the Taliban and the PML(N) had been fighting against Musharraf and foreign dictation, just when the rest of the party was playing to the international gallery is also on record. Madness? Sure. Without a method? Hardly.
Politicians will after all be politicians. They often feel obliged to appeal to the baser instincts of their constituencies, so it all comes down to the common folks. Many of whom unfortunately feel that life would be unbearably boring without this sort of drama, no small thanks to our religious ‘scholars’. Here, I am not talking about some obscure mullah, for there are crazy people on most fringes. Instead, well-respected figures in the mainstream have consistently fed a diet of Political Islam to the masses according to which Islam, as a matter of course, will ultimately conquer the world, reducing non-Muslims to second class citizenship. While there has always been a huge gulf between this particular dream and the ground reality (a gulf which was never wider than it is today), anybody who has ever been influenced by this sort of teaching finds it difficult to even contemplate a state where he happens to belong to the majority faith but where politically all religions are equal.
Coming back to the fundamental question: Should the state fund temples and churches when Muslims build their own mosques (according to Mufti Muneeb)? Absolutely. Not least because it must have a decisive say in how they are run. If it is not doing so in the case of mosques, then that is an error to be corrected, not a principle to be applied elsewhere. It is no secret that private parties that fund building of such establishments invariably want to run their affairs too. When the state relinquished its role in the running of mosques it inadvertently sowed the seeds of strife and sectarianism. Incitement to violence from mosques (of all places) is not unheard of. Neither is it a secret that there are countless ahl-e-hadees, barelvi, deobandi, and shia mosques across the country but not one mosque of Allah. Instead of correcting the state’s faulty approach towards mosques, there is this unfortunate insistence on applying it to temples and churches as well.
The major point of contention (‘Muslim’ taxes to build a Hindu temple) is merely the application of the above principle and till the last time of checking, taxes had no religion. The non-Muslims pay taxes as well as the Muslims. Of course, the share of the Muslims is much larger but that is only reflective of their overwhelming majority.
This author, being a flagbearer of the excellent tradition of seeing the glass half-full, believes that it is not all doom and gloom. Matters could have been infinitely worse. Just imagine if the second largest religious group numbered, say, 15 percent of the country population. In case your imagination is not quite in the J.R.R. Tolkien mould, you need not look beyond India next door.