“Recent events in India have damaged the country’s image as a vibrant, plural and successful democracy.” That is the opening line of former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran’s recent article in which he expresses his “growing concern over the rising polarisation and communalism of our social and political discourse.” Saran pointed out: “We pride ourselves in being the most tolerant of people, celebrating our diversity of faith, culture and tradition, ways of life and language. Diversity thrives on sharing; it becomes poison when it becomes an instrument for separating ‘us’ from ‘them.’ One cannot construct an over-arching Hindu identity on the basis of creating a binary Hindu-Muslim divide.”
Indeed, we do not need a divide. We need instead to find our spiritual common ground. We cannot find that common ground by accident. It must be a consequence created through strong beliefs and a concerted and sustained effort over time. It must be an outcome that over- comes religious, regional and racial boundaries.
How do we reach that ideal state? We begin with where we are, find our shared values, leverage our strengths and then chart a path to where we want to be. As an example of discovering our shared values, let me draw upon the teachings of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University, and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, founder of Banaras Hindu University.
These men were visionaries who saw the world not though religious blinders but through an expansive view of what strong and inclusive faiths can do to unite rather than divide us.
Pandit Malviya instructed us: “India is not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians and the Parsees too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of India live in mutual good will and harmony.”