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Intolerance is indeed rising in society but it is not likely to last long as communal polarisation has been a cyclic phenomenon in the country and most Hindus are secular, former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi has said.
He also stressed that hate-mongering is not likely to go very far as "the basic ethos of India is secular, which stays", adding that Muslims in India are still better off than they are in several Muslim countries.
"Yes, intolerance is actually rising... maybe for last 5-10 years. It has been in phases. It started with the Babri Masjid dispute, then it subsided. Then it rose again. Elections and vote bank politics perpetuate it," Quraishi told IANS in an interview.
"Have no doubt, India is secular because Hindus are secular. The hate discourse, to my mind, is temporary. It comes and goes, but the basic ethos of India is secular, which stays because of the inbuilt liberal and secular Hindu tradition," Qureshi said.
(At 189 million, India is home to the second highest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia.)
Is a large portion of illiterate electorate a challenge in keeping the divisive and communal agendas out of electoral process so that elections are fought on real issues?
"Well, I don't think illiteracy means the electorate is uninformed. If we achieve 100 per cent literacy that is well and good, but till the time it is not done it does not mean our democracy is useless. An unlettered voter too knows his interests," Quraishi said.
"When we started out in 1950, we had 84 per cent illiteracy. But elections after elections have been successful.
Voters are mature despite their illiteracy. Informed choice ke liye university ki degree hona zaroori nahi (you don't need a university degree to make an informed choice while casting your vote).
"Instead, I would say, those MA and PhD holders who do not go out to cast their vote and then even brag about it instead of being ashamed of it, they are the real illiterates for me," he added.
Qureshi's latest book "Loktantra Ke Utsav Ki Ankahi Kahani" was released recently by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.
An updated, abridged English version of the book is in the pipeline.
Qureshi is also working on two other books -- "Family Planning in Islam" and "Electoral Reforms in South Asia". The former, he said, may be out in three months, the latter in seven to eight months.
But is he not stirring a hornet's nest by advising Muslims to plan their families?
"Why? It is all based on the Quran and the Hadith. Also, it includes demographic statistics and the emerging trends like whether the acceptance of family planning is increasing among the Muslims," he said.
Is this not counter to the narrative of the Mullahs, who frown at the very mention of family planning.
"I don't think all of them do. Some of them do. I have quoted from many ulemas' (Islamic scholars') opinions and many fatwas (edicts) nationally and internationally which are in favour of family planning in terms of spacing.
"Yes, they are all against sterilisation, or permanent methods of stopping childbirth. But spacing is the national policy, and that is also there in Quran. Based on Quran and Hadith and fatwas and opinion of Indian ulema, I have come to the conclusion that Islam is not against family planning," Qureshi emphasised.
He said that on the contrary, Islam was a forerunnner in family planning.
"Some 1,400 years ago, when there was no population pressure, Islam talked of family planning... I feel the family should be limited and I have cited from the Quran that you should marry only when you can afford, and you should produce as many children as you can bring up properly. I have quoted specific verses from the Quran," Qureshi said.
He said that he has included citations from Grand Mufti of Jamia Al-Azhar (Egypt) and the Mufti of Makkah, among others, in his book.