Discussion held on “Text, Context and National Interest” at VoW
By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 13 Nov: A very interesting and enriching discussion on the theme, “Text, Context and National Interest” was held between Governor of Kerala Arif Mohammad Khan, noted journalist Shekhar Gupta and Valley of Words Literature & Arts Festival Curator and former senior IAS officer Dr Sanjeev Chopra. The theme of the discussion was inspired by a book, titled “Text and Context: Quran and Contemporary Challenges” written by Arif Mohammad Khan.
The participants were introduced by Dr Amana Mirza, assistant professor in a Delhi University College.
Beginning the discussion, Shekhar Gupta described Khan as a rare bird who despite holding political posts earlier in life and the constitutional post of Governor, now, was not a fan of blindly following any theory or established texts. He was the only Congress leader in the then Congress Government at the Centre led by Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi who was opposed to bringing a notification to nullify the Supreme Court judgement that had upheld grant of alimony to Shah Bano. This ultimately led to his quitting the Congress.
Sanjeev Chopra asked how much liberty could be taken in respect of established texts in his opinion. Khan responded that if by established texts he meant scriptures and classic texts, too much liberty had already been taken. In most cases, texts have been deliberately distorted to the extent that the entire meaning has changed. Khan quoted some Sanskrit texts as well as from the Quran in Arabic while explaining that the entire interpretation of the original texts was being changed. He said that according to Quran, only those believers were permitted to undertake Jihad upon whom war had been thrust and they had been rendered homeless by the enemy. However, soon after the advent of Islam, wars to expand the Islamic empire extended to far and wide areas. This was not a religious war but a political one fought in the name of religion to give it some respectability. He also quoted some Arabic scholars who had pointed this out even while this expansion of empire was underway. They were however deliberately discredited by the powerful, but at least such scholars existed.
To a question asked by Gupta, Khan asserted that the same principles could be applied in case of the Gita, too. Gita was a book of wisdom that clearly mentioned that caste or Varna system was based on innate virtues and merit of the person, not on the basis of birth. In support, Khan also cited certain Upnishads to refer to the example of Satyakam, son of a tribal mother, Jabali, who was admitted into the Ashram of Rishi Gautam despite not being aware of his gotra. Khan further pointed out that renowned sages like Vashishtha, Parashar and Vyasa were born in so called low caste families but rose to become great sages. What Ambedkar spoke about annihilation of caste system was actually practiced in ancient India.
Khan also agreed that any texts, whether scriptures or classics like the books of BR Ambedkar or even Karl Marx, ought to be seen in the context they were written in. He added that those who swore by the classics or scriptures were the ones to distort them. If Karl Marx was to come today to this world and to the places which are being ruled in name of Marxism, he would wonder which system of governance and administration was being followed by them.
Khan further agreed in response to the questions by Dr Chopra and Gupta that texts had to be seen in the right context and the contexts were liable to change as nothing was stagnant or static. He also quoted the book, Eternal Values for a Changing Society, written by Swami Rangnathananda way back in the last century to emphasise his point. He said that the interpretation of the classics as well as the scriptures ought to be done in the modern context now and in this there ought to be no rigidity. He agreed that same applied even in the case of the Constitution, which had already been amended more than a hundred times in India.
In response to a question asked by Dr Chopra regarding insertion of words secular and socialist in the Constitution through the 42nd amendment, which was often criticised as the original constitution did not mention these words, Khan said that though these words had been inserted in the Constitution, no definition had been given as to what socialism and secularism were. It was entirely up to India and the Indians to derive the meaning of these words in the Indian context as Pandit Nehru too had mentioned once. He said that unlike other ancient societies, Indian civilisation is based on pursuit of knowledge and it was important in the national interest to revive the tradition of gaining knowledge and wisdom and that this tradition needs to be revived to make India great again.
In response to the rather controversial decision by the Kerala Government removing him as Chancellor of State Universities, Khan said that, while the school education system in Kerala is excellent, there is everything wrong with its Higher Education System. He differed with the state government on appointments of unqualified and ineligible persons that the government had been making in the universities and colleges. He pointed out that he did not have much problem with Kerala Government preferring leftist ideologues being appointed but certainly had problems with the appointments because unqualified people were being appointed which he could not tolerate. He added that he could see light at the end of tunnel in this case following a recent Supreme Court judgement in the case of West Bengal.