Natural compulsions of a Secular State in Multi-Cultural country

While in an ongoing discussion I mentioned and linked to an incident that should have brought shame upon a nation’s polity and its statesmen politicians. It did not. More, the following narration leaves a reader in no doubt that such a course of action as planned and executed but mercifully failed to bear fruit was indeed considered desirable and worthy in the first instance.

Have things changed? Can they really change given the nature of our polity?

– Namaste

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NEW DELHI NOV. 16. This is Gurbachan Singh’s story. It shows how India was first not invited, then invited and finally asked to stay away from the final session of the foundation of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Rabat, Morocco.

It was the September of 1969. Mr. Singh, then 46, was India’s Ambassador to Morocco and was sitting like any other Head of Mission at the opening meeting of the OIC on September 25, 1969. Today, the ramrod-straight former Ambassador is nearly 80. But his memory is sharp and he is able to give this correspondent a blow-by-blow account of what finally proved to be India’s non-entry into the OIC.

When the inaugural session ended, Mr. Singh returned to the Indian Embassy only to be telephoned by a Moroccan official, who said the then Moroccan Foreign Minister, Laraki, wanted to meet him immediately. Earlier, the OIC, whose formation was taking place in the backdrop of the arson at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on August 21, 1969, had decided not to invite India — a country with the world’s third largest Muslim population. “It was a Pakistani trick that ensured that India did not meet the membership criterion of the meeting set at an organisational meeting which had Pakistan and Morocco as members,” Mr. Singh recalled.

The criterion was simple: a member State must either have a Muslim majority or have a Muslim as Head of State. “President Zakir Hussain had passed away in 1969. And the Pakistanis knew that,” Mr. Singh said. When Mr. Singh, responding to the phone call, reached the OIC venue, the Moroccan Foreign Minister was waiting outside the conference venue to receive him. Laraki told the envoy that King Faisal of Saudi Arabia had proposed, the King of Morocco had seconded, and all other participants had unanimously agreed that India should be invited to sit at the OIC table as a member. “I obviously inquired whether Pakistan was part of the unanimous invitation. I was told that was the case,” Mr. Singh said at his Kasturba Gandhi Marg residence this afternoon.

And then, without further ado, Mr. Singh was made the “acting leader” of the Indian delegation even though he had suggested that a visiting Indian Muslim academic take up the job pending the arrival of a full delegation from New Delhi. So, Mr. Singh, a turbaned Sikh, was the “acting leader” and Abdul Alim, then Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, and Ishrat Aziz, Second Secretary at the Indian Embassy, were the other members of the Indian delegation. “I addressed the OIC meeting at about 5 p.m. The Shah of Iran was seated next to me. I thanked all those present for the invitation and said, god willing, an Indian delegation would arrive to attend the Conference as soon as possible,” he said. The next day, the then Agriculture Minister, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, arrived in Rabat at the head of an Indian delegation for the conference, and they were received with full protocol and honours by the Moroccan hosts. Like other delegations, they were provided a villa to stay.

Now started the real problem. The Pakistani President, Yahya Khan, who was attending the meeting, threw a fit and insisted that Indian participation was not on. So, what was the reason for Pakistan’s volte face?

“A number of messages had reached Yahya from Pakistan that if he sat at the same table as an Indian at an Islamic meeting he might as well not return home,” Mr. Singh recalled.

And then, the meeting was thrown into chaos. “Our delegation was treated well, but it could not attend the last session where some resolutions were passed,” he said. Even the minutes of the meeting were altered later to ensure that India was “absent” from the OIC proceedings. “But my enterprising Second Secretary (Ishrat Aziz) got a copy of the original minutes and we sent them to New Delhi. They must be lying somewhere in the archives.” But that was not the end of the story. Mr. Singh and his Indian colleague in Jordan were recalled to New Delhi to express New Delhi’s displeasure. He went back after a full four months.

–Varta–

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