Some Muslim intellectual's pettifoggery over RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Jamiat Ulama e Hind chief Maulana Arshad Madani's meeting has been in full display over the past two days.
The meeting of Mohan Bhagwat and the venerable cleric who is one of the most renowned Islamic scholars in the country and also teaches at Darul Ulum Deoband, the foremost seminary in the country, has created a storm of sorts within India's Muslim community.
There is a deep mistrust within the Muslim community over everything RSS and Sangh and this mistrust is not without reason. Over the last few decades, the Sangh and its affiliates have metamorphosed at the cost of increased marginalization and demonization of the Muslim community.
Apparently, this deep mistrust has been behind the lack of any forward movement in any dialogue between not just the Muslims and the RSS, but also Muslims and the BJP. However, despite this mistrust and the apparent animosity, there was a need for the leader of the RSS, the mothership of India’s ruling party, the BJP and the Muslim community to talk and negotiate on issues of importance to the nation.
This was unthinkable also because of the fact that a few Muslim leaders who openly met Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few months ago were condemned for 'betraying' the community. Apparently, Muslims, both their leadership and the common folks, do not really hope that the Sangh can ever be serious in pursuing talks, meaningful in nature, with the Muslims. The oft repeated argument that such people give in response to anything of this nature is usually a long list of atrocities that they believe the BJP and the RSS has done to the community.
What transpired at the meet?
While initially only the Muslim cleric opened up about the meet, the RSS confirmed the meet at least 24 hours later. The meet was held at Keshav Kunj, Sangh's headquarters in the national capital. The initial reports of the meeting were carried in Urdu media and not in English newspapers, with only one side confirming this. Maulana Madani's version appeared in detail in Urdu newspapers on September 1. It was on the next day that English and Hindi newspapers carried news about the development.
While talking to Urdu newspapers, Maulana Arshad Madani, whose organization is known for its participation in India's freedom movement and opposition to creation of Pakistan, said he raised three important concerns of a beleaguered Muslim community. These concerns included mob lynching, atmosphere of anarchy and hatred, and the need to ensure unity and diversity across the community.
While talking to media about the meet, the Jamiat patriarch said, "We two (RSS and Jamiat) could even come on the same stage, a platform in the public, to spread this message of brotherhood but since I don't have a definite plan for it yet, I cannot say more. We will see how things pan out”.
Later, the RSS sources too confirmed the news of the meet, while playing down any significance about it. While confirming the meet to the media, the RSS insiders said that such discussions are held at regular intervals and RSS meets with leaders from different communities. The important take away from the meet was the fact that both the RSS and Jamiat leaders came out satisfied. This also gives hope that there will be more such meetings in future.
For sometimes now there has been be an effort on the part of the RSS and its top leadership to reach out to Muslim leadership. While it is still not certain as to why the RSS bosses have been trying to rope in the Muslim leadership, but thus far no Muslim leader of any standing agreed to sit with the RSS leaders.
It is not a secret that RSS' Muslim outreach platform known as Muslim Rashtriya Manch has been trying to reach out to Muslim leadership. Indresh Kumar of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch is known to have visited the Darul Uloom Deoband a couple of times and other Muslim organizations to create an atmosphere where talks between the Muslim organizations and the RSS be held. It is said that even last year, an invitation was extended to Maulana Arshad Madani, but he excused, apparently due to the escalating incidents of mob lynching and cow vigilante attacks against Muslims throughout much of the country.
Why the mistrust?
The distrust among Muslims against the RSS runs deep. For the last several decades, the RSS has grown on the basis of openly anti-Muslim plank. The fissures have widened following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the year 1992, when the mobs, made up of different sister organizations of the Sangh, gathered in their thousands in Ayodhya and demolished the 16th century mosque in broad daylight, despite assuring the Supreme Court against it. Gujarat riots’ memories have not yet faded and have remained etched in the minds of many Muslims.
The distrust against the RSS and its affiliates grew as the post Bari riots flared across much of North India and beyond causing the death of thousands and thousands of people, most of them Muslims. Besides, the recent violence perpetrated by cow vigilantes and incidents of mob lynching has left the Muslim community scarred.
Nonetheless, there are some good memories of RSS and Muslim leaders' interactions in the past, especially during Emergency in 1975. Many Muslim leaders talk of good old days when they and RSS leaders were incarcerated in different jails across the country. When Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in 1975, she outlawed RSS and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind besides leading political parties. Many old timers in the Jamaat who served jail terms at that time, have confided in this author the exceptional relations they had with RSS cadres and their leaders. Many people maintained this relationship long after completing their prison terms.
However, this bonhomie was at personal level and Muslim organizations didn't really have any meaningful interaction with the RSS in the past.
As expected, the reactions are coming in the form of derision and ridicule. Maulana Sajid Rasheedi, a cleric who frequents television studios very often is reported to have said, "This is blatant surrender and it will have adverse consequences in the future." He goes on to add, "Whatever is happening to Muslim youth these days is being done by none other than the RSS. In such circumstances it is insane to believe they will hear us and take meaningful measures for establishment of peace and amity in the country. Their basic ideology is based on hatred against Muslims and therefore we shouldn't read too much into this meeting."
There are many others, who too have expressed similar sentiments similar to Sajid Rasheedi. However, there are people who have welcomed the dialogue claiming there was no alternative to negotiations.
Shakeel Rasheed of the Mumbai Urdu Times, while writing in the Sunday edition of the daily says, "What is the option other than dialogue? I am sure many people will try to create controversy regarding Maulana and Bhagwat meeting, the same way they did when Indresh Kumar visited Darul Ulum Deoband. We have no option but to negotiate with our opponents. We don't need to negotiate with our friends. As the country seems to be passing through the worst phase in its recent history, holding such negotiations is of paramount importance. The outcome of the meeting suggests it was neither surrender nor will have any negative consequences in future."