On a day when BJP’s Haryana spokesperson and Karni Sena chief Suraj Pal Ammu called for Muslims to be “thrown out of this country,” RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat repeated several positive statements about Muslims. Whether the consistency with which he makes such statements shows a radical change in his or the Sangh Parivar’s thinking is still difficult to say. But if there is someone who can initiate perestroika in the RSS, it is Bhagwat. In a gradual manner, he has been trying to change the Sangh’s attitude towards Muslims. Let us try to understand this vital and now clearly visible change.
Bhagwat is an outspoken person. He speaks his mind and that, too, without any fear of retaliation from the extreme Hindu right. Lately, he has addressed the question of minorities in general and Muslims in particular. His comments do not reveal an abrupt change of heart. In fact, the Rashtriya Muslim Manch (RMM) was formed in December 2002 under the patronage of the RSS chief K S Sudarshan and is currently led by Indresh Kumar, who, like Bhagwat, believes that when Hindus and Muslims share ancestors, culture and the motherland, there is no scope for confrontation. He rightly believes that once Hindus and Muslims understand and realise the spirit and soul of India, all the artificial barriers between the two communities would vanish. As a matter of fact, 15-17 crore Muslims cannot be thrown out of India. No NRC can exclude all of them. No country can accept them. Pakistan did not even accept the Bihari Muslims who chose to migrate to East Pakistan in 1947. How then can it accept those Indian Muslims who chose to live in a liberal and secular country rather than a feudal and theocratic Pakistan?
The RMM’s primary function is to have a meaningful dialogue with the Muslim community. In order to do so, it should engage with those Muslims who are widely respected by the country as a whole. It should try to appreciate the Muslim perspective on several contentious issues. It must gain some credibility in the eyes of liberal Hindu activists and intellectuals, who enjoy much greater respect in the eyes of ordinary Muslims than their own clergy or political leaders.
Speaking at an RMM event on Sunday, and, in a way, acknowledging that many Muslims today indeed live under fear, Bhagwat urged them not to get “trapped in the cycle of fear” that Islam is in danger in India. The RSS chief should also simultaneously tell Hindutva’s foot soldiers and BJP leaders that Hindus, too, are not in danger at all, even if recent electoral compulsions have tried to make it a dominant political theme. Bhagwat condemned instances of mob lynching in the strongest words, saying that such incidents “are against Hindutva” and those who indulge in it are not Hindus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, had used similar words against acts of lynching.
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The RSS chief went on to assert that “the only solution to Hindu-Muslim conflict is dialogue, not discord”. Snubbing those who celebrated the coming of the Modi government as the accession of a Hindu ruler after 800 years, the RSS chief boldly reiterated, “We are in a democracy. There cannot be a dominance of Hindus or Muslims.” A few months ago, in an interview to a Hindi daily, he had also asserted that the Constitution nowhere says Hindus alone can live in India or that only Hindus will have a say in this country or to live in India one has to accept the supremacy of Hindus. He also pointed out that in the battle of Haldighati (1576), fought between Mughals and Rajputs, a large number of Muslims were on the side of Maharana Pratap Singh and fought bravely against the Mughal army led by another Rajput Raja Man Singh.
The RSS chief deserves appreciation for repeatedly saying that Muslims are equal citizens of this country, while Hindutva forces have historically made a distinction between indigenous religions and Abrahamic religions. By saying Hindus and Muslims have the same DNA, he has demolished the greatest argument against Muslims being foreigners. But he should also say that in case of absence of citizenship documents and exclusion from NRC, DNA-matching with Indian citizens must be used as the ultimate test to give or deny citizenship.
On January 1, at the launch of JK Bajaj and MD Srinivas’s book Making of a Hindu Patriot: Background of Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj, Bhagwat also went against Hindutva’s narrower concept of nationalism, where land and territory is given excessive importance. In his characteristic style, he said that the “love for the country does not mean land only, it means its people, rivers, culture, traditions”. Recently, the Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, too, said that nationalism is not about territory but people.
The RSS chief has emerged as a ray of hope in an atmosphere of hate and bigotry. Along with the Prime Minister, he can restore sanity, tolerance and accommodation, the essential attributes of classical Hinduism.
India would be a much stronger nation if this Hindu-Muslim binary is quickly brought to an end. Let civic nationalism with a focus on the celebration of our shared composite cultural heritage be our motto rather than some narrower, regressive and communal ideology of the 20th century.
Those wedded to a constitutional vision may have serious problems with an aggressive and exclusionary Hindutva but certainly not with the liberal, tolerant and inclusive Hinduism. Let the RSS chief lead a movement from Hindutva to Hinduism. Was not Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Hindu renaissance all about going back to the Vedas and Upanishads?
This column first appeared in the print edition on July 6, 2021 under the title ‘The moderating voice’. The author is Vice-Chancellor NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. Views are personal
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