Five well-known Muslims meeting with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat over the concerns of the community is a thoughtful initiative and must be welcomed. It is good that Bhagwat showed interest in a continued Hindu-Muslim dialogue. However, for Muslims to feel secure in their motherland, a fundamental shift in the politics of RSS-BJP is required.
Our society is in an unprecedented crisis. Religious polarisation threatens social harmony. Although communalism and communal riots are nothing new, the present onslaught of divisive politics has reduced citizens to being merely Hindus or Muslims. Electoral democracy has led to a kind of majoritarian triumphalism that runs contrary to the spirit of democracy, fraternity and social justice. It continuously asserts itself in a socially injurious manner, with Muslims at the receiving end. Processions taken out during Ram Navami and Ganesh Chaturthi through Muslim ghettos with chanting of abusive slogans in front of mosques is just one example.
Indian Muslims are on the verge of disenfranchisement. The representation and participation of the largest minority in our polity is at a historical low numerically as well as substantively. Muslims are served daily reminders of their second-class status. Elected representatives and top-ranking functionaries of the ruling party unhesitatingly use labels such as “anti-national” or “jihadi” to refer to Muslims in the public domain. Azaan, namaz, hijab, madrasa are being systematically politicised.
With a fragmented political opposition and stifled civil society, there seems to be no solution in sight to the religious divide. In such a scenario, the initiative taken by the five members is significant. It must be said that the issues raised by the RSS chief need to be addressed genuinely by Muslims. Moreover, Muslims need to introspect about worsening Hindu-Muslim relations and think of what they can do to alleviate the situation.
It is unacceptable to refer to fellow human beings with derogatory terms like “kafir”. Muslim political leaders and conservative clerics cannot selectively invoke constitutional values of justice, equality and secularism when they are under political attack. They must understand that diversity, pluralism and respect for those belonging to other faiths are democratic imperatives as well. We must show respect to Hindu gods and goddesses and cannot make fun of idol worship. Islam teaches Muslims to respect the faith of others. The total absence of a robust, enlightened democratic Muslim leadership is a great misfortune. It is in light of this gap that the group’s visit assumes significance.
The group was pleasantly surprised that Bhagwat heard them with rapt attention. Most Hindus rarely see Muslims with secular identity speaking up for community concerns. In the Nupur Sharma episode, the religious leadership mobilised overnight to save the honour of the Prophet. These leaders never felt the need to save Muslims from poverty, educational backwardness or economic distress, or support Muslim women’s equality.
In the past four years, the RSS chief has called for dialogue, stressed the need for harmony and referred to the Constitution as being sacrosanct. And yet, from lynchings to genocide calls, the onslaught on Muslims has continued. It cannot be denied that this is happening under the BJP government. There are no steps taken by the establishment to address the sense of fear and alienation amongst Muslims, leave alone gain their trust.
Sadly for India, both the major national parties have deployed religion to further their political ends. From the Shah Bano episode to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, both Congress and BJP have politicised religion for narrow political gains. In the process, lives have been lost and secularism has become a maligned term.
In the last decade, the BJP has gained political power under Modi-Shah and consolidated its presence throughout the nation. The PM has emerged as the most popular political leader. Can the RSS chief now get the BJP to change its politics of religious nationalism? Can he get the RSS-BJP to shun Hindu nationalism and embrace civic nationalism? That would prove the Constitution to be sacred and make dialogue possible as well as fruitful.
The writer is a founding member of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan