Ever since the news broke out that five Muslim community members met the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on Aug 22, the media has gone to town with various interpretations. The five who met Bhagwat were former Delhi LG, Najeeb Jung, journalist Shahid Siddiqui, hotelier Saeed Shervani, Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah and this writer.
I would like to clarify that this was entirely an initiative of the five of us, a motley group of friends with common concerns about the insecurity of the Muslim community and a belief in the process of dialogue. Since the news broke, we have received innumerable messages of support from members of the Muslim community, and even non-Muslims, echoing our feeling that dialogue is the only way forward.
We have also seen many critical comments. Like, who “authorised” us to represent the community. Some expressed concern that “association” with a communal organisation, would jeopardise our so-far untarnished reputation. Some warned us about getting “entrapped”. Yet, no one questioned that dialogue is the only way forward.
We have been asked a host of questions which I will deal with through this piece, requested by The Indian Express, to set the record straight.
What prompted us to seek this meeting? Well, our pressing concern is about the way things are going, especially the insecurity being increasingly felt by the Muslim community in the wake of recurring incidents of lynching of innocents, calls by Hindutva hotheads for genocide and the marginalisation of the community in almost every sphere.
What was the meeting like? First, we were surprised to see the simplicity of the RSS’s chief’s modest office. Then, his punctuality — he was on the dot for the 10 am meeting. His patience as well: He listened to all of us with rapt attention for an hour without interrupting even once. The only other person in attendance was Krishan Gopal, his close associate.
Of course, we could sense that Bhagwat was speaking from a position of authority. But it was subtle and his demeanour was never overbearing – there was nothing that would make us uncomfortable. In his opening remarks, he emphasised three things: Hindutva is an inclusive concept in which all communities have equal room. The country can progress only when all communities are united, he added. In a very significant statement, he emphasised that the Indian Constitution is sacrosanct, and the entire country has to abide by it. He sought to dispel the fear that RSS is seeking to abandon the Constitution at the first opportunity. And, that Muslims will be disenfranchised.
Bhagwat then said that Hindus are extremely sensitive about two things, first of which was the cow. We responded that Muslims fully understand this, especially since cow slaughter has been banned in most of India. The law already punishes the violators, as it should. His inference seemed to be that in states where there is no legal ban, Muslims should voluntarily shun beef. This should be easy enough if it ensures security for the community.
The other sensitivity he mentioned was Hindus being called “kafir”. Our response was that though the original meaning of this Arabic word was non-believer, but if it is considered offensive and derogatory, Muslims must avoid it completely. Very easy. Very doable. The Quran mentions that “Allah is rabbul alamin,” not rabbul Muslimeen — God of the universe, not of Muslims alone. The Quran says, “unto you your religion, unto me mine”.
We also pointed out to him an equally offensive term used for every Muslim — jihadi and Pakistani. He agreed that it must stop immediately. We suggested the need for a continuing dialogue and asked if he could name some of his associates with whom we could take the interaction forward. The RSS chief named four persons. He also volunteered to be available himself if required.
I used this opportunity to present Bhagwat my book The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, with the prior consent of my colleagues. While doing so, I mentioned four things.
One, though the Muslim population growth is the highest, the rate is highly exaggerated. The difference between the Hindu and Muslim rates, which was 1.1 30 years ago, has come down to 0.3, since Muslims are adopting family planning much faster than the Hindus. Two, contrary to the general perception, Muslims have the least incidence of polygamy as per the government of India’s own report and old Census figures. Three, widespread polygamy is just not possible in India because of the adverse gender ratio. There are only 940 women against 1,000 men, which means 60 men don’t even have one wife. Bhagwat had a hearty laugh at this, clearly indicating that the point had registered. Four, Muslims can never overtake the Hindus even in 1,000 years as is clear from a mathematical model which professors of mathematics, Dinesh Singh and Ajay Kumar prepared on my request.
The moment the media got wind of the meeting, it pounced on the news.
Reaction? Overwhelmingly positive.
Reservation? RSS won’t change. Maybe, maybe not.
Criticism: We are “legitimising” them. Well, they don’t need our legitimising. They are already the largest and most powerful, organisation in the world. And who are we anyway? A bunch of retired people who have played successful innings and are concerned about society and the country.
Do we represent the community? Maybe not. Nobody has elected or selected us. But we are also the community. We have our perceptions and observations. It was our individual initiative.
Are we elitist? Possibly. But nowhere near our accuser, who lives in a palace 10-15 times bigger than our relatively modest houses. We are not illiterate. We are equally aware of the ground realities: Incidents of lynching; calls for genocide; rapes; economic boycott; questioning of voting rights, and discrimination in getting houses or jobs.
Our dilemma: How much to expose to the media? We didn’t want to go to them in the first place. But we also did not want to hide from them when approached. After all, we kept the matter from the media for a whole month, while freely talking about it with dozens of our friends. That should answer some cynics who said we are seeking publicity.
We firmly believe that dialogue is the only way forward. We have nothing to lose, but everything to gain. We want to take our feelings to the honourable Prime Minister as well, at the earliest. We hope he will oblige us with an audience.
Quraishi is the former Chief Election Commissioner of India and the author of An Undocumented Wonder – The Making of the Great Indian Election