The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is not giving up on the Muslim community just yet. Keeping the back channels of communication open, senior RSS leaders Indresh Kumar, Ram Lal, and Krishna Gopal held a three-hour long closed-door meeting with Muslim leadership at the residence of former Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung in New Delhi recently. As part of the deliberations, there were representatives of prominent Muslim bodies, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and Ajmer dargah’s Salman Chishti. The meeting was a sequel to an earlier interaction in August last year where the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat had met Mr. Jung, S.Y. Quraishi, former election commissioner, Saeed Sherwani, a well-known hotelier and Shahid Siddiqui, renowned journalist, RLD leader and former MP. They were present this time too.
The RSS leaders felt it was important to send “a larger positive message” to the nation through “continued dialogue”. They also sought to dispel Muslim fears about Mr. Bhagwat’s recent interview where he is reported to have spoken about the community’s “boisterous rhetoric of supremacy”.
The Muslim leadership, it seems, is taking it one step at a time. An initial proposal to send the top leaders of Muslim bodies, including Arshad Madani, Mahmood Madani and Sadatullah Hussaini, for the deliberations was rejected in an earlier informal meet at Mr. Siddiqui’s residence. “It was felt that at this stage senior leaders but not necessarily the presidents of Muslim bodies, meet the RSS representatives,” a participant stated. Consequently, Malik Mohtasim Khan represented the Jamaat while the two factions of Jamiat were represented by Niaz Faruqi and Fazlur Rahman at the RSS interaction.
The Muslim representatives raised questions about hate speech, lynching and “bulldozer politics” as the Jamaat-e-Islami’s senior leader Mr. Khan, put it. “A need was felt to continue dialogue. There was a consensus on it from both the parties,” Mr. Khan said.
The presence of the Muslim bodies assumes significance as questions were asked of the earlier participants of their right to participate in a dialogue on behalf of the community. Now, it seems, the leaders of Muslim outfits are acting as a bridge between the RSS and the Muslim community to remove misgivings between them. Admitting to the meeting, Mr. Siddiqui said, “Yes, we met Mr. Bhagwat a few months back and recently met three of their top leaders with the issues and hate propaganda faced by Muslims. We believe in engaging with those we disagree with,” he sad, adding, “I am not sure if we can build bridges.”
The point was reiterated by Mr. Jung who felt, “there was a need for continuing the interaction which began with the Sarsanghchalak [RSS chief] last year. It is a welcome outreach. If India has to progress, 20% population cannot be left behind”.
The Muslim leaders “raised law and order situation” besides “hounding by government agencies”. “We talked of bulldozer politics. We referred to what happened in Assam, Allahabad, Khargone and Haldwani recently where Muslim houses were bulldozed,” said Mr. Khan. The RSS leaders, however, felt, the action was according to the law of the land. In a frank exchange, the Muslim representatives pointed out that the bulldozer action did not follow the usual procedure of approaching the court before taking action. They sought action in the long-pending lynching cases of Muhammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Junaid where the cases have been going on since as early as 2015. The RSS leaders considered lynching “wrong” but added, “Hindu sentiments are involved with the cow”.
There was only a fleeting mention of the age-old RSS demand for the Muslim community to hand over Kashi and Mathura mosques to the Hindu community. The Muslim representatives expressed their “inability to give away a mosque” and reiterated their faith in the judicial process of the land” on the subject.
The RSS-Muslims interaction comes around the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi made overtures towards the community by asking the BJP leaders to have a dialogue with Pasmanda, Bohra and educated Muslims even if the community members do not vote for the BJP. The Prime Minister also asked the cadre to desist from making hate speeches towards Muslims members or target any films. It was a thinly veiled reference to Hindi film Pathaan, starring Shah Rukh Khan. The film has been frequently criticised by members of the right wing, including the BJP MP from Bhopal, Sadhvi Pragya.