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Utpal Kumar | First Post Online | New Delhi | Jan 15, 2023:: On Wednesday, when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat assured Muslims that there was “nothing to fear in India” while urging them to abandon their “boisterous rhetoric of supremacy”, his detractors lost no time in invoking the ghost of saffron fascism threatening the secular fabric of the country. “Muslims can be guilty of many things but not ‘boisterous’ supremacy,” thundered one Muslim writer who had written several books on the need for Muslims to take a liberal turn. Another writer found the RSS chief’s comment “patronising”, questioning his attempt to advise a community on how it should live in a democracy.
Bhagwat’s statement may sound patronising, but it has a kernel of truth: A sense of supremacy, boisterous or otherwise, has always existed among a dominant section of Muslims. It is this mindset that makes them seek special treatment — a privileged position — in places where they are in majority or hold the levers to power. Ironically, the same set of people swear by democracy when they are in minority. It is this frame of mind, egged on by a skewed sense of secularism pervading in the country, that has created and sustained the myth of Muslim veto power in Indian politics. One would hear Muslim leaders openly saying no political party would reach Raisina Hill without the support of Muslims. The year 2014, in that way, was one of great shock and disbelief. It shattered the myth of Muslim supremacy and veto power in Indian politics. Five years later, in 2019, the community got another rude awakening: That 2014 wasn’t a fluke.
In the last eight years, despite sharp decline in its political capital, the Muslim community hasn’t made any perceptible climb-down. They have not opened any channel of communication with the ruling party. Yet, they never lose an opportunity to cite their political isolation and victimhood: The BJP has almost 400 members in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, but not a single one of them belong to the Muslim community, they claim. The BJP counters them by citing the winnability factor. Maybe the year 2024 holds the key to the deadlock.
The BJP and the RSS have time and again sent feelers to the Muslim community. This should be welcomed in a democracy like India. However, at the same time, a fine line of being approachable and being conciliatory has to be maintained. Here the BJP, being a political party, can have a longer rope, but the same cannot be said for the Sangh, founded on 27 September 1925 by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar with the twin objectives of keeping the Hindus “sachet” (vigilant) as well as “sangathit” (united). It seems, of late, the Sangh has added one more objective — of wooing the Muslims and bringing them into the mainstream.
Last week, a Sangh-inspired organisation proudly displayed a “rare 16th century copy” of the Quran written in gold ink at the 108th Indian Science Congress (ISC) in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Putting a copy of the holy book at a science meet could be the ultimate validation for any religious text, more so for the Quran, about which Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes in her book Heretic: “The call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam.”
The Quran divides humanity into two irreconcilable parts of the ummah (believers) and the kafirs (non-believers), and the only way the two can merge is by the latter’s conversion, either voluntarily or via jihad. Such is the importance of the terms kafir and jihad that they almost occupy 64 percent of space in the Quran. Of course, at times, terms like jihad are used in figuratively, but overwhelmingly their definition is literal: While kafirs are those who don’t believe in Allah and Prophet Mohammed, jihad is the most potent weapon to fight those kafirs who stand in the way of turning the world into ‘Dar-ul-Islam’.
Meanwhile, there’s another RSS body, Muslim Rashtriya Manch, which is working overtime to bring Hindus and Muslims closer. The Manch leadership thinks that by merely calling Bhagwan Ram “Imam-e-Hind”, India’s communal problem can be resolved and Hindus and Muslims can be brought together. Little does it realise that Allama Iqbal too saw Lord Ram as “Imam-e-Hind” (spiritual leader of India). As Iqbal writes, Hai Raam ke wajood pe Hindustaan ko naaz/ Ahl-e-Nazar samajhte hain us ko Imam-e-Hind (India is proud of the existence of Ram/ Spiritual people consider him prelate of India).” This understanding, however, didn’t stop Iqbal from pushing for the Pakistani cause, a country that was later formed in the name of Islam and which today seeks its legitimacy from ‘anti-Indiaism’.
Accepting Ram as Imam-e-Hind never came in conflict with Iqbal’s Islamist ideals. After all, this acceptance doesn’t challenge the fundamental Islamist notions. The Quran mentions Jesus (97 times) and Moses (136 times) with due respect, but that doesn’t change the Muslim perspective vis-à-vis Christianity and Judaism. In Islam, it doesn’t matter where the story began. What matters is where it ends — and the finality rests with Prophet Mohammed. Nothing changes or can be changed after Him. One also needs to realise that till the time Muslims give up on three fundamental features of Islam — kafir, jihad and ummah — there will always be the ‘other’ who has to be fought and liquidated. The Imam-e-Hind phenomenon doesn’t change anything. It is more in the lines of Mirza Ghalib: “Ham ko maaluum hai jannat kii hakiiqat lekin dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib ye khayaal achhaa hai.”
The Manch leaders, howsoever noble their thoughts may be, should realise that they cannot succeed when Gandhi failed. The Mahatma gave his all to the Khilafat movement, turning it into a movement of Hindu-Muslim unity. Yet, when Khilafat leader Maulana Mohammed Ali, who first hailed him as “the most Christ-like man of our times”, was asked about how he saw the Mahatma “from the point of view of religion”, pat came the reply: “Inferior to any Mussalman though he be without character!” No wonder, by the time the Khilafat movement ended, the country witnessed a series of massive communal pogroms — from Kohat in the north-west to Malabar down south.
Explaining the Eastern and Semitic religions, the much venerable Ram Swarup (who, along with Sita Ram Goel, deserves to have an ‘academic chair’ set up in their name by now, with the Modi government being in the last leg of its second term) writes in his book Hinduism and Monotheistic Religions, “The former (Eastern) speaks in the language of Self or Atma, the latter (Semitic) in the language of external Gods; the former speaks to the Law, the rita, the inner spiritual and moral law of being and action, the latter speak of Commandments of an external being.”
Contrary to what its detractors, especially those hailing from the Left-liberal ecosystem, want us to believe, the RSS, if anything, can be accused of being too democratic, deliberative and consensus-seeking organisation. When Belgian scholar Koenraad Elst says that of all the political parties in India the BJP is the most Gandhian, he isn’t at all off the mark. The BJP, when it first came into being in 1980, unapologetically adopted Gandhian socialism as its guiding principle; it was only after the massive electoral setback of 1984, when the party won just two seats, that the BJP took a sharp Hindutva turn. It is this Gandhian nature of the Sangh that allows people with diverse viewpoints to coexist. This explains how in RSS those urging Muslims to shun the “boisterous rhetoric of supremacy” peacefully live with the ones proudly displaying the Quran at a science meet!
Christopher Hitchens, in his ‘Foreword’ to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir, Infidel: My Life, writes, “Across the intellectual spectrum of the West, voices are raised to say that the problem is not the exorbitant demands made by Muslim bullies… No, the problem is that of people like Ayaan, who upset and ‘offend’ the ‘faith community’ of Islam.” Mohan Bhagwat, by shunning the temptation of being conciliatory to Islamist bullies and instead telling them to eschew their supremacist mindset, has hit the nail on its head. His statement is also heartening given the fact that the Sangh, for all the ‘Muslim experiments’ by its subsidiary outfits, remains attached to its larger Hindu cause, and not swayed by a delusional “aman ki asha” mindset.
The author is Opinion Editor, Firstpost and News18. He tweets from @Utpal_Kumar1. Views expressed are personal. Only the heading and subheadings are changed.