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Acrimonious beginning of Hindu-Muslim amity talks

New Delhi: A section of India's Hindu and Muslim leadership met here on Monday, July 15, in a bid to restore cordiality to their relationship which has come under severe strain with anti-Muslim pogroms in the western state of Gujarat and the murder of 27 Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir in north India.

The ice-breaking historic meeting, which was organised by the National Commission on Minorities (NCM), observed a two-minute silence for the victims of Gujarat and Jammu, and began proceedings on a conciliatory note. To avoid acrimony, it skirted the contentious issues of Gujarat, Babri Masjid (450-year-old mosque demolished by a frenzied mob of Hindus in 1992) and Jammu and Kashmir.

An assortment of Muslim religious leaders -- ulama, mosque prayer leaders (imams), a Shia 'alim and an 'alim heading the state-run Minority Financial and Development Corporation comprised the Muslim delegation.

The mainstream Muslim religious leadership stayed away from the meeting. None of the major Muslim religious organisations -- Jamiatul Ulema-e- Hind, Jamaat-e- Islami, Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, Milli Council and All India Muslim Personal Law Board -- was represented. Shia scholar Maulana Kalb-e Sadiq, who also happens to be the vice-president of Muslim Personal Law Board, clarified that he was not representing the board. However, he said the board chairman Maulana Muhammad Rabey Hasani Nadwi had desired that he should participate in the meeting.

Interestingly, the Muslim contingent had figures known for their conciliatory, live-and-let-live stance, while the Hindu delegation had men form hardline Hindu organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its allied organisations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), organisations implicated in Gujarat pogrom as well in the demolition of the Babri Mosque.

As the Muslim leaders talked of peace and reconciliation, the RSS, VHP and others showed no regret for their role in Gujarat nor any signs of diluting the anti-Muslim programme over Ayodhya Temple. Parveen Togadia of the VHP went to the extent of declaring that no dialogue was possible with the "serpents in our sleeves," by which he meant Muslims of India.

It must, however, be noted that such proximity talks are always likely to degenerate into a session for trading charges, but this one remained by and large on track, and even cordial.

For much of the cordiality ulama of vision and wide sympathies like Maulana Kalb-e-Abid and Maulana Wahiduddin Kahn could be credited. These men are of the firm opinion that peace is the ultimate value in Islam, and the religion demands an all-inclusive compassion that envelopes not only Muslims but entire humanity. They go by the Islamic dictum that the entire Creation is God’s family. This attitude made it easier for the two-hour meeting to move on relatively smoothly.

The meeting was only an ice-breaking exercise. Such meetings are also being scheduled for future, where the two sides (hopefully, a wider cross-section of Muslim religious opinion) would finally try to work on the tough issues of Babri Masjid, India’s other mosques and madrasahs. That the future sessions would be stormy was clear from Parveen Togadia’s declaration that unless the Babri Masjid site was handed over to VHP for temple construction and unless the other two historic mosques in Kashi and Mathura (in the northern state of Uttar Pardesh) were given to Hindus, unless cow slaughter was banned and Hindu refugees resettled in Kashmir, there was no point in such talks.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind vice-president Maulana Shafi Moonis told IOL on Tuesday, July 16, that conciliatory meetings were welcome, but the Hindu organisations involved in the talks were neither representative of wider Hindu opinion nor interested in giving up their anti-Muslim agenda. Hindu-Muslim amity talks were essential, only the organisations selected for it were not up to the great task of national reconciliation, he added.

President of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, Syed Shahabuddin, said in a statement that the maulanas were "handpicked for the meeting" by Maulana Jamil Ilyasi, president of the All India Organisation of Imams, and Qazi Mian Mohammad Mazhari, chairman of the Minorities Financial and Development Corporation. "Neither of them enjoys any weight within the Muslim community," the statement said.

The Mushawarat president rejected the parleys saying Hindutva (Hindu revivalist) organisations like VHP and RSS did not represent all Hindus, and were incorrigibly hostile to Islam and Muslims. They had shown no contrition over their role in Gujarat. On the contrary, they had hailed the pogroms as assertion of the Hindu spirit.

Syed Shahabuddin called the meeting a bid to cover up the RSS-VHP atrocities in Gujarat. He also criticised the NCM for organising the meeting. The NCM which had "failed to secure any benefit for the victims or even get its own recommendations accepted by the central and state governments, is repeatedly and deliberately trying to serve the interests of the Sangh Parivar at the behest of the Union government," he said.

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