Muslim Engagement with RSS: Aggressive Intellectual Dialogue Needed

The recent meeting between the RSS head Mr. Mohan Bhagwat and President of Jamiat-e Ulema-I Hind, Maulana Arshad Madani appears to have generated hot debate in the Muslim community with many questioning the need, timing and motives of the meeting. I personally believe that dialogue should always continue and dialogue with RSS should have begun much earlier. In my address as Chief Guest in the Conference on “Challenges before Muslim Minority Institutions” organized at Bhatkal (on 17-18 August), I stressed the need of coming together of all religions to beat the internationally dominant atheistic forces of economics and politics. I also talked of the need of engaging with RSS on the issues of morality.

Last year, in the three-day enclave at Bangalore organized by Jama’at-e-Islami Hindi, I had called upon Muslims to launch a “peace and friendship offensive” with all the politically relevant groups of the country. I had argued that “politically speaking”, India comprises 5 minority groups: Hindu Dalits, Hindu OBCs, Upper Caste Secular Hindus, Upper Caste Sangh-inspired Hindus and Minorities. Muslims need to open dialogue with all of them on common issues. I stressed that even Hindutva has to be engaged on the ground of common religious morality and Indian culture, which abhor alcohol, drugs, disintegration of family system and gambling.

Muslims always tend to behave as a minority and forget their role as “ideologically second biggest majority” and “socially a part of deprived majority”.

About 15 years back, I organised a seminar entitled, “In Search of a Comprehensive Solution for AIDS” at New Delhi in collaboration with National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), Government of India. One of the speakers was Late Mr K R Malkani, the RSS ideologue, who was at the same time Chief Editor of “Observer” and “Panchjanya” and was also Vice President of BJP then. Inviting him to speak, I had said the following:

“Mr. Malkani! You are Vice President of BJP and an RSS ideologue, and I am a Muslim. You know very well what the feelings of Muslims are for RSS. I share most of them. But I have some positive views too about your organisation. What I like about it is its insistence on Indian cultural and moral values. Hindus and Muslims are similar in the sense that we both have faith in God though while we Muslims pary to One God, you pray to many gods. We both hate alcoholism, gambling, nudity, sex outside marriage and homosexuality. We both detest Western style of living. We both would not like our daughters roaming freely with boys in the nights. Why then do we keep fighting for Ayodhya Mandir-Babri Masjid and not against these vices?

“I am sorry to say that when your party came to power you forgot these moral and cultural values. You must know that the most dangerous thing for the current world is the commercialisation of sex, which is causing havoc at every level. It is killing human beings in huge numbers, devastating families, making children orphans. Why can’t your government ban prostitution, pornography and homosexuality? Why can’t you run a campaign for the strengthening of traditional marriage system, which is most health protective?”

Mr. Malkani spoke very well. Here is the text of speech excepted from the published proceedings of the Seminar:

“The fact is that I know nothing about AIDS, but I know this much that this is a dangerous disease that kills. I have heard that it has no cure and only preventive methods can control it. I also know that the most important factor in its development is involvement in uninhibited sexual activities. In the past, we used to hear about the sex-related disease, which was also known as pox among the common people. And I tell you that the American Indians were destroyed by three things: guns, alcohol and venereal diseases. Dr Nath is an expert and as much he is an expert, I am inexpert. Yet, because there is so much hue and cry on the threat to the country and because it has cultural dimensions, I will say a few words. Educating the children so that they do not go the wrong way is good. Quality education is always good for society. We do not have treatment for this disease. May God give the treatment! For a country of India’s size, there may be some problems in tackling this problem; but what I feel is that till the family system survives in India, AIDS cannot assume dangerous proportions. In India, there are very strong family bonds. Even a 30 year old son, who may himself be having children, is cared after by his father who may be more than 60. Still, father remains concerned: my son has not yet come, has he taken food or not, has he some mental tensions. And whenever he finds him in some sort of problem, he tries to help him. in Indian families, if a boy goes a wrong way, his parents, uncles, aunties, brothers and sisters, unitedly, bring him back. In America things are very such different. As soon as the child becomes adolescent, the influence of parents almost ceases to exist. They go wherever they like. In India, if a letter comes in my name, and I am not there, even any wife and my children can open it. In America, such a possibility does not just exist. Even a husband has no right to know whom the wife in corresponding or meeting with. I have gone to America and frankly, my going to America was a shock to me; I wondered even such countries were there on earth. No family values, no social values. I have no hesitation to say that it is a devilish civilization. That fellow Jack, yes, Michael Jackson came to India. He was swinging as if he was stung by one hundred scorpions. This is modernism, horrible. In India, there are people who have become westernised. They go to night clubs. It is they who are in danger of getting AIDS. Those who follow Indian culture and believe in Indian traditions are not or less at risk. But the problem is how to stop this westernisation. I was shocked to see that national dailies like Times of India and Pioneer published full pages on sodomy: how does it take place, where does it take place, is it normal or abnormal. Literally, I was shocked. Is it Times of India or Times of Sodomy? Are they propagating sodomy? Is it the manner in which media would behave?

I tell you everybody loves his country. There is no country like India. No society is like Indian society; we are great people; we know how to live in peace. If we follow Indian culture, we will face AIDS successfully. If we do not, we will face difficulties. And then you will have to tell people about the precautions required. Thank you.”

Many known stalwarts  including Kuldeep Nayar, Syed Shahabuddin, Mr. Ameenul Hasan Rizvi (late Editor, Radiance), Prof. Akhtarul Wasey and then then Health Minister, Mr. Saleem Sherwani also spoke but none did highlight the need to curb the vices the way Malkani did.

Compare Malkani’s views with the position of RSS/BJP on Article 377. BJP Govt. refused to intervene and allowed Supreme Court to use its own wisdom, which was clear enough a signal that Articles 377 was going to be scrapped. RSS/BJP have not even since then taken any position against Homosexuality. It is more than evident that the forces of Hindutva have prostrated before the Forces of Economics, most of which in India belong to the same category of Hindus to which RSS/BJP cadre belongs.

Unfortunately, the followers of RSS ideology have forgotten the difference between religion and communalism. Religion is about the relationship of love between man and God and about love between human and human. Communalism is about hating others on the ground of their religious identity. Religious morality, preached by Islam and Hinduism, in fact almost all religions, is almost the same. But when instead of trying to unite on the basis of this commonness of religious morality, we start hating one another on the ground of our religious identities and on account of the desire to gain power for a certain community, it gives rise to communalism. Communalism is not the product of religion but of political fundamentalism, which seeks to misuse all emotional attachments of human beings including religion, region, language, caste and race.

The problem with RSS is that it works day and night on its communal ideology and not on the religious morality and the socioeconomic model which the religious morality spawns. If BJP had been true representative of the socioeconomic ideology of RSS, it would have brought a socioeconomic revolution in the country. But it has instead become the biggest votary of the Western Model of Economy with its total sell out to the Corporate world.

Religion is an important part of human life; it must in fact be the most important. Secularism in Indian context is not the negation of religion but synthesis of religious values enshrined in different religions. Every community in India has the right to practice and profess its religion. I do not agree with those who want separation of religion and politics. Negation of religion as such means total negation of the goodness of religion and the moral values that are associated with it. What is bad is not the religionization of politics but politicization of religion, which often breeds communalism. If RSS and BJP had been preaching religious values enshrined in Hindu Dharma, there was nothing bad about it. If it had been fighting for the rights of Hindus, even then it would not have created much of havoc.

The problem with RSS also is that its definition of Hindutva, in practice if not in theory, is based on its aversion of Muslims and everything that is or can be made to look linked to them. They are not interested in introducing Hindu vision to the constitution but in demolishing Muslim personal laws. They are not too much fond of building temples; they are more concerned about demolishing mosques. They love singing Vande Mataram not because of its inherent beauty but because it irks Muslims who find hard to eulogise the land instead of the Creator of the land. Even if they do not read their scriptures with any regularity, they would want to impose it on Muslim students. They are not concerned about saving Hindu lives from fellow Hindus, they derive some sort of pleasure if Muslims are killed. They are not campaigning for bringing comforts to their fellow religionists; they are more interested in teasing and harassing Muslim populace. Even their hatred towards Pakistan is based much less on nationalism and much more on hatred because Pakistan is a Muslim country.

I happened to visit the Banaras Hindu University two years back where I was invited to deliver a talk and preside one of the sessions in an international seminar on “Retrieving the Voices from the Margins: Thinkers of Modern India “. It was not difficult for me to realise soon that the whole programme was to highlight the role of the thinkers who are great in the RSS scheme of things and that the BHU is working as the Academic Laboratory of Hindutva. This was clear in the remarks of, Prof. Girish Chandra Tripathi, the Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University   when he said,

“There is no denying the fact that the contribution made by such eminent Indian thinkers as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and others have elicited much critical attention both on the national as well as international horizons. Simultaneously , it cannot be refuted that this heavy attention given to the aforementioned thinkers has created a kind of imbalance in the academic domain for the reason that we have a host of thinkers and luminaries such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Pandita Ramabai Saraswati, Jotiba Phule, M.G. Ranade, Bal Gangadhar  Tilak, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Shyama Prasad Mookerji, Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyay and several others who have not been given adequate critical attention.”

Needless to say that almost all the names he complained about not being given the attention they deserved belong to RSS ideology. I was bombarded with hard questions in the conference but I was fearless in countering them and chose to launch a counter attack telling them to consider their love for Hinduism not just to be restricted to doing everything possible to antagonise Muslims. But the talks I heard during the seminar “enlightened” me in many ways. I could understand a little about the kind of ideological and practical strategies they are working on. I found two strong currents within their ideologues. The inaugural keynote address by Prof. Kapil Kapoor, Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya University, Wardha, was interesting in many ways.

First, he was trying to prove that polytheism in Hinduism is not only central but it almost hinted total denial of any Supreme God. Initially, I felt it was news for me. But soon with other speakers coming, I realised that their original mentor, Sawarkar was himself an atheist. Further, this total denial of God was to prove Hinduism to be totally different from Islam and other Abrahamical religions. They appeared to be dismissive of any idea that the original Rigveda religion had any resemblance with Islamic concept of God. But I could see a clear wedge between those who recognised God while at the same time worshipping other gods – what I can term theistic polytheism – and those who tended to disregard God – what I can call Atheistic Polytheism.

Mr. Kapoor was also unequivocal in absolving Jinnah for Partition and putting the entire blame on Gandhi and Jawahar lal Nehru. He praised Jinnah as a secular Muslim who had nothing much to do with Islam. I felt that on this point almost all were unanimous and their main target was Gandhi. I heard not a word of praise for him.

The most “enlightening” thought for me was their emphasis on both Dharamshaastra (Religious Scheme of things) and Shastrashaastra or the Scripture dealing with weapons for safeguarding Dharma). It is to be mentioned here that in Hindi there are two words, Astra and Shastra. While the former implies small nonlethal weapons, the latter applies to lethal weaponry. There were lots of speeches that presented both as essential and obviously the message was that Hindus should not be reluctant to use Shastrashastra as their guide. It was of course hardly any surprise for me that the keynote speaker described Advani’s Ayodhya Movement as the most memorable event that united Hindus in recent history.

During the seminar, what however I also noticed was that they have developed deep sense of insecurity and the biggest fear in their mind is that sooner or later a large chunk of Hindu population may convert to Islam and Christianity. To stop this remains the ultimate aim of the polarizing agenda they openly indulge in. In order to do this, they have to circulate as much misinformation about Islam and Muslims and weaken Muslim socially and economically as possible. There were however a few among them who told me that they do not think the current strategy of RSS will work and they should instead heed what I advocated: work on religious morality rather than identity.

The remarks that formed part of the synopsis of the keynote address sum up their whole strategy,

“Therefore, the challenge for a thinker in the last 150 years or so has been the time honoured challenge of defending Dharma, i.e., defending the Hindu civilization thought values against the built up onslaught. There is nothing new about such onslaughts against what has been an alternative, non-proselytising, non-Abrahamic civilization – the Vyas Parampara attest that and also the fact that the cycles of loss of knowledge – traditions have always, so far, been, succeeded by cycle of recovery.  It is possible to see all the ‘modern’ thinkers and thought in this perspective.”

I on the other hand stressed that if the religions of the world do not come together, the false and dangerous ideologies of the so-called New World Order will engulf the whole humanity. This work may be initiated in India by Hindus and Muslims jointly and then taking all other religions along. I stressed that RSS will have to work for the application of religious morality rather than finding in the name of their ideology issues that evoke antagonize Muslims and help certain people to come to power.

I was bombarded with questions that showed their enthusiasm in trying to corner Muslims. I countered them on Terrorism, Uniform Civil Code and Population rise. And at one point, I clearly told them: “If you continue with your kind of Hindutva based on Muslim Hate, it will destroy the nation, and your ideology will be among the first casualties.”

With BJP coming to power unbelievably strongly in the second terms, Muslims will have to find ways to develop links with RSS and BJP. The only condition is that they have to learn to be intellectually aggressive without being offensive. Moreover, they will have to start movements themselves that can bring all religions together. These include social and economic issues confronting the masses. At the same time, any attempt to marginalize Muslims and damage their Islamic beliefs has to be confronted through full-fledged democratic ways of mass protests.

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