Starting A Dialogue

mohan bhagwat meeting imams

Former EC member SY Qureshi has made the context of the meeting of four eminent Muslims with RSS supremo Mohan Bhagavat clear.The account of the meeting also makes one sigh with some relief that the usual constraint and strain of such exchanges seemed absent in it.Next we hear of Mohan Bhagavat himself visiting the chief of the Council of Imams,and the latter extolling him as the ‘Rashtrapati’. Seems too good to be true,but the reports have not lied.Bhagavatjee has reiterated that there is no essential ineradicable difference between Hindus and Muslims from the perspective of Hindutva.

But are we witnessing a real change of heart? A new chapter in the so far fraught Hindu-Muslim relations? That is where the crux lies.There are simply too many instances even in the recent past of leading members of the organization he heads spouting the most venomous hints of Muslim malfeasance and treachery and leading the most rabid campaign against that community to support this complete about-turn in its views and values.Indeed it is widely believed that the RSS is behind the humongous crusade against Muslims that has been rocking the country for the last thirty years or so.

There is a background to this apparent change of mind.First we have seen how the sharp response of certain Arab states with whom India has good trade and diplomatic relations flustered the government of India despite its air of nonchalance.The Prime Minister for the first time reveals in public that his mother had taken good care of a Muslim childhood friend of his.Mohan Bhagavat reacts to the complicated and long-drawn accounts by some Hindu zealots to claim the Gyanvapi Mosque still remains a Hindu place of worship, with the terse and tart remark that ‘it was not necessary to find a Shivling in every stone’ or something closely similar to that.

The four eminent Muslims obviously found encouragement in this trend and approached the Hindutva ideologue for a dialogue. Bhagavatjee has responded to their overtures with grace and courtesy. But along with other sceptics one feels like cautioning well-intentioned people about expecting lasting benefits from such dialogues.

The 2024 elections are less than two years away from this point in time,and the signs are not too encouraging for the votaries of Hindutva,however well-entrenched it seems at the moment. People have openly started grumbling against the government and its grand promises and paltry if not downright wretched performance.Triumphs abroad do not make up for the tragedies at home.Leaders have been suspected of leading the people up the garden path.

In the mean time both the electoral threat presented by AAP and the fairly good public response to Rahul Gandhi’s March to bridge the present chasm between two leading Indian communities also appear to have nettled the Hindutva camp. Notwithstanding their stubborn denials,the foreign press have now and then rather presented rather unflattering pictures of India under the present government.

So in spite of canny caste calculation and manipulation, and showers of freebies for the plebeian masses,the Hindutva camp has felt the ground under their feet might be slipping.And so they are stirring to subvert the campaign of the opposition. Apart from the looming threat of unleashing the CBI and the ED on opposition leaders while keeping the skeletons in their own cupboard under close watch,they are making energetic efforts to counter the tactics of the opposition. For example if the latter is warning the country against widening communal divide under the present government, it also stages dramatic steps to demonstrate that it also believes firmly in communal harmony and can actively work for this noble goal.

But the new gestures and overtures are too sudden and untypical to be convincing enough.After all its acknowledged Guru is Savarkar whome they consider equal if not greater than Gandhi.Savarkar not only coined the word ‘Hindutva’,but also authoritatively defined it for his disciples.It excludes Muslims and Christians by definition.And all this furore about the ‘thousand year old slavery’,the depredations and sacrilege by ‘Moghuls’,re-naming of places,institutions and other sites,the fiat on ‘re-writing of history’, not to speak of the holy rites like lynchings and banning Muslims from the vicinity of Hindu places of worship could not have been sustained without the implicit and explicit support of the Sangh.These are too glaring and too conspicuous to be undone by a momentary fraternizing and soothing rhetoric.Even if one or two leaders have sincerity in this initiative,too many of their followers will obviously stick to their cherished convictions, cemented by many decades of propaganda and practice.

Unless there are energetic efforts to wipe the slate clean and reject all the trappings of a century of overt and covert campaigns,the present show of bonhomie might at most lead to a lull until the 2024 elections,but by no means bring about permanent peace.One regrets such plainspeaking.But readers of this article are unlikely to be persuaded by whitewash.

But politically Bhagavatjee’s gesture is a masterstroke.Many Muslims feel they have been let down by secular parties,who have failed in their view to extend solid protection to their lives,livelihoods and faith. Many have seen that religious leaders have often spoken forcefully and acted more effectively against the campaigns of rabid anti-Muslim mobs.At least they have provided solace and shelter,and moved the courts.They realize that soft Hindutva has not had the desired effect of drawing those Hindus away from poisoned beliefs and misguided violence.And Mohan Bhagavat has gone and met the Muslim religious heads.

Rahul Gandhi’s campaign to heal the breach can only succeed if he can arouse poor terror-stricken Muslim masses from hopeless prostration and inspire them to join his March or at least to offer open support.He must realize the seriousness of the counter-campaign and take prompt action to convince minorities that his remains the only real alternative for restoring solidarity among citizens of different faiths.It is a pity that at this very moment a bombshell has exploded behind his back in Rajasthan. But that only shows that the authority of personal charisma or family prestige no longer helps to keep the flock together.Reasonable adjustments and compromises must be struck without delay.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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