The Sunday Observer
New Delhi, 18-24 August 1996
19. RSS wants Muslims for friends

The fiery Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is on a friendship mission. And the target is none other than its ‘erstwhile enemy’, the Muslim community.

The RSS functionaries, sources say, are now meeting Muslim leaders to ‘get itself rid of the fascist tag’ - just last week the top brass led by deputy general secretary K.S. Sudarshan conducted heart-to-heart talks with the Muslim leaders.

Interestingly, the meeting (marked with some acrimony from both the sides) was held at the south Mumbai office of the Urdu newspaper, Akhbare-Alam. Former Mumbai RSS secretary Ramesh Patange, Dr. U. Undre and Sudarshan represented the Sangh Parivar, while the Anjuman-e-Islam Trust chairman Ishaq Jamkhanawala, Akhbar-e-Alam editor Khalil Zhahid, Muslim League president G. M. Banatwala and Dr. Jamil Kamil of Maharashtra College were there from the Muslim side.

Contentious issues like the Babri Masjid, uniform civil code, recurring communal riots, deteriorating socio-economic conditions of Muslims, distribution of provocative pamphlets by the Sangh Parivar during the pre and post-Ayodhya riots period, as well as the prevailing gun culture in Kashmir were discussed threadbare.

“We have to understand that Muslims will continue living in India without converting. And since they are such a vast community, they obviously cannot be ignored,” Pantage said.

The RSS wanted to get rid of the hostility and mistrust that marks the Hindu-Muslim relation today. The media, he claimed, has contributed substantially to this by portraying the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as fascist and fundamentalist organizations. “We are a very disciplined organization with a commitment to social causes. The Muslims too are victims of the mischievous propaganda of the press,” he said.

Zhahid concurred, and added that the differences between the two have reached hysterical proportions. “It is time we sat down and debated issues amicably, instead of accusing each other of being communalists,” he said.

Confirming that a meeting attended by more than 100 Muslim leaders and intellectuals had taken place, Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary Pramod Mahajan said the idea was to find out the reasons for the lack of trust between the two communities, remove their fear psychosis and strive to establish “brotherly relations” with “the bona fide citizens of the country.” He added that Mumbai was chosen as the venue for obvious reasons.

However, the Muslim leaders are yet to get over their bitterness. “The RSS and the BJP think Muslims have been appeased by the Congress, but the reality is just the opposite. Only 1.5 per cent Muslims are in government services. The standards of living in Muslim-dominated localities are declining every day,” Zhahaid said, “If Muslims want to progress they will have to join hands with the Hindus.”

“Stalemate over issues like the uniform civil code can only be solved by mutual discussions,” said Samajwadi Party office-bearer I.S. Qasim. “Muslims are a little rigid about religion. They feel the BJP is trying to impose Hindu laws on them. What we can do is debate the issue and reach an agreement.”

The Muslim leaders, however, admit that there will be a lot of resistance to the idea. “Enough blood has already been shed,” said Banatwala, “We will not let the saboteurs succeed.”

While leaders of the two communities are optimistic that such non-political contacts will help bridge the chasm between them, others are not at all convinced. Janata Dal worker Nadeera Sheikh scoffed, “Do you think such talks can solve the monumental differences between the two? Until the socio-economic conditions of Muslims improve and they are brought on par with other communities, the differences will remain.”

Mumbai trader Salim Khan agreed, “We are a mere vote bank for both Hindu and Muslim leaders to exploit. It is in their interest that the two communities remain polarized.”

Syed Mir Saif, jewellery trader of Dariba Kalan in Chandni Chowk, pointed out, “Our politics is different from the Hindus. Where do the twain meet for us to hold talks?” Government school teacher Mohammad Ali Khan was even more forthright. “How can a leopard change its spots?” he asked.

A senior professor of Jamia Millia University, however, welcomed the talks.  Requesting anonymity, he said, “If the RSS is serious about the talks, it means they have realized they cannot come to power on a jingoistic agenda.”

Despite general scepticism in the community, RSS and Muslim leaders are determined to hold more dialogues. RSS sources confirm that Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are next on the list. Efforts are on to arrange a closed-door meeting with the Muslim community in the Capital.

The peaceful conduct of jalabhishek by the Shiv Sena at Varanasi without any rabble-rousing by the RSS or the VHP is also seen as an indicator of the changed social and political agenda of the Parivar.*


* The Sangh Parivar leadership refuses to learn the one worthwhile lesson from a long stretch of history, namely, that so long as Hindus remain Hindus, howsoever soft, and Muslims remain Muslims, howsoever liberal, Hindu-Muslim relations are bound to remain what they have been since the advent of Islam in this country. The deep gulf which divides the two communities - one indigenous and the other self-alienated - cannot be bridged by any amount of wishful thinking.

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