RSS chief meets imam body head in outreach to Muslims
It was not for the first time that the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat met the imam but it was his first visit to a madrasa, which came against the backdrop of growing clamour to monitor the functioning of the Islamic religious schools.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat on Thursday met All India Imam Organisation chief Umer Ahmed Ilyasi and visited a madrasa run by the organisation in the national capital.
It was not for the first time that the RSS chief met the imam but it was his first visit to a madrasa, which came against the backdrop of growing clamour to monitor the functioning of the Islamic religious schools.
While the RSS said the meeting was part of its outreach to the Muslim community, the imam, who later called Bhagwat a “Rashtrapita” (father of the nation) and “Rashtrarishi” (national sage), said he had sent a “personal invite to Bhagwat”.
The RSS is the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has been vocal about the functioning of madrasas. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP-led state government has triggered a political controversy over its decision to hold surveys of unrecognised madrasas.
The meeting between Bhagwat and the Imam that took place at the latter’s residence, which is within a mosque at central Delhi’s Kasturba Gandhi Marg, piqued curiosity about the outreach, besides the fact that the RSS top boss visited the Imam instead of the other way round.
Sangh functionaries, however, dubbed the interaction as “routine”.
“The late Sarsanghchalak KS Sudarshan (former RSS chief) had also visited the current Imam’s father and used to hold meetings with Muslim and Christian clergy at their places, so there is nothing unusual about the meet,” a senior RSS functionary said, seeking anonymity.
The functionary also downplayed the Imam’s reference to Bhagwat as father of the nation. “Bhagwat ji also maintains that there is only one father of the nation and the rest of us are children of the same motherland,” the functionary said.
RSS Sarsanghachalak (chief) meets people from all walks of life, Sunil Ambekar, head of Sangh’s publicity wing, said. “It’s part of a continuous general ‘samvad’ (dialogue) process.”
Ilyasi said he shared cordial relations with the RSS chief for a long time. “I had invited the RSS chief to my residence, we have had cordial relations for a very long time and interactions between us are frequent,” he told HT.
Bhagwat was accompanied by RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal and Muslim Rashtriya Manch patron Indresh Kumar for the meeting.
To a question on whether they discussed the current political and social issues, Ilyasi said: “We did not discuss any issues, it was a personal invite and since Bhagwat ji had never been to a madrasa before, we took him to Madarsa Tajweedul Quran in Azad Market (north Delhi).”
Bhagwat had a “fruitful interaction” as students at the madrasa asked questions and heard him speak, Ilyasi said.
“Some of the students told him that they had only seen him on TV and for them it was a special moment to interact with him. He gave them good advice on how to become good citizens and be able to contribute to nation building,” he said.
The Imam, whose family is no stranger to the RSS, said the meeting should not be seen from a political prism.
“Dialogues must continue because that is the only way to address misunderstandings and misconceptions about each other. I don’t know about the others but I believe Bhagwat ji is our Rashtrapita and it is in everyone’s interest to keep the dialogue going,” he said.
Ilyasi, meanwhile, declined to comment on the Uttar Pradesh government’s stance on madrasas and raids at PFI centres across the country on Thursday.
Bhagwat’s meeting with the Imam comes a month after his interaction with eminent personalities from the Muslim community, who have proposed to work with the RSS on a strategy to build communal amity.
HT reported on Wednesday that at the interaction, the Sangh chief underlined the need to ensure amity between different communities for India to progress.
The meeting was attended by former LG of Delhi, Najeeb Jung, former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi, former vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah, philanthropist Syed Sherwani and journalist Shahid Siddiqui.
A person privy to the meeting said while five representatives objected to Muslims being called Pakistani and terrorists, RSS leaders pointed out that Hindus find it offensive to be referred to as Kafir or non-believers.