Fresh stories of mutual trust may be in the making

Sep 25, 2022 08:37 PM IST

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and three senior aides went to meet imam Ahmed Ilyasi, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Imam Parishad, and talked for about an hour in a closed room

Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in a mosque? One might be surprised, but on Thursday, Bhagwat and three senior aides went to Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi to meet imam Ahmed Ilyasi, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Imam Parishad, and talked for about an hour in a closed room. At the meeting, an overwhelmed Ilyasi addressed Bhagwat as the “father of the nation” and “rashtra rishi (sage of the nation)”. The Sangh chief politely declined it, but Ilyasi did not hesitate to repeat it later in a byte to a news agency. Later, the Sangh chief visited a madrasa, where the students greeted him with Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki Jai. You might be surprised at what happened at the madrasa during Bhagwat’s visit, though it was not spontaneous, because Vande Mataram is a salutation that a section of Muslims has opposed.

On Thursday, Bhagwat and three senior aides went to Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi to meet imam Ahmed Ilyasi. (HT Photo)
On Thursday, Bhagwat and three senior aides went to Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi to meet imam Ahmed Ilyasi. (HT Photo)

But this meeting took place at an extremely important time. For the first time in three decades, uncalled-for controversies have made headlines in India. The situation has deteriorated to the point that when India became the world’s fifth largest economy last month, no one celebrated. What was instead being discussed then? Should Karnataka schoolgirls wear hijab or not? Why are such gratuitous topics becoming part of the discourse in an open democracy such as India’s, when women in fanatical countries such as Iran are openly taking off their hijabs and clipping their hair? And what was the biggest news story before this? Suspended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson, Nupur Sharma, what she said and its fallout in places such as Udaipur and Amravati. All of this threatened social cohesion.

Our intelligentsia is wasting time pointing fingers at one another rather than working to reverse this plague. They used to skulk around in the shadows of history looking for weapons to support their claims. This is actually fostering alienation. In such circumstances, the initiative of these eminent Muslim intellectuals should be applauded. During a television discussion, some of them admitted that they were satisfied with the meeting. Bhagwat welcomed and encouraged them as well. Now, these intellectuals, along with prominent people from all religions and sects, want to carry on with this programme. In this regard, he has no qualms about meeting the politicians who have so far been fanning the flames. Is the meeting of Sangh’s top leadership and Imam Ilyasi a continuation of the initiative to address this?

Returning to Mohan Bhagwat and the RSS, attempts have been made on numerous occasions to portray the Sangh as a fanatical organisation. It is also said that it confronts and conspires against minorities. This, however, is not the case. For years, senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar has attempted to make inroads among minorities. It is their goal to explain that the Sangh is samrastawadi (syncretic), that believes in reconciliation with anyone who considers himself to be a son of Mother India.

Bhagwat has attempted to change the Sangh since assuming leadership of the organisation, which is approaching its centennial year. Let’s look at a few examples of such changes. The khaki half pants that have been Sangh’s identity for decades have been replaced by brown trousers. Previously, its pracharaks (workers) were required to remain single for life; now, anyone can take on this responsibility. Previously, there was a set method of publicising and communicating. Bhagwat opened up new channels of communication and gave a new impetus to the agenda of overall societal development. This agenda is followed by BJP-ruled states, and Sangh workers spread it from village to village. For the first time, the Sangh, the government, and the organisation appear to be working together without conflict.

Here, one can recall the days when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister (PM). There was a lot of talk in the media about his differences with the then-RSS chief, KC Sudarshan. The Sangh chief now wants to give this massive organisation, spread across 87 countries, a new edge before 2025, so that by the centennial year, he can give the founders’ resolve a new height. This is why his opponents could not disagree with him on issues such as mob violence, cow protection, religious conversion, and so on. However, the explosive rhetoric of Sangh’s affiliated organisations must be stopped to restore trust. If this is not done, the fate of this initiative may be similar to Sudarshan’s efforts. He went to a mosque with good intentions as well.

Of course, PM Narendra Modi supports Sangh’s new policy. If this were not the case, he would not have added sabka vishwas (everyone’s beliefs) to his resolution of sabka saath, sabka vikas (with everyone, development for all) after winning the election with a full majority in 2019. Are we going to see any new stories of mutual trust in the coming days?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan The views expressed are personal

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