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Pre-emptive strike: Mohan Bhagwat's inexplicable Muslim-love

Bhagwat's speech is an attempt to pre-empt the RSS and its front organisations from being singled out for scrutiny and compared with the intolerance of the Taliban
Last Updated : 09 September 2021, 09:32 IST
Last Updated : 09 September 2021, 09:32 IST

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In an outreach programme by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its chief, Mohan Bhagwat, appealed to Muslims to work for national progress along with the majority community. As far he was concerned, "The term Hindu … denotes every person irrespective of their language, community or religion. Everyone is a Hindu, and it is in this context that we see every Indian citizen as Hindu," he said.

At the meeting held in Mumbai, Bhagwat claimed that religious diversity was, "In tune with our great culture, which accepts diverse opinions, we commit that there won't be disrespect for other faiths."

Some political observers have suggested that this indicates a significant theoretical shift in Hindutva, marking a softer stance towards those who follow religions originating outside the subcontinent.

VD Savarkar, on the other hand, had insisted that those whose "Holy Land" (Punyabhumi) was not the same as their land of birth (Pitrabhumi) would not be compatible with the Indian/Hindu nation. Is the RSS indeed distancing itself from Savarkar's "two-nation theory", or is it dissembling?

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has undeniably put all kinds of religion-based politics on notice. Ministers in the newly formed cabinet in Kabul include 14 prominent terrorists, some with a huge bounty on their heads. Even as the global community is forced to deal with religious extremists across the political table, it will have to introspect and set the limits of the degrees of religious extremism it will countenance.

Bhagwat's speech could be seen as an attempt to pre-empt the RSS and its front organisations from being singled out for scrutiny in this regard. Many Indian commentators have noted similarities with the Taliban. Eminent writer Javed Akhtar is already drawing fire for saying on TV, "Look at the right-wing objectively. They are the same people. Their names and faces are different, but their value system is the same vis-à-vis gender, minorities – they have no love lost for minorities, like the Taliban."

The RSS and its front organisations, especially the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, have also been named in the past by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom for promoting intolerance and trying "to 'saffronise' India through violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindus and Hindu Dalits."

International media and human rights organisations have red-flagged the violent toll of Hindu nationalism of the RSS time and again. Whether or not the Indian government accepts such criticism, others have joined the dots that connect ideologies intolerant of the Muslim minority with institutionalised discrimination against them.

Bhagwat's speech was not off-the-cuff. It was carefully staged. A group of invited Muslims clerics sat in the audience while he was flanked onstage by two prominent Muslims holding important positions at the government's pleasure – Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and Chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir, Lt. General (R) Syed Ata Hasnain. The Muslim clerics symbolised openness towards an inclusive dialogue while the two beneficiaries of government largesse signalled the perks available for supporting the Establishment.

In the past, neither Bhagwat nor his acolytes have ever come out in support of Muslims as citizens: neither when the new citizenship laws were perceived as being discriminatory to minorities; nor when lynch mobs forced Muslims to perform humiliating tests of nationalism and jump through hoops to prove their Indianness. They kept silent on the murder of the Steins by Bajrang Dal's Dara Singh and the bombing of Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Sharif, Samjhauta Express or the Malegaon blasts by Hindutva extremists.

When today, Bhagwat tells Muslims that "sensible leaders of the Muslim community must oppose extremism", will he also make a similar appeal to "sensible leaders of the Hindu community"?

However, when the world is likely to recalibrate how far it is willing to accept religious extremists in positions of political power, Bhagwat is compelled to talk of the common heritage and ancestry of Muslims and Hindus and indeed of Hindu exceptionalism.

Any comparison with the intolerance of the Taliban has to be staved off. Bhagwat, in the past, has insisted that "Hindu terrorism" is an oxymoron.

One wonders what Bhagwat thinks of organisations like Abhinav Bharat or Sanatan Sanstha, which have been involved in murder and mayhem. Or how he would face the widow of Pehlu Khan, the families of those murdered by Hindu mobs in the Gujarat riots of 2002, the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 or the Northeast Delhi riots of 2020?

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were Hindus though not motivated by Hinduism. Bald denials that Hindus can never be terrorists do not stand historical or contemporary scrutiny.

Moreover, such clever shifts in the statements of the Hindutva leadership mean little to the RSS cadres. Their actions on the ground do little to support Bhagwat's grand claims of Hindu tolerance.

(The writer is a journalist based in Delhi)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 09 September 2021, 08:40 IST

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