Is the BJP, led by Narendra Modi changing its opinion about the larger question of Muslims and Islam, and their integration in the Indian nation? Is this happening because of any shift in the RSS thought process led by Mohan Bhagwat? Is the shift, if any, in the thought process a kind of deception to hoodwink the global opinion which projects Hindutva in the negative way? Or is it a result of a change of heart after being in the government for the last nine years and that the compulsion of governance has forced the BJP to moderate its views?
These questions are being asked since Modi has talked about Pasmanda Muslims in the national executive meeting of BJP in Hyderabad. This perception got a further boost when in the recently held local bodies elections, the BJP surprisingly gave tickets to many Muslim candidates. This is the same BJP which did not give tickets to any Muslim in the last two Assembly and Parliamentary elections in UP which is the largest state in the country. This is the same BJP that does not have a single Muslim MP in the lower House of Parliament despite having 303 seats. Surprisingly, very recently the party has nominated four Muslims to the upper House of the UP Assembly ie the legislative council. These two incidents have caused speculation over whether the BJP is deliberately trying to reach out to Muslims to change the perception that the BJP is anti-Muslim. To be fair to the BJP, as a political party it has never hidden its bias against Muslims in India and Islam at the global level. The obvious question should then be as to what has caused this change; and if it really is a change, how genuine is it?
Even before India got freedom, there were two distinct opinions about Muslims in India. One opinion was led by the Congress that believed that Muslims like Hindus, were an integral part of India as a nation. But the Muslim League, RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, propagated that Hindus and Muslims were two distinct identities; and could not live together; that they were two different nations. Babasaheb Ambedkar put it very succinctly when he wrote, “Strange as it may appear, Mr Savarkar and Mr Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nation issue are in complete agreement about it. Both not only agree, but insist that there are two nations in India - one the Muslim nation and the other Hindu nation. They differ only as regards the terms and conditions on which the two nations must live.”
After Partition, the RSS never reconciled with the Muslim question. In their opinion Muslims are the “other” who would never assimilate in the Indian nation; and whose loyalty to the nation could never be fully trusted. The second chief of RSS, Golwalkar called them ‘enemies of the country’ and demanded that they should be ‘treated as second class citizens with no civic rights’. RSS’s political wing, the Jan Sangh in its first election manifesto writes, “Jan Sangh considers them integral to our body ... (but) hopes that for the establishment of the brotherhood and harmonious society they will discard all kind of complexes; to follow their religion they will boycott all kinds of foreign methods and will adopt Indian way of living.” Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the ideological mentor of the Jan Sangh and a revered figure in the RSS family, wrote, “Whatever is called as Muslim culture, is not the culture of a religion but a collection of un-Indian cultures only, resultantly is foreign and whose harmonisation with Indian-ness is not only difficult but impossible.”
The problem with the RSS and its affiliate organisations like the BJP is that Muslim are in such a large number that they can neither be ignored nor can they be thrown out; they can only be subdued by state power. Once the BJP/RSS had a majority in the lower house of the parliament in 2014, that process was unleashed, unhindered, to make them subservient to the majority community. Mob lynching, campaigns in the garb of love jihad, land jihad and conversion, economic boycott of Muslims, issues like hijab, azan, halal meat, non-vegetarianism and opposition to education in madrasas are different instruments to make them realise that they should no longer think of themselves equal to Hindus. Despite the nation-wide uproar and global condemnation, the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues maintain an ambiguous silence. Random BJP leaders and members of ideological fraternity try to justify in different ways, government agencies either ignore such acts or penalise those who can arguably be called victims. Weakening of the minority rights and violence perpetrated on them has dented the image of India as a democratic society, and it is being viewed globally as turning into an authoritarian state system.
Given the context, the statement of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was viewed with scepticism when in 2017 he said that ‘Hindutva without Muslimscan be anything but Hindutva.’ Bhagwat has been trying to dispel the perception that Hindutva in its genesis is anti-Muslim and can be blamed for the rise in anti-minority violence, rhetoric and discrimination. He is also trying to reach out to religious Muslim leaders. His meeting with Arshad Madani, the top leader of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, was seen with awe and scepticism. The RSS since its inception in 1925, has been accused of doublespeak and playing the deception game. It is being rightly questioned that if Bhagwat is honest in his assertion about harmony with Muslims, then why does anti-Muslim violence and hate-mongering continue unabated? If Modi talks about ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Vishwas’ then those from his own party who spew venom against Muslims are not taken to task — rather, such individuals are promoted in the party and in the government.
This clearly shows that there is a certain amount of double speak. What is being uttered by Bhagwat and Modi does not translate on the ground. Modi is such a powerful prime minister that nothing can move without his permission, neither in the party nor in the government. He wields such enormous power that if he desires, such activities will stop immediately. No one can defy him- neither in the RSS nor in the party. There is enough evidence that proves that the prime minister and his number two use anti-Muslim rhetoric to electorally polarise votes for the BJP, and it has worked very well till now.
So the question is, why the attempts to publicly reach out to Muslims now? The answer is simple. It’s a pure public relations exercise. It’s a part of the image-building technique. There is concern in the RSS that since 2014, Hindutva as a word and also as an ideology has taken a beating in public perception due to the reasons given above. A dialogue has emerged among the top echelons of the RSS that the anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate-mongering might fetch votes for the BJP, win elections for Modi but in the long run, it will earn Hindutva and the Hindu religion a bad name day by day, which in turn will permanently damage the RSS’s project to unify Hindus and to present Hindutva as a tolerant religion. Thus, the need to change the perception.
RSS and BJP are ideological formations. To keep pursuing their ultimate goal, historically, ideological organisations resort to tactical adjustments and strategic retreat; camouflaging the real intent by taking opposite stands is a well-rehearsed technique. It can be called a survival game. RSS and BJP are no exceptions.
The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B