Aasha Khosa/New Delhi
Do Hindus think of Muslims as jihadis? Do the Muslims call Hindus Kafir? Do Muslims want to slaughter cows when it is sacred to Hindus? Do Hindus think Muslims are not patriots enough?
These were some of the issues before the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Muslim representatives when they sat down for the first round of structured dialogue aimed at bridging the growing differences and misunderstandings between the followers of India’s two major religions in November.
This was disclosed by Najeeb Jung, a former civil servant, to Dr. Prof Muqtedar Khan on the latter’s YouTube channel Khanversations. Jung said he along with a “motley group of concerned citizens and Muslims” approached the RSS leadership in 2019.
The Hyderabad-born Dr. Muqtedar Khan is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Delaware University in the USA. His YouTube Channel Khanversations is popular for its high standards of debate on international relations and strategic aspects of global politics. He is also the author of six books including Islam and Good Governance: A Political Philosophy of Ihsan.
Dr. Khan’s views are also solicited by many Pakistani and Indian YouTube channels, for his dispassionate analysis is above the regular cut.
In the first such revelation about the ongoing RSS-Muslim dialogue in India that has bearing on the relations between Hindus and Muslims in India, Jung said the idea that “RSS was a major part of this government and speaking to its leaders would help bridge the gap and remove misunderstandings” between RSS and Muslims occurred to him in 2019 after Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister for the second term.
He told Dr. Khan that RSS Sarsanghchalak (Supremo) Mohan Bhagwat was too happy to engage with them and the first meeting between a few Muslims led by Jung and the RSS chief was held in 2019.
He said the conversation went on for a long time in the first meeting. “He had things to say about Muslims and we had to say things about Hindus, you know where the differences exist,” Jung said.
Bhagwat suggested that the dialogue be continued but it never happened because of the chaos and lockdown imposed in the wake of the Covid Pandemic. Jung called this meeting "a great icebreaker."
Last summer, after the pandemic was over, Jung wrote a letter to Bhagwat seeking a revival of the dialogue. In August, Jung with four more “concerned Muslim citizens” – Major General (Retd) Zameruddin Shah, former vice chancellor of the AMU, Shahid Siddiqui, journalist, and Samajwadi party MP, and Saeed Sherwani, a businessman, met Bhagwat.
Bhagwat suggested that the Muslims form a larger group representing more sections while he nominated a five-member RSS group for a structured dialogue.
Jung told Khan that they spoke with organizations like Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema Hind, Ajmer sharif dargah, etc., to cobble up a bigger group. In the ensuing meeting in January this year, the RSS-Muslims conversation lasted three-and-a-half hours. They dwelt on perceptions of Hindus about Muslims and vice versa.
It turned out that an average person in the Hindu community has a grievance against Muslims who, they believe, call them kafir; They also think that all Muslims are for cow slaughter while the animal is sacred to them.
The Muslim leaders clarified that the word kafir in Quran stands for non-believers and not for Hindus. “Hindus believe in God; they don’t fall in this category.” We told them this. The presence of some Maulanas in the group was of help. They told the RSS representatives that while imparting religious education, they never refer to Hindus as kafir.
“The Hindus are sensitive to being called kafir and we also accept that this is not a term that should ever be used,” he said.
Jung said, on the issue of cow slaughter, the Muslims even assured the RSS of their support in case the government decided to declare cow a national animal.
At their end, Muslims also vented their set of grievances to the RSS group. The Muslims feel hurt when they are called ‘jihadi.’ Muslims also wondered why the community needs to be asked to prove their nationalism and also raised the issue of hate speeches against Islam and Muslims.
Jung told Khan that RSS leaders clarified that they don’t support such expressions.
On the reason for seeking dialogue with RSS, Jung said, “The RSS has misunderstandings about Muslims. As do Muslims in India have misunderstandings about the RSS. And if we can bridge those misunderstandings, we can talk about them. Some are easy to remove. Some are more complex. The easy ones can be done in a short time, the more complex ones will take a long, long time. Many meetings and perhaps I can't even be sure to the extent we will succeed. So the idea is to bridge the gap as much as possible.”
Najeeb Jung told Dr. Khan, “I must say that it ended very well. They had their point of view. We had our point of view and we agreed again to meet in due course. That's where we are.”
To the criticism by AIMIM MP Assaduddin Owaisi about ‘elitist and unelected Muslims holding a conversation with RSS,” Jung said although like Owaisi they are not elected “at times big movements are started by smaller groups of people.” He said Muslim leaders who met RSS are " educated and middle-class people and understand the functioning of the goverbnment and have faith in the Constitution."
He however said it was necessary for the Muslims holding talks with RSS that they not only take their community along but also include other religious minorities like Christians and Sikhs, who also have their apprehensions due to the rise of Hindutva.
The RSS, he said, was “very clearly against all eight instances of hate speeches against Muslims.” The Muslims told them about the government's actions to control such elements.
Dr. Khan told Jung that “this is tremendous progress and I feel this kind of dialogue should have been held in the sixties or seventies.”
Najib said the reaction of the Hindus to Muslims is also because of Islamophobia across the world today. “What has happened in the Middle East and West Asia and what's happening in our immediate neighborhood, Pakistan and Afghanistan? It caused no light to the name of Islam. And that psychologically impacts everyone. The term jihadi has become fashionable among a section of people. Like I say, that's the challenge that we have to fight against. “
He said the Muslim explained to RSS that Indian Muslims have no history of terrorism or jihad. We are sometimes told that some Muslims are going and joining ISIS, et cetera. There is just no evidence of that and in a population of 200 million, if half a doesn't have indeed gone, it doesn't matter.”
He admitted there is an element of communalism in the Muslim community and also among Hindus and it’s leading to aggression.
“And we have to fight that at the district levels. We have to convince the district administration that they have to be fair and that they have to abide by the Indian constitution at any cost. So, it's a long, hard process ahead of us.”
Najeeb Jung said while RSS was "in principle against claims on mosques and Muslim religious places by Hindus beyond Kashmi and Mathura,' the leadersit was not possible for them to make a committment that nobody will make such claims in the future.
Jung said it was because of this dialogue that Mohan Bhagwat later made two historic statements in which he said "the DNA of Hindus and Muslims is the same and that Hindus should stop looking for Shivling in every mosque.”
Jung said the disputes on religious places will have to be sorted out in the courts as the issue involves technicalities. He also admitted they didn’t speak about the Uniform civil code.
Asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi doesn’t make a strong statement on issues that bother Muslims, Jung said that RSS leaders had told them that the issue that 20 percent of Muslims needs to be carried along to make India a powerful country in the highest political echelons of the government .
He said it was no coincidence that soon after Prime Minister Modi had asked his party men that "it was time for the BJP to approach the Muslim community, particularly the backward Muslims, et cetera."
The Full Interview:
“That's something to talk about, but that's not enough. I think the prime minister has to say more but there is a problem. India is in a perpetual election mode; parties fight elections to win elections. And if polarization gets you votes, then during elections, harsh words are spoken.”
Jung rebutted Khan on his claim that Pathaan movie starring Shah Rukh Khan did well because Modi had spoken against the boycott calls, He said, Pathaan did well due to the preference of the public to see a movie they like irrespective of the fact that the actor is a Muslim or Hindu, that's the message that the Indian public has given and I think it's a very resounding method message and I'm glad it's happened.”