Hindu-Muslim Brotherhood: Will RSS Chief's Sage Counsel Mark A New Beginning For Hindutva Groups?
The right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) occasionally takes note of India’s pluralism even if multicultural tenets are supposed to be anathema to its Hindu-centric ideology.
What prompts the organization with its long-established sectarian background to take a bow in the direction of the nation’s diversity is never specified. But this gesture cannot be unrelated to the political environment, although this is unlikely ever to be admitted by either the RSS or its political mate, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The latest example of this stance is the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s castigation of those Hindus who deny Muslims the right to live in India and his assertion about the brotherhood of the two communities because their DNA is the same on account of their common ancestry.
Considering how this declaration goes against, say, Uttar Pradesh’s – India’s most populous and electorally crucial state - hardline chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s differentiation between the Bajrang Balis (Hindus) and Alis (Muslims) or Union minister Giriraj Singh’s regret that there was no exchange of population at the time of partition so that there wouldn’t have been any Muslims in India, it is obvious that the RSS chief’s comments mark a drastic reversal of the Hindutva camp’s customary divisive formulation.
It is worth recalling that this discordant thesis owes its origin to a former RSS Sarsanghchalak (head) M.S. Golwalkar’s characterization of Muslims as Internal "Enemies No 1" and another Hindutva stalwart, V.D. Savarkar’s belief that Muslims and Christians are essentially aliens even if they are born in India because their “punyabhu” or holy lands are in Mecca and Rome, unlike those of the Hindus.
These stridently anti-Muslim and anti-Christian articulations can be said to constitute the bedrock of the Hindutva weltanschauung and are routinely voiced by both the saffron leaders and their rank and file. Violent attitudes based on the supposed alienness of the two minority communities also manifest themselves in occasional acts of lynching which have been condemned by Bhagwat.
While much of the seemingly ingrained anti-minority sentiments among the followers of the RSS and the BJP (not to mention their allied outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal) have been known for decades, what is intriguing is the reason for the change of stance indicated by Bhagwat. There have been other occasions, too, when he has spoken in a similar vein as with foreign journalists in September 2019, to clear “misconceptions” about the saffron brotherhood. However, since these have persisted, as Bhagwat’s latest clarifications show, an explanation for the renewed effort to present the Hindutva worldview is seemingly warranted.
The Muslim factor in UP
But why now? Is it because of the realization that the political gains which the BJP has made with its polarizing tactics have reached the saturation point and that any further baiting of Muslims can become counter-productive? Or has the RSS come to believe that at a time of a perceived governance deficit in dealing with a medical emergency because of Covid-19, it is necessary to win the trust of all communities and not only of the Hindus?
The BJP’s need for reaching out to the Muslims is perhaps all the greater in UP where they constitute 19.3 percent of the 220 million population. Given the frequent visits of the RSS top brass to the state, it is obvious that both the RSS and the BJP are uneasy about the latter’s prospects in the state assembly elections early next year even if the latest district council election results have been satisfactory.
They must have taken into account the outcome of an earlier set of polls at a lower level that gave the main opposition outfit Samajwadi Party a lead over the BJP. Did that outcome motivate the RSS chief to welcome the Muslims as long-lost brothers?
Even if one speech by Bhagwat is unlikely to make any difference to the views of the minorities, it is understandable in the context of the Sangh Parivar's electoral tactics which are palpably based on the principle of leaving no stones unturned when pushing ahead in a given direction.
The never-say-die attitude may have become stronger in the aftermath of the BJP’s defeats in the recent assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala with their large Muslim populations – West Bengal (27 percent), Kerala (26.5 percent).
Continuing anti-Muslim rhetoric
But how difficult a projected turnaround can be in the Sangh Parivar’s position on the minorities is evident from the observations of a BJP apparatchik on the very day Bhagwat made his speech.
In the opinion of the functionary, no houses should be given to Muslims on rent (“kiraye par makan nahin denge”) while evicting them from the country (“inko iss desh se nikal do”). According to the latest Bhagwat diktat, this saffron operative in Haryana is not a Hindu and should be pulled up by the party. But all that a spokesman has said is that his views are his own and not the party’s.
The nation, and especially Hindus and Muslims, will be waiting with bated breath to see what impact the RSS supremo’s advice has on the ruling BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has said his government's credo is "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (For all, development for all).
Will the BJP M.P. Parvesh Verma, who had expressed the fear that the Muslim anti-citizenship Act (Citizenship Amendment Act passed by parliament in December 2019) protesters of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh will enter the homes of Hindus to rape and kill, tone down his vitriol?
Will the leader of the opposition in the West Bengal assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, stop addressing Mamata Banerjee as Begum? No one knows if Bhagwat’s sage counsel has been a wasted effort or whether it will mark a new beginning for the Parivar. For a car speeding in one direction to wheel around is not easy.
(The writer is a commentator on current affairs. The views expressed are personal)
(This article has been reproduced here in arrangement with the South Asia Monitor- https://southasiamonitor.org)