The RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat has offered nothing new by saying that Bharat is not a country without Muslims. Our constitutional democracy has given equal citizenship to all irrespective of religion, caste and gender. A Muslim is as Bharatiya as anyone else. The problem arises when communities get discriminated against because of their religion. Muslims in the country are under continuous attack from the proponents of Hindutva. They have been made particularly vulnerable by the politics of religious polarisation. Ghar wapsi, the use of terms such as ramzaade-haramzaade, go to Pakistan and love jihad and lynchings by gau rakshaks have severely marginalised a community that is already dogged by poverty and backwardness. The community has been at the receiving end of communal riots. Bhagwat has missed the opportunity to clarify if the RSS’s idea of Bharat is based on the constitutional framework of justice and equality for all.
The RSS has been organising various programmes to build awareness about their mission where they invite citizens from different sections of society. It has made some effort to rope in Muslims but without much success. The Muslims remain wary and fearful of its ideology. In recent times, the RSS has once again mixed up the idea of Hindutva with Hinduism. The RSS-backed BJP holds office in the Centre as well as in many states. In fact, they have been in power in some part of the country or other for many years now.
This was an opportunity for Mohan Bhagwat to make a new beginning by saying that Muslims, Christians and other minorities are equal citizens of India and nobody should have any doubt about that. He could have said that killings by gau rakshaks must stop immediately. He could have belatedly reminded the BJP to walk the talk on the sabka saath sabka vikas slogan that it had coined in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. Under the BJP government, there has been a clear political exclusion of Muslims. Add to all this is the exclusion of Muslims from government welfare and anti-poverty programes — a bane of the community for several decades.
The principle of secularism enshrined in our Constitution mandates the separation of state and religion. It also means that there could be no mixing of religion with politics. But unfortunately, it is common knowledge that the reality is very different in our country. The socio-political developments in the neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan, serve as consistent reminders of the perils involved in pursuing this deadly mix. All political parties from the Congress to BJP to the regional parties have deployed religion for political ends.
Hinduism is a religion followed by millions of people in India as well as globally. The imagination of the Hindu Rashtra to the exclusion of all others cannot find support from most Hindus, leave alone minorities. Besides, there are many who may not be Hindus but admire the eclectic and diverse character of Hinduism. The problem arises when Hindutva, clearly a political ideology, is passed off as Hinduism. This is a bit like Islamism being passed off as Islam. Like Hinduism, Islam too has many versions and many faces. Sufi Islam and Wahabi Islam are perhaps the two extreme poles representing this diversity. Extremist ideologies cannot succeed in plural democratic societies.
Perhaps the RSS realises that to succeed, any political ideology requires the support of all sections of society. They need to realise that their thinking has to be in consonance with the constitutional framework. Besides, they need to evolve with the changing times and take on board the aspirations of the people they hope to enroll as supporters. India faces several challenges such as employment, education, rising prices, farmer suicides, violence against women and so on. Politics around religion based on stereotypes of minorities has a limited scope vis-à-vis the rising aspirations of ordinary people. The RSS must do some genuine stock-taking if it wants to widen its support amongst all sections of society.
[The writer, Zakia Soman, is a women’s rights activist and one of the founding members of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. The above article is published by The Indian Express.]
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