Since the news broke five members of the Muslim community met with RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat on August 22, the media went to town with various interpretations. The five who met Bhagwat were former Delhi LG Najeeb Jung, journalist Shahid Siddiqui, hotelier Saeed Shervani, Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah and this writer.
I would like to clarify that this was entirely an initiative of the five of us, a motley group of friends with common concerns about the insecurity of the Muslim community and a belief in the process of dialogue. Since the news broke, we have received countless messages of support from members of the Muslim community, and even non-Muslims, echoing our sense that dialogue is the only way forward.
We also saw many critical comments. For example, who “authorized” us to represent the community. Some have expressed concern that “association” with a communal organization would jeopardize our hitherto intact reputation. Some have warned us against being “trapped”. Yet no one has questioned that dialogue is the only way forward.
We were asked a host of questions that I will address through this article, requested by The Indian Express, to set the record straight.
What prompted us to seek this encounter? Well, our most pressing concern is with the way things are going, particularly the growing insecurity felt by the Muslim community following recurring incidents of lynching of innocent people, calls from hotheads from Hindutva to genocide and the marginalization of the community in almost every field. .
How was the meeting? First of all, we were surprised to see the simplicity of the RSS chief’s modest office. Then his punctuality — he was punctual for the 10 o’clock appointment. His patience too: he listened to all of us with sustained attention for an hour without interrupting us once. The only other person present was Krishan Gopal, his close associate.
Of course, we could sense that Bhagwat was speaking from a position of authority. But it was subtle and his attitude was never overbearing – there was nothing that would make us uncomfortable. In his opening address, he emphasized three things: Hindutva is an inclusive concept in which all communities have an equal place. The country can only progress when all communities are united, he added. In a very significant statement, he underlined that the Indian Constitution is sacrosanct and that the whole country must respect it. He sought to dispel fears that RSS would seek to abandon the Constitution at the earliest opportunity. And that Muslims will be deprived of their rights.
Bhagwat then said that Hindus are extremely sensitive to two things, the first of which is the cow. We replied that Muslims fully understand this, especially since the slaughter of cows is prohibited in most of India. The law already punishes offenders, as it should. His conclusion seemed to be that in states where there is no legal ban, Muslims should voluntarily avoid beef. This should be fairly easy if it guarantees community safety.
The other sensibility he mentioned was that Hindus were called “kafir”. Our response was that even though the original meaning of this Arabic word was unbelieving, if it is considered pejorative, Muslims should avoid it altogether. Very easy. Very doable. The Quran mentions that “Allah is rabbul alamin”, not rabbul Muslimeen – God of the universe, not of Muslims alone. The Koran says: “your religion is yours, mine is mine”.
We also pointed out to him equally offensive terms used for all Muslims – jihadists and Pakistanis. He agreed that this had to stop immediately. We suggested the need for ongoing dialogue and asked if he could name some of his associates with whom we could continue to interact. He named four people. He also volunteered to be available himself if needed. I took this opportunity to present to Bhagwat my book The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, with the prior consent of my colleagues. In doing so, I mentioned four things.
First, although the growth of the Muslim population is the highest, the rate is greatly exaggerated. The difference between Hindu and Muslim rates, which was 1.1 30 years ago, has fallen to 0.3, as Muslims adopt family planning much faster than Hindus. Second, contrary to the general perception, Muslims have the least incidence of polygamy according to the Indian government’s own report and old census figures. Third, widespread polygamy is simply not possible in India due to the unfavorable gender ratio. There are only 940 women against 1,000 men, which means that 60 men don’t even have a wife. Bhagwat chuckled heartily at that, clearly indicating that the point had been saved. Fourth, Muslims will never be able to overtake Hindus even in 1,000 years, as a mathematical model that math professors Dinesh Singh and Ajay Kumar prepared at my request clearly shows.
As soon as the media caught wind of the encounter, they rushed to the news. Reaction? Lots of positives. Reservation? RSS will not change. Maybe, maybe not. Critique: We “legitimize” them. Well, they don’t need our credentials. They are already the largest and most powerful organization in the world. And who are we anyway? A group of retirees who have played successful rounds and care about society and the country.
Do we represent the community? Maybe not. No one elected or selected us. But we are also the community. We have our perceptions and our observations. It was our individual initiative. Are we elitists? Maybe. But far from our accuser, who lives in a palace 10 to 15 times larger than our relatively modest homes. We are not illiterate. We are also aware of the realities on the ground: Incidents of lynching; calls for genocide; rapes; economic boycott; questioning of the right to vote and discrimination in obtaining housing or employment.
Our dilemma: How much to expose to the media? We didn’t want to go to them in the first place. But we also didn’t want to hide from them when they were approached. After all, we hid the case from the media for an entire month, while talking about it freely with dozens of friends. That should answer the cynics who said we were looking for publicity.
We firmly believe that dialogue is the only way forward. We have nothing to lose, but everything to gain. We also want to convey our feelings to the Honorable Prime Minister as soon as possible. We hope he will grant us an audience.
Quraishi is the former Chief Election Commissioner of India and the author of An Undocumented Wonder – The Making of the Great Indian Election