At a time when several contentious issues such as the Gyanvapi mosque row, Hubbali Idgah Maidan dispute, Krishna Janmabhoomi row in Mathura among others have gained momentum, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh seems to be focused on increasing its "Muslim-outreach" campaign. Recently, the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat met with a group of Muslim intellectuals, including former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi and former Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung. According to reports, the meeting was convened to chalk out a plan to strengthen communal harmony in the country.
Former Aligarh Muslim University Vice Chancellor Lt General (retd) Zamiruddin Shah, former MP Shahid Siddiqui, and philanthropist Saeed Shervani were also present in the closed-door meeting recently held at Udasin Ashram, the temporary office of the RSS.
Days after the meeting, Bhagwat was seen visiting a mosque in New Delhi on Thursday and he also reportedly met with Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, the chief cleric of the All India Imam Organization.
What was decided in the meeting?
In the September 20 meeting, it was decided to build a platform for strengthening communal harmony in the country. "Both sides appreciated the need for communal harmony and to remove differences and misunderstandings among communities. A plan was chalked out to pursue this initiative," sources told PTI. While both sides discussed a wide range of issues, reports state contentious topics like the Gyanvapi row or the Nupur Sharma controversy were not raised in the meeting. However, both sides agreed to tone down the religious rhetoric.
Owaisi hits out at 'Elite' Muslims
The meeting has not gone down well with some leaders like Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi who called out Muslim leaders who met the RSS chief as "elite" and disconnected from "ground reality". Speaking to reporters on the growing bonhomie between RSS and Muslim leaders recently, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader said, "The whole world knows the RSS' ideology, and you go and meet him. This elite section of the Muslim community, whatever they do, is the truth. But when we fight politically for our fundamental rights, we are shown in a bad light," as quoted by NDTV.
RSS's Muslim outreach
Of late, the RSS has reached out to Muslims several time with Bhagwat holding a number of meetings with leaders from the community.
Last month, Bhagwat met with five Muslim intellectuals and discussed his concerns about the "current atmosphere of disharmony" in the country. The meeting was convened soon after Bhagwat questioned the need to "look for a Shivling under every mosque" in the backdrop of the petition by five Hindu women to pray inside the premises of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi.
Last year, the RSS chief met a group of Muslim intellectuals at a hotel in Mumbai, in September 2019, Bhagwat had met Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind head Maulana Syed Arshad Madani at the RSS office in the national capital and discussed a host of issues, including strengthening unity between Hindus and Muslims and incidents of mob lynching. These meetings were coordinated by Ram Lal, Sangh's senior functionary and former organisational secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), PTI reported.
Groundwork for 2024?
Notably, the increase in the intensity of RSS's minority outreach campaigns comes at a time when the Center is pushing for reservation of Dalit Muslims in education and jobs.
The ongoing consultations between the departments of BJP government pertaining to the constitution of a National Commission to study the socio-economic and educational status of the Scheduled Caste members who converted to religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism has opened the floodgate of discussions on caste discrimination among Muslims and Christians.
The BJP, which seems to be in action mode in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, has been making attempts to widen its voter base and observers have noted that the party might be trying to replicate the success it had with Other Backward Castes (OBCs) by appealing to Pasmanda Muslims.
An India Today report from 2021 noted that about 44,000 members of the Minority Morcha were being deployed across the state to work among the minorities and visit Muslim neighborhoods to talk about the work done by the Yogi Adityanath government for the betterment of Muslims. In July this year, Times of India quoted sources as saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had suggested that the party try and appeal to Pasmanada Muslims.
Moreover, the party last year also appointed Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy's Kunwar Basit Ali as the state president of its Minority Morch in UP. Ali is the state co-convener of the ‘Muslim National Forum’ and came into the limelight for his campaigning to convince Muslims in favour of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA).
(With inputs from PTI)