Mohan Bhagwat’s recent speech calling for dialogue between Hindus and Muslims stirred a hornet’s nest with lines drawn along the expected quarters. Obviously, it is difficult for Muslims to take Bhagwat’s word for dialogue leading to community friendship at first glance. But, a leader Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) speaking of “Hindu-Muslim dialogue” is better than him in saying that Muslims should learn to live with their people. second class status.
Although it is difficult to say who the real Bhagwat is, his latest post means nothing unless the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) avoids the politics of religious division and polarization. As for ordinary citizens, everyone knows that the religious polarization that we experience today can only harm society and disintegrate our nation.
The position of the largest Indian minority remains precarious despite constitutional guarantees of equality of citizenship and the right to religious freedom. Today, a Muslim has become a target of hatred and contempt. Slogans like ‘go to Pakistan’ and ‘goli maro… ‘become particularly threatening when raised by officials of the ruling party. There is a sense of alienation due to the imminent threat of the Citizenship Act (Amendment) -National Register of Citizens-National Register of Population (CAA-NRC-NPR). Muslims are harassed and persecuted under so-called “jihad of love” laws, most visibly in Uttar Pradesh. There is a lack of trust between the government and Muslim citizens. Obviously, while Bhagwat’s call for “dialogue” is welcome, there is much more to be done by both RSS and BJP.
As peace-loving citizens with interests in a democratic regime, we need to think seriously about what leads in the first place to community divisions and disruptions. The answers may lie somewhere in the politics of political parties, especially the BJP and Congress. Both won by politicizing religion – although one does it in the name of protecting the majority religion and the other in the name of secularism.
History throws a lot of evidence on how the two national parties exploited and profited from religious divisions. the Shah Bano episode, the demolition of Babri Masjid, numerous communal riots are a few key examples. In the current polarized context, there is little room for evolution towards common ground if citizens are not themselves mobilized.
Mohan Bhagwat referred to the parampara (tradition) of Hindus and Muslims historically living side by side. He called Muslims’ belief in Allah as nirakara and insisted that formless worship was also a Hindu tradition. But today, the principles of justice, equality and pluralism have been set aside, thanks to the policy of religious division. It has reduced most of us to being just Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs.
We have allowed politics to take over our mental spaces and public discourse. We have allowed political forces to make virulent religion the first marker of our identities. Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, meaning that the world is one family, is undermined when a fellow citizen is ostensibly lynched in the name of protecting a cow. We have remained silent and powerless when the values of love, humanity, kindness and social justice found in our holy books are regularly trampled on.
Mohan Bhagwat’s appeal can only be meaningful if it is followed by some fundamental changes in BJP policy. The party must reiterate its belief in constitutional nationalism, where all Indians are equal. He must avoid his pursuit of Hindu nationalism, which amounts to majoritarianism and infringement of minority rights. Although this cannot be done overnight, some tangible measures can be initiated by the government. Despite the Prime Minister’s call to sabka sat, sabka vikas in 2014, and sabka vishwa later in 2019, Indian Muslims face a huge political attack.
In the face of this challenge, change is also needed within India’s largest minority. On the one hand, it lacks secular democratic leadership that can meaningfully participate in the democratic framework. Muslims are almost exclusively represented by conservative religious men and politicians with narrow personal goals. We need progressive movements like the one against the instant triple talaq and the CAA, both of which were led by women and new leaders. A genuine appreciation of constitutional democratic principles by the masses can lead to large-scale social reform within the community.
Since independence from India, Muslims have lived in poverty and backwardness Sachar Committee named by Manmohan Singh. They lived with communitarianism, fear of arrests of innocent people under the Prevention of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). This despite the vaunted secularism of the power of Congress.
A quick review of the living conditions in the Muslim ghettos should leave an objective person in no doubt that the BJP’s accusation of appeasing Muslims is baseless. Congress sought only to benefit conservative religious elements at the expense of the well-being of the community. This, in turn, provided easy fodder for the BJP, which used the accusation of “appeasement” to attack the Muslim masses and create a sense of resentment among Hindus. Of course, successive governments have a lot to answer.
Democracy is dialogue, mutual trust and inclusion. Democracy is equal respect for all religions in a peaceful and just society. I belong to a family from Ahmedabad where four generations directly confronted and survived community riots. I firmly believe that all of us – Hindus, Muslims, agnostics, secularists – can exert moral pressure against the politics of religious division. But for that to happen, the government led by the BJP in its second term must be held accountable for what is happening around us today. As the moral guardian of the BJP, the key question is: Can Mohan Bhagwat engage in gradual change in his policy?
Zakia Soman is co-founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.