Muslims, traditionally a Congress vote bank, began to feel uncomfortable with the Congress. There was a reason
When a conversation between five prominent Muslims and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has generated a debate, a 1990 interview with RSS ideologue Bhaurao Deoras may shed further light.
Q: There are any number of Muslim rulers, poets, philosophers who contemplated Hinduism with great admiration, its philosophy, its aesthetic range. Someone like Dara Shikoh. Now Hindus must accept him as a hero. I am asking you. Is Dara Shikoh acceptable to you?
Deoras: He is a hero. But the Muslim community did not permit him to live.
Q: I am taking you on record that Dara Shikoh is your model for a good Muslim and a model Indian.
Deoras: I haven’t read his whole life. But it’s true. He was a fine gentleman. He translated the Upanishads. But remember, he wasn’t allowed to rule this land. The establishment was against him.
Q: What is your last word for national reconciliation?
Deoras: The Ram Mandir should be allowed to be built. We accept Dara Shikoh as an Indian hero; you accept Ram as part of our common cultural heritage.
Q: Who can dispute that Ram is part of our cultural heritage. Our poets have written about him.
Deoras: Let the temple be built first. I will be the first person who will say… let us forget the past!
The circumstances in 1990 were different. Communal riots had erupted in many north Indian cities after V.P. Singh announced implementation of the Mandal Commission report granting 27 per cent reservations in government jobs for OBCs.
The upper castes were on fire, literally. I remember how the self-immolation by Rajiv Goswami, a Delhi University student, at the AIIMS crossing accelerated the anti Mandal movement. This pitted upper castes against lower castes. This division had been a social reality for hundreds of years. What was new after Mandal was the aggressive use of caste in electoral politics.
Muslims, traditionally a Congress vote bank, began to feel uncomfortable with the Congress. There was a reason. Bruised by the JP moment and its ouster from Delhi by the Janata Party, the Congress began to change. It began to acquire a soft shade of saffron. Indira Gandhi fought the 1983 Jammu election on an anti-minority plank, though the minority in her focus were Sikhs.
After her 1984 assassination, the unprecedented three-fourth majority with which Rajiv Gandhi returned to power was not seen as a sympathy vote, but as “Hindu consolidation”. How was this any different from the “consolidation” sought by the BJP?
Rajiv Gandhi first “appeased” Muslims by upturning the Shah Bano judgment and banning Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. The Hindu Right was up in arms. Rajiv rushed to announce Ram Rajya from Ayodhya, and opened the locks of the Ram temple at the Babri Masjid.
While permitting the brick-laying ceremony for the Ram temple, Rajiv and his cohorts fell back on deception. They allowed “shilanyas” on land the Allahabad high court had declared as disputed. They told Muslims a brazen lie: that the high court’s advice hadn’t been violated.
Within minutes of the trickery, the VHP announced they had prevailed on Rajiv: The “shilanyas” was done on exactly the land they demanded. This was what caused the Muslims to leave the Congress in droves. On December 6, 1992, as Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao slept through the day while the Babri Masjid was demolished, the Muslim exodus from the Congress was complete.
Between Mandal in 1989 and Masjid in 1992, India’s Muslims ran helter- skelter, not knowing where to pitch his tent. In his panic he was lured by caste leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati who, the Muslim learnt to his chagrin, had worked only to advance Yadav and Dalit interests. (I am focusing only on Uttar Pradesh, to keep the narrative simple.) Since Partition, the Muslim felt secure in the Congress’ lap. But other than the odium of being “appeased”, he got what the Sachar Commission report revealed in 2005. On every development index, he had fallen below the lowest rungs of the Hindu caste.
By turning to the caste leaders, the Muslim for the first time intervened in what was essentially an intra-Hindu tussle between the Savarnas and the Avarnas.
Indeed, by siding with the Avarnas, or the lower castes, the Muslim had for the first time tried to invert the caste pyramid, an affront not to be easily forgotten.
The RSS-BJP combine was going to take no chances. The consolidation of Hindus was the only way to ward off the threat permanently. This was possible by sprinkling saffron in the air — “love jihad”, beef lynchings, loudspeakers on mosques, “ghar wapsi”, high-profile arrests of Muslims for alleged terrorism and suchlike issues kept the temperature charged communally. But that is not enough for mobilisation on a scale which will win, say, the 2024 elections. Communalism had necessarily to be tied to nationalism for any nationwide mobilisation. This would require Kashmir on the boil and permanent conflict in relations with Pakistan. The theory is that the election results of 2019 may not have been possible without Balakot.
This is the perspective against which the RSS chief has opened his doors to a handful of Muslim professionals.
The 1990 interview with Bhaurao Deoras was arranged by K.R. Malkani, who reached out to me after reading my op-ed piece in Indian Express after the 1982 Moradabad riots. The series of 30 short films on India’s composite culture affected progressives and the Hindu Right equally. My book, Reflections of an Indian Muslim, which had carried some of this, was released by Nikhil Chakravarty, a Communist. Murli Manohar Joshi, of the BJP-RSS, was the chief guest.