Day before Ayodhya verdict, RSS holds meeting with Muslim professionals

Krishna Gopal, the joint general secretary of the RSS, was the main speaker at a meeting with Muslim professionals, ahead of the Ayodhya verdict, in Delhi. Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
09 November, 2019

On 8 November, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh met with a group of Muslim professionals at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, in Delhi, ahead of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, which will be pronounced later today. Krishna Gopal, the joint general secretary of the RSS, was the key speaker at the event, and addressed the group on the long-awaited judgment in the Ayodhya dispute and the relationship between Hindus and Muslims in India. Gopal emphasised the significance of the event. “I have come to meet you today,” he said. “The RSS has no need for Muslims—no need at all. But this country needs Muslims. The RSS has come forward because we understand this.”

Atif Rasheed, a member of the National Commission for Minorities and former president of the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s minority cell, told me that he had organised the event. Attendees included at least fifty individuals from a variety of backgrounds, such as doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, students, academics, lawyers and journalists—only three of whom were women. Apart from Gopal and Rasheed, the main speakers at the event included Suhaib Qasmi, the national president of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, or JUH—a national organisation of Islamic scholars affiliated with the Sangh Parivar—and Swadesh Singh and Mohammad Nasir, both associate professors at the University of Delhi and the Aligarh Muslim University, respectively.

Rasheed opened his introductory address by stating the purpose of the meeting. “In the coming days, we hope and expect that the country will see a verdict on the issue of the Ram mandir and the Babri masjid,” he said. “Before that verdict comes, the RSS is holding discussions to ensure that whatever be the verdict, the victory should belong to the nation. The communal relations and atmosphere in the country should be one of love. The RSS has decided in a meeting that they would ensure this.”

Rasheed noted that Gopal had convened other similar meetings in the run up to the long-awaited judgment. In fact, just three days before the event at the NMML, senior RSS and BJP leaders had met Muslim clerics. Gopal, too, said that the RSS had held four or five such meetings already and that these included similar sessions with retired Indian Police Service officers, former top defence personnel, faculty of educational institutions, and even newspaper editors.

While the central focus of the meeting appeared to be a call for unity in anticipation of the Supreme Court judgment and its fallout, the speakers addressed a range of issues. These included discussions on the confluence of Hindu and Muslim cultures, historical wrongs allegedly committed by Muslim rulers on India’s Hindu population, and how the 2006 Sachar Committee report had disadvantaged the Muslim community. The discussions—and particularly Gopal’s address—revealed a sense of confidence that the verdict would favour the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. It also established the lens through which the RSS perceived Hindu-Muslim relations in India, and seemed to set the terms of the proclaimed unity.

It became evident through the course of the meeting that the event was part of the RSS’s bid to gain a number of sympathetic voices among the Muslim community. These voices could serve to represent the organisation in public debates and the television media—in fact, this seemed to play out immediately after the meeting, as the speakers and attendees gave quick bites to television media known to be sympathetic to the ruling government.

(left to right) Swadesh Singh, Krishna Gopal, Atif Rasheed and Mohammad Nasir at the RSS meeting with Muslim professionals, at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, on 8 November. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

“India’s Muslims comprise 14 percent—18 crore individuals—who can destroy them?” Gopal asked during the meeting. “There is no question of it happening. Who can ignore the interests of 18 crore people? The question is, how do the 18 crore people think? Why are they scared? There is no reason to fear. No danger will come to them.”

“You are a citizen of this country, you are responsible for it,” he continued. “Hindus should listen to your needs, your requirements, your sorrow and your difficulties, that’s why we are starting this dialogue.” Gopal ended this line of argument with a rhetorical question: “Are you satisfied?” He was greeted with a round of applause.

But Gopal did not end his address on that note. He noted that very few of the BJP’s voters come from the Muslim community. “They are not our voters, we know that,” he said. But despite that, Gopal added, the BJP government has ensured that in its welfare schemes for gas cylinders or toilets reach the Muslim community as well. “Whoever needs it, they should get it,” Gopal said. “But what do Muslim leaders want? That Muslim children should get scholarships. Forget this approach. Let everyone earning less than Rs 10,000 get a scholarship. If Muslims are there, they will get included.”

Gopal then criticised the Sachar Committee report of 2006, which was constituted under the United Progressive Alliance government and had found vast inequalities in the education, employment and income of Indian Muslims compared to other communities. “The amount of damage that the Sachar Committee has caused to the Muslim community, nobody else has done that,” he said. He argued that the proposal for preferential treatment for the Muslims had caused great harm. “You must try to understand this,” Gopal urged the attendees. “In this country, is it better to progress together, or to break it into pieces?”

During his speech, Gopal also made the observation that the word “exclusion” is alien to Indian languages. “We do not have any concept of exclusion,” Gopal said. “Yes, the Spanish have exclusion. The French have exclusion. The Irish are exclusive. The Britishers are exclusive. They feel proud to say that they are exclusive. We say that we are proud to call us inclusive.” He received another round of applause.

After Gopal, Rasheed addressed the attendees once again. “Muslims believe that we are kingmakers,” he said. “But we are not. In this country, to make the government, the kingmakers are the Hindus.” Rasheed proceeded to explain the difference in India’s Muslim and Hindu communities with an analogy. “Iss desh ki jo satta hai, woh kheer ki tarah hai”—This country’s government is like kheer, he said. “Aur kheer jo hai, woh dood aur chawal se mil kar banti hai. Aur dood aur chawal, iss desh ka, Hindu hai. Musalmaan dry fruit hai”—Kheer is made with rice and milk. In India, the rice and milk are Hindus. The Muslims are the dry fruit. He added that dry fruits can never make kheer on their own, it can only be made with rice and milk.

Rasheed then addressed Gopal directly. “I want to tell you something,” he said. “Of all the people sitting here, the maximum among them are those whose ancestors—200, 400, 500 years ago—were Hindus. In Hindustan, the maximum number of people are converted.” When I later spoke to Rasheed about this statement over the phone, the sitting member of the National Commission for Minorities claimed that 95 percent of Indian Muslims were originally Hindus who had later converted to Islam. He offered no evidence to support the claim.

Gopal, too, made similar arguments about the conversion of Hindus in India. “There came a phase in our history when outsiders destroyed this country’s temples. That phase has gone, but the people here were filled with grief. From that grief, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was born. I ask you with a lot of love and respect, empathise with the grief of the crores of people.” With a tone that did not reveal any recognition of the irony of his words, he added, “They were not able to save their temples.”

Rasheed, too, had expressed a similar opinion when I asked him about the BJP and RSS’s role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He responded, “If you’re going to talk about the demolition of a masjid, you also have to talk about the demolition of the temple before that.” He added, “There was no political party or organisation involved in the demolition. Hindus had conducted it.”

Gopal seemed to have contrasting opinions about the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the supposed destruction of the Hindu temples. While referring to the latter, he said, “Today’s Muslims say that Aurangzeb did that, Alauddin did it, Gayasuddin Tughlaq did it, or Sikandar Lodhi did it.” He added, “I agree, you did not do it. But what they have done, we can redress that.” Speaking about the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed Babri Masjid site and the legal battle that ensued, Gopal said, “An old historical wrong could have been corrected, but it was not allowed.” He added, “Now the verdict that comes, we will accept it.”

At the event, Suhaib Qasmi, the JUH national president, told me that the court’s verdict would undoubtedly be in favour of the construction of a Ram temple at the site in Ayodhya. He dismissed me when I asked him how he could be certain. He asked, “Supreme Court ki kya aukat hai yaar sarkaar ke saamne?”—What power does the Supreme Court have in front of the government?