The Devoted

Zee Salaam’s project of creating good Muslims

01 December, 2020

ON 5 AUGUST, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a Ram temple in Ayodhya, Imran Khan—not to be confused with Pakistan’s prime minister—was most elated. For Khan, an anchor for the Urdu news and devotional-content channel Zee Salaam, the Ram-temple ceremony inaugurated “a new chapter of rejuvenation in the history of sanatana culture”—another word for the “eternal” Hindu culture.

The inauguration ceremony met a fundamental ideological commitment of the Hindu-nationalist movement, which is why it was held on the first anniversary of another monumental feat for the Hindu Right—the abrogation of the special status granted under Article 370 to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Khan demonstrated his commitment to Hindu nationalism through song. On his Facebook page, he posted a recording of a song he had just written, “Kar Aao Mandir Nirmaan”—Let’s Build the Temple. The song received only about four hundred likes and a hundred shares on Facebook, and fewer than five hundred views on his YouTube channel, as of November. But its few hundred listeners included the coordinator of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell in Bihar’s Munger district, who played the song at a public place in Tarapur to commemorate the occasion. Some weeks later, to Khan’s delight, his track bagged him the second spot at a singing competition in Madhya Pradesh’s Chhindwara, his hometown. This was not his first foray into Hindutva pop. A few years earlier, Khan had recorded his rendition of the singer Lata Mangeshkar’s emotional masterpiece, “Tu Kitni Acchi Hai, O Maa”—You’re So Good, Dear Mother—for the sacred cow.

Apart from working at Zee Salaam, India’s most-watched Urdu news channel, which has a mostly Muslim audience, Khan also serves as the national secretary of the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Vahini, a cow-protection vigilante group linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—the BJP’s mothership. He is also a key member of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the Muslim-outreach wing of the RSS. On Facebook, he heaps lavish praises on Hindutva icons ranging from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar to present-day figures such as the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, the MRM’s head Indresh Kumar, and Syed Yaser Jilani, the BJP’s Delhi spokesperson and the MRM’s national spokesperson.