In 1990, when the dispute over the Babri Masjid was at its peak, the senior journalist Saeed Naqvi interviewed Bhaurao Deoras, one of the most prominent ideologues of the Rashtriya Sawayamsevak Sangh at the time. In September of that year, the BJP leader LK Advani began a “rath yatra”—procession—to garner support for the construction of a temple at the site. The yatra led to widespread communal tension. That same year, protests began against the Mandal Commission report, which recommended reservation for Other Backward Classes, and was adopted by the then-prime minister VP Singh in 1989. The RSS accused Singh of employing caste politics and “dividing Hindu society.”
It was with this political backdrop that Naqvi met the then seventy-five-year-old Deoras. The pracharak, who had joined the RSS not long after it was started in 1925, was then responsible for coordinating the Sangh’s relationships with political parties such as the BJP. His elder brother, Balasaheb, who was then the Sarsanghchalak or Supremo of the organisation, had not been keeping well, leaving Deoras to emerge as the RSS’s most important leader.
Over the conversation, excerpted from Naqvi’s book Being the Other below, Naqvi and Deoras discuss the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, reservation, Muslims in Indian society, and the idea of a Hindu nation. About two years after this conversation, following a rally organised by the right-wing organisation the Vishwa Hindu Parishad along with parties such as the BJP, a large mob attacked the Babri masjid and demolished it. “Things would never be the same again,” Naqvi writes in the book.
[Saeed] Naqvi: Communal riots on an unprecedented scale have broken out in various parts of the country. What role can the RSS play to control the situation? Is the situation out of control?
[Bhaurao] Deoras: Who are the people behind these communal riots? I am afraid that some political parties are playing a role.
Naqvi: What is your plan—regarding the Babri Masjid?
Deoras: No Muslim goes to say his namaz there. All things around the mosque are connected with Hindu sentiments.
Naqvi: Do you believe that because of communal tension the Hindu mass is getting consolidated on the Ayodhya platform and in favour of the BJP?Deoras: That is an important factor.
Naqvi: In other words, the benefits of the communal tension are going to the BJP? And he who benefits must have a hand in communal tension...
Deoras: I think Advaniji, by his Rath Yatra and the speeches he has given throughout the country [mobilised Hindu sentiments]. But not a word in his lectures…is anti-Muslim.
Naqvi: Are you willing to issue a statement condemning the communal riots and condemn provocative slogans?
Deoras: Both Hindus and Muslims should condemn them together. Muslims had come here. It was I who arranged the meeting of Mr Javed Habib and some other people with the VHP. And the first meeting took place and they decided to meet again so that there should be an understanding.
Naqvi: To change the subject, do you endorse the two-nation theory on the basis of which Pakistan was found?
Deoras: We never accepted it.
Naqvi: So it follows that you will not accept Hindus and Muslims as two separate nations.
Deoras: We do not accept. It is one nation. From Kanyakumari to the Himalayas it is one nation.
Naqvi: You have not given up the agenda of Akhand Bharat?
Deoras: We have not given up. If the time comes we shall do it. We shall ask the Muslims in Pakistan—what have you gained? Muslims who went there from Bihar and UP—are they happy?
Naqvi: If you do not accept the two-nation theory then it follows that you accept the proposition that Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in India should all live together and prosper together.Since you are allergic to the term secular let us find another term—India’s composite culture.
Deoras: One culture—why do you say composite culture.
Naqvi: If you do not like the word ‘composite’ also then as an adjustment I am willing to delete it. I said composite because various streams have contributed to Indian culture.
Deoras: Say Bharatiya culture.
Naqvi: Okay, Bhartiya culture, Indian culture. There is a contradiction between your Akhand Bharat perspective and the Hindu Rashtra. Is there not a contradiction? Akhand Bharat is all-embracing from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas, but Hindu Rashtra further subdivides. What are we left with?
Deoras: Nation and state are two different concepts. States have equal rights, equal citizenship—that is the concept of state. This nation is not created by the British or anything. It is there from a long time, from Ram, from Krishna—thousands of years ago. The whole country had that concept of Ram, the concept of Krishna, the concept of Mahabharata, etc. Anywhere you go you will find the same thing. That is the binding thing. Culture was the binding factor throughout the country. There may be different kings, different rulers in the last 1,000 years or something like that…then the foreigners came and all that.
Naqvi: You have glided past a very important detail. Did we become independent after 200 years of British rule or have we become free after 1,000 years of foreign rule?
Deoras: I do not think that in many parts in our country Muslims really think that they were the rulers. There have been some Afghans, Turks and all those who came and invaded the country. They came and ruled the country.
Naqvi: They came and settled here.
Deoras: But they came and ruled and changed many of our people. Those who were Hindus—you may say downtrodden or something like that—changed their faith and they became Muslims. If they go back seven generations…probably they may say that they belong to this caste, they were Rajputs, they were this and that. So, they themselves know that they are Hindus and only in the last two or three generations have they become Muslims. But somehow, maybe Britishers fortified this feeling, Muslims living in this country at present feel that they were the rulers of this land. Why should they have any connection with Babur? He came from Central Asia.
Naqvi: Even your forefathers came from Central Asia—Aryans came from Central Asia?
Deoras: There is some controversy in this. That is now being contradicted. There are so many books contradicting this.
Naqvi: You mean Aryans did not come from anywhere?
Deoras: No, we have not.
Naqvi: So they just happened here, they simply sprouted here?
Deoras: Yes. The term Aryans and Adivasis, what is all this? Britishers have created this (looks irritable). Arya means not a caste, Arya means noble. There are enough books with documents that we are the original people who have been living here. Aryan theory, Dravidian theory, are all devised to break the Hindus.
Naqvi: Sir, if all the communities live and prosper together in India, then we constitute a threat to the basis of Pakistan. The success of Indian secularism is a threat to Pakistan which came into being on the assumption that we can’t live together. Do you agree?
Deoras: I think Pakistan will go.
Naqvi: Let us go step by step (question is repeated).
Deoras: Bharat is all right. But as things are going in Pakistan, they have defeated Ms Benazir Bhutto, they are helping Khalistan elements in Punjab, the JKLF or whatever elements in Kashmir and all that. Unless this sort of government at the top goes in Pakistan, I think no change is possible at present. This will have to be changed.
Naqvi: How do we change that?
Deoras: The Hindu leadership should come [take control]. I do not know what will happen in Bangladesh. Leaderships may change but that may not help. I think during this Ershad regime, I have got the latest report that 1,100 temples have been destroyed. I do not know when the elections are going to be held. Some Hindus in Bangladesh may fight elections. Very few of them will win. But suppose change comes in Bangladesh, tension will not be there and I think they can live in harmony. Then there is poverty and other problems, and they may say that there is no use of remaining separate let us join together. And if that happens then I think the atmosphere may change. Sindhi people in Pakistan, and those who have gone from UP and Bihar—what have they gained? They are not liked there. So, if these movements gather strength let us once again work for one Bharat.
Naqvi: Sir, that is only possible if you and I live in harmony. But if we clash in Aligarh, Ahmedabad, Ayodhya, the example we set is not attractive enough for others to emulate us. We are not setting the right example. On the contrary...
Deoras: Foreign powers are trying to create divisions and Muslims in major parts [of the country] are playing into their hands. There has to be reform in Muslim society in India.
Naqvi: What about Hindu society?
Deoras: There are regular movements of social reform going on in Hindu society. But in the Muslim community I do not find any movement. If somebody starts [one] they are not liked by the community. They are being controlled by mullahs.
Naqvi: Indian Muslims have a minority complex. Therefore, reform is even more difficult. The most backward Muslims in the world reside in India and by keeping them under pressure you are contributing to their backwardness.
Deoras: Who is keeping them backward?
Naqvi: We have got them involved in non-issues. You and I have all got them involved in Babri Masjid; they are involved in the Shah Bano case; they are supposed to be objecting to our relations with Israel. They are agitating about Rushdie’s book. None of these are bread-and-butter issues. And you say they have been pampered. What have they got with all this so-called pampering?
Deoras: Due to their minority complex should we allow them to do anything?
Naqvi: What is the advantage Muslims have derived since Independence? Look at their economic conditions, look at the job quotas. Okay, they got the Muslim Women’s Bill, but has one Muslim woman gained in real terms?Deoras: They get minority rights; special rights in the Constitution.
Naqvi: Please answer my question. What have the Muslims gained?
Deoras: To appease Muslims they have got a Minority Commission.
Naqvi: This is precisely what I am saying. These are hollow, insubstantial gifts. An impression has been created by all governments that there is something special going for the Muslims. But in essence they have got nothing, no jobs, no education, no businesses.
Deoras: There is no difference between Hindus and Muslims as regards poverty. As for the question of jobs, if you are capable for that post you will get it. There should be no distinction. Now the government comes out with Mandal Commission and it has created so many divisions in the country itself.
Naqvi: Do you think the whole Ayodhya agitation has been able to cement some of the divisions in the Hindu society that have been created by the Mandal Commission.
Deoras: A little bit definitely. Ram is not the god only for forward castes. He is the god for the entire community.
Naqvi: We have not spoken of Kashmir. How can we hope to keep Kashmir if a perception is created all over the world that we treat our Muslims shabbily?
Deoras: Do you think the Kashmiri Hindus who have become migrants in Jammu can go back to the Kashmir Valley?
Naqvi: Maybe not at this point. Again, the Pakistan factor comes into play, Pakistani support for those elements which are creating the trouble in Kashmir. We have to handle the Pakistani factor by love and respect for each other in this country. The Germanys were united because East Germans saw that life on the other side was better. Similarly, people in Bangladesh and Pakistan should say that life on the other side is better. Many Pakistanis used to say this privately a few years ago. Now I feel embarrassed. I used to show off to my Pakistani relatives and friends—look at our composite culture, our freedom, our democracy. But look at the mess now. And you must take your share of the blame, sir.
Deoras: There is no difference between Hindus and Muslims as regards poverty. Communalism is not the only factor. There are a lot of tensions among the Hindus also. We can work together to see that everybody, whether Muslim or Hindu, gets bread twice a day.
Naqvi: By your logic you are coming around to my view. Bring down the communal temperature, generate love and caring, not hatred. They are making bombs in every mohalla. This is what we are reducing our country to—a cottage industry of illicit arms...
Deoras: They are selling it. This is business.
Naqvi: Unless you give a call, this will only go on.
Deoras: Let us, you and I together, give the call to the country.
Naqvi: It is fine with me. Let’s shake hands on that. But please convince your rank and file that it is in Pakistan’s interest that Hindus and Muslims fight each other in this country. This is my entire thesis. During my visit to Aligarh I saw two bombs were dropped in a mosque and two similar bombs were dropped in a Hindu locality.
Deoras: Some Muslims must have dropped it.
Naqvi: I like the abruptness with which you have come to this conclusion. Okay, but who are these Muslims?
Deoras: When something happens in Pakistan why should there be a reaction here? When Bhutto was hanged it had nothing to do with us. But there were demonstrations in Kashmir and trouble in all other places.
Naqvi: What has that got to do with Babur? You yourself agree that Pakistan was unnatural. Then you expect Indian Muslims and for that matter even Hindus to have an unnatural hatred towards Pakistanis.
Deoras: We need a great national reconciliation on the basis of understanding and good humour. All the Muslims who are getting elected to Parliament and the assemblies belong to the fundamentalist variety. This is the problem.
Naqvi: Not all leaders, but, yes, we need good leadership in the Muslim community. There is no doubt about it.
Deoras: Why don’t you try and create that leadership? Just like you. Why don’t you become a leader?
Naqvi: Zahid e tang nazar ne mujhe kafir jaana/Aur kafir yeh samajhta hai Mussalman hoon main (The kafir thinks I am a Muslim and the mullah thinks I am a kafir).
Deoras: (Laughs heartily) I have close contacts with the BJP. I do not know the exact figure but for kar seva a number of Muslims have joined us. What I am trying to say is we are ready to take Muslims with us. They can join the BJP.
Naqvi: You have also persisted with the same old attitude, the same complaint. Indian Muslims identify with Babur and Indonesian Muslims identify with Ram.
Deoras: It is important that Muslims identify with Ram as an Indian symbol.
Naqvi: I will challenge you about this Ram and Babur comparison. I will recite numerous couplets written by Muslim poets in praise of Ram and in praise of Krishna. You show me one line in praise of Babur written by a Muslim poet. If you show me one couplet I will change my faith. This Babur business is a canard. There are any number of Muslim rulers, poets, philosophers who looked at 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.
Naqvi: I am taking you on record that Dara Shikoh is your model for a good Muslim and a model Indian.
Deoras: I have not read his whole life. But it is true. He was a fine gentleman. He translated the Upanishads. But remember he was not allowed to rule this land. The establishment was against him.
Naqvi: What is your last word for national reconciliation?
Deoras: At present, 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.
Naqvi: 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.
Naqvi: Sir, if I get you right, what you are saying is that if the Ram Mandir is allowed to be built then you will come out openly and say let bygones be bygones. All the structures, monuments will remain intact exactly as they were in 1947 or 1950.
Deoras: I am ready to say once the construction of the Ram Temple takes place, it will take a long time…it will be one of the biggest temples. I know the demand of VHP is three sites—Mathura and Kashi Vishwanath.
Naqvi: You will prevail upon them to give up their claim to the other two?Deoras: I cannot say they will accept. But I will try. Let this Ram Temple be built first and start national reconciliation. Let us not go to the government. Let us sit together and solve the problem.
Naqvi: For that you have to issue a whip to your cadres. Let there be peace.
Deoras: I promise you, we do not like what is going on.
Naqvi: You condemn the violence?
Deoras: Yes, of course. These riots create a bad image throughout the world. I do not like it. I want every Muslim to live here in peace. He has got equal rights. But just because he is a Muslim he should not demand something separate from others. Civil rights and other things, everything is common. They should mentally prepare for this. No special status. No minority preferences. They do not have one language. Urdu is not a Muslim language. It is a common language for so many people.
Naqvi: Do you think Urdu should be taught at school and encouraged in every way?
Deoras: Of course. If people want they should be able to learn it. We are not saying all these cultural things should be thrown out.
Naqvi: Do you share the vision of a confederation covering Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka—without prejudice to their sovereignty?Deoras: This is an excellent political concept. Just like Europe. Have something in common, build common bridges, common bridges with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Naqvi: This can happen only when there is peace in our country.
Deoras: Unless there is peace nothing can happen. Peace is the fundamental condition for solving all the problems of the country.
This is an excerpt from Being the Other: the Muslim in India, by Saeed Naqvi, published by Aleph Books. The interview has been condensed.