Caste And Communalism: Can RSS Change With Muslims Meeting Bhagwat?

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The India observer, TIO, NJ: Bhaurao Deoras: Why should Muslims have any connection with Babar? He came from Central Asia?

Question: Even your forefathers came from Central Asia – Aryans came from Central Asia?

Deoras: There is some controversy about that. It is now being contradicted. There are so many books contradicting this.

Question: You mean Aryans did not come from anywhere?

Deoras: No we have not.

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Question: So they just happened here, they simply sprouted here?

Deoras: yes. The term Aryans and Adivasis (irritated) what is all this. Britishers have created this…………. (full interview)

This is a randomly lifted fraction of a two hour long interview with Bhaurao Deoras, RSS ideologue. The interview took place in the organization’s headquarters, Keshav Kunj, Jhandewalan, in the winter of 1990. Since his elder brother, Balasaheb Deoras, the RSS Chief, was ailing, Bhaurao was the RSS’s most important voice.

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Between this landmark conversation with the highest echelons of the RSS and the more recent meeting of five senior Muslim professionals with RSS Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat, exactly 32 years have passed. These three decades define the spurt in communalism and casteism to this day.

Circumstances in 1990 were different. A series of communal riots had erupted in Aligarh, Moradabad, Ahmedabad and elsewhere after V.P. Singh, Prime Minister for a short spell, announced the implementation of the Mandal Commission report granting 27 percent reservations in government jobs for Other Backward Castes (OBCs). This would increase the reservation quota for Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs to 50 percent.

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The upper castes were on fire, quite literally. I remember how the attempted self immolation by Rajiv Goswami, a Delhi University student, at the AIIMS intersection accelerated the anti Mandal movement. This inevitably pitted the 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. Massive employment of caste to wrest political power in, say, UP (which has historically been in the grip of Govind Bhallabh Pant, Kamalapati Tripathi, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, Bindeshwari Dube, Narain Dutt Tewari) invited a massive backlash.

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At this juncture, Muslims, traditionally a Congress vote bank, began to feel uncomfortable with the Congress. There was a reason for this discomfort. Bruised by the JP moment and its subsequent 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 elections on an anti minority plank even though the minority in her focus were Sikhs agitating for a Punjabi Suba.

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After her assassination in 1984, the unprecedented three-fourth majority with which Rajiv Gandhi was returned to power was not interpreted as a sympathy vote. Instead it was seen as “Hindu consolidation” against minority appeasement. How was this any different from the “consolidation” sought by the BJP?

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Rajiv Gandhi first “appeased” Muslims by upturning the Shah Bano judgement and banning Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. The Hindu Right was up in arms. Gandhi rushed to announce Ram Rajya from Ayodhya, opened the locks of the Ram temple located in the Babari Majid. While permitting the brick laying ceremony for the Ram temple, Gandhi 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 had not been violated.

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Within minutes of the trickery, the VHP announced at a press conference that they had prevailed on Gandhi: Shilanyas had been done on exactly the land they demanded. This was the episode which caused Muslims to leave the Congress in droves. On December 6, 1992, when Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao slept through the day while the Babari Masjid was demolished, the Muslim exodus from the Congress was complete.

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Between Mandal in 1989 and the Masjid in 1992, the Muslim ran helter skelter not knowing where to pitch his tent. In his panic he was lured by caste leaders like Mualyam Singh Yadav and Mayawati who, the Muslim learnt to his chagrin, worked to advance Yadav and Dalit interests only. (I am focusing on UP only 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.

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By turning to 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.

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The RSS-BJP combine was going to take no chances. Hindu consolidation was the only way to ward off the threat permanently. This was possible by sprinkling saffron in the air – Love Jehad, beef lynchings, loudspeakers on mosques, ghar wapsi, high profile arrests of Muslims for alleged terrorism and suchlike issues kept the temperature communally charged. But that is not enough for mobilization on a scale which would win, say, 2024 elections. Communalism has to be tied to nationalism for nationwide mobilization. This would require Kashmir on a boil and conflictual relations with Pakistan. The theory is that the election results of 2019 may not have been possible without Balakot.

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This is the perspective against which the RSS chief has opened his doors to a handful of Muslim professionals.

The earlier interview with Bhaurao Deoras was arranged by K.R. Malkani who reached out to me after reading my op-ed piece in the Indian Express after the 1982 Moradabad riots. The series of 30 short films on Composite culture affected progressives and the Hindu right equally.

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My book, Reflections of an Indian Muslim, which carried some of this, was released by Nikhil Chakravarty, a communist. Murli Manohar Joshi, RSS, was the Chief Guest.

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Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer. He has interviewed world leaders and personalities in India and abroad, which appear in newspapers, magazines and on national television, remained editor of the World Report, a syndication service on foreign affairs, and has written for several publications, both global and Indian, including the BBC News, The Sunday Observer, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Indian Express, The Citizen and Outlook magazine. At the Indian Express, he started in 1977 as a Special Correspondent and eventually becoming, editor, Indian Express, Madras, (1979–1984), and Foreign Editor, The Indian Express, Delhi in 1984, and continues to writes columns and features for the paper.

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