By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
09 June 2017
Ramzan is the time for Iftar parties all over Delhi and Jamia is no exception to this rule. Apart from individuals, political parties throw Iftar parties in an attempt to showcase their secular credentials. One can almost say that over a period of time, Iftar parties have become a matter of routine. But an Iftar party hosted by RSS and that too in a predominantly Muslim campus like Jamia was bound to raise eyebrows. It is understandable that a section of students protested against the silence of the BJP government on the rampant persecution of Muslims while its parent body, the RSS was hosting Iftar on a Muslim campus. For the record, this is not the first time that the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), controlled by the RSS, held an Iftar party. But the choice of venue was bound to raise debates over its intentions and that is what seems to have happened in Jamia. While in Jamia, the MRM mentor and member of All India Working Committee of the RSS, Indresh Kumar said exhorted the Muslims to give up eating meat and justified it by saying that even the Prophet of Islam did not consume beef. Some people have argued that this was precisely the intention of Indresh Kumar to hold the Iftar at Jamia: he wanted to insult Muslims and simultaneously proclaim to the world that he exhorted Muslims to adopt Hindu dietary habits.
To understand this kind of politics, one has to go into the history of MRM, the objectives for which it was established and the kind of imagination it has for the Indian Muslims. Only then perhaps can we begin to fully appreciate why the MRM does the kind of things that it does. Contrary to what it claims, the MRM is not an independent body but is ideologically and organizationally wedded to the RSS. Formally established in 2005, the MRM exists since 2002, when the then RSS chief K S Sudershan suggested that Muslims should change their political and religious image. A look at the organizational structure of the MRM reveals that it does not have a pan India presence but is mostly confined to states in North India and Western India. It seems that the sizable presence of MRM is in states in which the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) is also strong.
There are two distinct divisions in terms of responsibilities within the MRM. There are national and state conveners and co-conveners and they all happen to be Muslims. However, parallel to this, there are organizational conveners and co-conveners in which there are no Muslims. From the names of organizational conveners and co-conveners, it becomes clear that they are related to the RSS. Girish Juyal, the national organizational convener of the MRM, is a former pracharak of RSS who was in charge of the state of Jammu and Kashmir along with Indresh Kumar. The organizational structure reveals that the real power is wielded by the organization conveners and co-conveners while the national conveners and co-conveners remain the popular faces of MRM. Other organizational co-conveners are also related to the RSS. The MRM has different wings (prakosht) and there are different in-charge for these wings. Some of these wings are the Ulema (clerics) wing, Women’s wing and an Intellectual wing. More importantly, there is a fairly elaborate cow protection wing which has a separate organizational structure. The MRM has operated under the mentorship of Indresh Kumar since it was established in 2005. Although the website of MRM does not list the name of Indresh Kumar in any of its committees but it does acknowledge Indresh Kumar as the ‘messiah’ of Muslims in the country. It is worth underlining that Indresh Kumar is a senior functionary of RSS and a member of its All India Working Committee.
While the MRM has been called as an organic response from the response, a closer analysis would reveal that it hardly has any support within the Muslim community. Rather the MRM should be viewed as an organization floated by the RSS to suggest that it has a reach even within the Muslim community. Mohammad Afzal, national convener of MRM, in an edited book (Rashtriya Paripreksha mein Bhartiya Muslim/Indian Muslims in National Context. New Delhi: Muslim Rashtriya Manch), suggests that the need for the organization arose because the Muslims have been treated as vote bank and therefore have not been treated equally by so called secular political parties. However, there is much more in the book which might tell us about the thinking of Muslims who have associated themselves with the MRM as well as the rationale of the organization. Some of the arguments in the book can be summarised as follows:
1. For a long time, Muslims have been privileging their religious identity over their national identity. This should change and every Indian Muslim should be proud of his national identity. The MRM warns the Muslims that whenever religion is placed above the nation then tendencies of separatism are bound to arise. The only way that Indian Muslims can avoid this ‘suicide’ and start expecting to be treated as equals with the majority Hindu is by adopting the slogan ‘nation first’. The MRM argues that in the name of protecting their religion, Muslims have been deliberately kept uneducated and poor by secular parties, who are only interested in the votes of Muslims.
2. For a nationalist Muslim, it is an important duty to condemn and demonstrate against any effort which might weaken the country. Muslims must guard against tendencies of separatism and terrorism among them. It is only through the inculcation of a robust nationalism among Muslims that such tendencies can be weeded out. They give the example of Ishrat Jahan, who was accused of terrorism and killed in what many have called a fake encounter. For the MRM however, questioning the police and expressing any sympathy for a ‘terrorist’ like Ishrat Jahan is akin to being anti-national and therefore Muslims should not express any sympathy for those killed in the name of terrorism.
3. Indian culture provides the template which can unite Hindus and Muslims. The cultural similarity is there because both Hindus and Muslims share the same ancestors. For the MRM, 99% of Indian Muslims are convert and therefore while following their religion, they should first learn to share the culture of Hindus which is also their culture.
4. Secularism as an idea has pampered Muslims and has led to separatist and exclusivist tendencies among them. This point come across again and again in the text and the primary target remains the Congress party. It is the congress which has deliberately kept the Muslims backward in the name of secularism and protecting their religion.
Now, it is worth mentioning that most of these ideas are hardly original and cannot be said to be the exclusive contribution of MRM to Indian politics. Ideas such as cultural unity, critique of secularism by calling it a policy of Muslim appeasement and the supposed non-patriotism of Indian Muslims have been staple within the right wing Hindu discourse. The MRM, in popularising such notions about Muslims among the Muslims is basically doing the work of extending RSS’ hegemonic way of thinking about Muslims. One would have expected that the MRM goes deeper into these debates but what it does through its publications that it just parrots the viewpoint of RSS.
The expectations of the MRM is laden with assumptions which in themselves might be completely untrue. In telling the Indian Muslims to become nationalist, they are assuming that Indian Muslims are not nationalist which is blatantly untrue. Any scholar of Indian Islam will tell us that it was Deoband which fought valiantly during the freedom struggle. It is however true, that there are deeper differences over the meaning of nationalism itself. But those differences are not just between Hindu and Muslim groups but also between Hindus themselves. If the suggestion of the MRM is that Indian Muslims do not love their country then it is blatantly false. Similarly the assertion that Indian Muslim share the same ancestors as that of the Hindu community might be true to a large extent. But to suggest that therefore Indian Muslims should willingly subjugate aspects of their religious and cultural identity to the cultural demands of the Hindus is going too far. Moreover, the word Indian culture itself is problematic. Nowhere in its literature does the MRM define what it means by Indian culture. What is however clear within the vagueness is that Indian culture is only understood through an upper caste Hindu lens. The MRM argues that one of the ways of respecting Indian culture is to give up eating beef and start venerating the cow. The problem again is that cow has not been equally venerated amongst the Hindus and there is a large Hindu community which consumes beef. The supposed Indian cultural tradition that the MRM talks about then can be said to be a typical north Indian upper caste Hindu tradition and lots of communities in India, including Hindus, will have a problem identifying with such a cultural tradition. However, the MRM does not engage with such questions. Perhaps it cannot because its only brief seems to be to take forward the agenda of the RSS rather than any positive engagement with the Muslim community.
A review of the campaigns and activities and MRM also tells us that they are following the agenda of RSS. Whether it is the issue of Kashmir, Uniform Civil Code or cow protection, the RSS has always been at the forefront of fomenting a debate on these issues. One can even say that these are germane issues as far as the RSS is concerned. The MRM has been campaigning of these since its inception. However, when the MRM takes up these issues, it gives it a particular religious twist to it. Take for example the issue of cow protection. The RSS has been arguing that cow needs to be venerated not just because it is a cultural and religious symbol of Hindus but also because India being largely an agrarian society, protection of cows makes economic sense. For the MRM though, cow protection also becomes a Muslim religious issue. The argument is no longer that Muslims should not eat the cow to respect the sentiments of the Hindus. Rather the argument which the MRM gives is that protection of cows is a religious duty of the Muslims also. In a booklet published by the cow protection division of MRM (Faiz Khan et.al 2015. Gaay Aur Islam/Cow and Islam. MRM: Delhi), various articles try to convince the Muslims that slaughtering of cows and eating beef was prohibited by Prophet Muhammad. Citing hadith, many authors in this booklet have argued that if the Prophet himself did not consume beef, then his followers also should desist from doing so. What the Prophet liked most was the milk of the cow and taking from here, the MRM wants to convince the Muslims that since cows’ milk is the best, therefore it should not be killed for its meat. Moreover, the Prophet himself, according to MRM, is said to have remarked that while cow’s milk is good, its flesh contains many diseases. For the MRM, protecting the cow should be a religious calling for all Muslims in the country. The MRM also makes it clear that it is not the first organization which is saying so. It gives evidences that Mughal rulers also forbade the killing of cows. Moreover they cite fatwas from various Muslim scholars, both Shia and Sunni who all argue that given the fact that the cow is revered by the Hindus, it is better for Muslims to avoid eating the meat of the animal.
But if the animal was not supposed to be eaten by the Muslims due to religious reasons, then why did the Muslims started eating it in the first place? The MRM has a ready answer: the Muslims were misled by the British! According to this theory, both beef and pork were not eaten in India before the arrival of the British as a mark of respect for Hindu and Muslim religious traditions. But the British, masters as they were at the game of divide and rule were somehow able to convince the Muslims that eating beef was recommended in the Quran and hence from then on the Muslims started eating beef. Therefore giving up eating beef is not just upholding Muslim religious belief regarding the holiness of the cow, but it is also a sign of being anti-British and by extension being a nationalist.
Exhorting Muslims to stop eating ‘gosht’ by Indresh Kumar in Jamia therefore should be understood as a deeply held belief by the RSS that Muslim dietary habits should be in consonance with the cultural and religious ethos of the Hindus which is defined in very narrow terms. The MRM therefore exists to serve two inter-related purposes of the RSS: it marks the Muslims as a community which is perpetually lacking in terms of patriotic/nationalistic feelings and simultaneously it makes them into an object of nationalist transformation. What Indresh Kumar was doing in Jamia was no different.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with www.NewAgeIslam.com
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