Nagpur: In a significant departure from past, organisers of one of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh‘s Dusshera functions and Shastra Pujan ceremonies in Nagpur for young volunteers, or Shishu and Bal Swayamsevaks, on Sunday invited an eminent Muslim homeopath as its chief guest.
For the first time in RSS history, a Muslim was given such an honour. It has to be seen in conjunction with the organisation’s Muslim outreach programme.
The Dusshera function is significant in the yearly calendar of RSS. It was established on Vijay Dashami in 1925 by KB Hedgewar.
The decision to invite Munawar Yusuf is a noteworthy step in RSS efforts to secure acceptance among Muslims. It also paves the way for tighter embrace of eminent and politically neutral Muslims.
Significantly, Yusuf is from the Bohra community and his uncle had close personal ties with eminent RSS pracharaks. Four functions were held on Sunday evening in Nagpur. Each were attended by an estimated 600 young boys (standard 1-8).
Dusshera celebrations and Shastra Pujan (worship of weapons) are held every year separately for young RSS Swayamsevaks. Almost 2,000-2500 children turn out for these events from different parts of the city.
Shastra Pujan is a traditional RSS ritual which has often courted controversy for consecration of weapons by senior leaders, including from BJP. Dilip Deodhar, long-time RSS watcher and a former functionary, contended that getting a Muslim dignitary to address Bal Swayamsevaks is extremely significant for breaking stereotypes of Hindu children about religious minorities.
RSS has recently been engaging with Muslims on the social and religious planes. In 2015, Indresh Kumar, the spearhead of Muslim Rashtriya Manch — the RSS-connected organisation — made a public show of Muslim women tying rakhi on their ‘brother’. Since then, the Manch has been organising the event every year when Muslim girls tie rakhis on Hindu boys and vice versa.
In April this year, sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat visited Syedna Mufaddal, spiritual head of Bohras at his Mumbai residence. The Syedna previously lent support for several initiatives of PM Modi, including Make in India and Swachh Bharat. This invite to a Muslim homeopath, well-known locally among Hindus and Muslims, is expected to be harnessed by RSS affiliates.
Nagpur-based MRM national co-convenor Virag Pachpore’s assertion that it’s a “welcome move” and will benefit RSS in campaigning among Muslims, is indicative of its compulsions to engage in activity that it terms as “appeasement” when opponents participate or organise such programmes. Ajay Dhakras, sanghchalak of the significant Mahal unit of RSS in Nagpur, says the homeopath’s presence “will remove the misgivings of Muslims towards RSS”.
Such programmes have traditionally been problematic for RSS and its affiliates. Given that Hindus form their core constituency, conflict with the “other” was handy.
Consequently, the RSS leadership played along with the Savarkarite animosity towards minorities, especially Muslims, though RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar downwards did not look at Muslims from the same prism as VD Savarkar.
Extending a hand of ‘overt’ friendship to Muslims is a sign of growing political compulsion of the Sangh Parivar. As the Parivar became a mainstream political force from the late 1990s, it became imperative to be socially inclusive, at least in theory.
It must be mentioned here that MRM was established in December 2002, months after the Gujarat riots and coincided with Modi’s decision to prioritise Gujarat’s economic reconstruction — a process that provided business and job opportunities to all, irrespective of religious identity. This marked the genesis of Modi’s slogan — Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.
Yet, contradictions remain within RSS insofar as Savarkar is concerned. Despite inspiring Hedgewar to establish the organisation, he was unsparing in his mocking of it. Savarkar also headed the Hindu Mahasabha that mostly remained at loggerheads with RSS.
The Sangh leadership will undoubtedly assess reaction to inviting a Muslim to its Dusshera function. The organisation always invites someone from outside the fold to preside over the function where the sarsanghchalak delivers his most important speech of the year.
It’s too early to say if the ball has been set rolling for the main Dusshera function, with top brass in attendance, to be addressed by a Muslim. For that the Sangh Parivar will have to move beyond symbolism and be guided more by commitment than compulsion.
… By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay as Published in ET