Muslims Must Dialogue with All Indians, Except Those Who Dream of Their Disenfranchisement

The recent meeting of the RSS chief with 'Muslim intellectuals' has elicited divergent opinions. The crucial aspect to consider here is what is the use of parleying with those whose aim is to disenfranchise, if not annihilate, Muslims.

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The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is proving successful in instilling naïve optimism about its outlook, even in some liberals. That Mohan Bhagwat condescended to not only engage a few ‘Muslim intellectuals’ in ‘dialogue’ but also to visit a madrasa and a mosque in Delhi seems to have generated a good deal of ‘secular’ complacency.

Many well-meaning commentators appear to have concluded that the only factor that stands in the way of a harmonious India is the absence of the much-needed ‘Muslim conversation with the RSS’. The Muslims, they suggest, must repose their faith in the goodwill and magnanimity of the RSS chief who, ‘uncharacteristically’ even warned Hindutva hotheads not to look for a Shivling in every mosque.

Even as some Muslim intellectuals upped the ante for more broad-based parleys with the patriarch from Nagpur, he in his Dussehra speech quite characteristically raked up the old Hindutva trope of a demographic imbalance. No sooner had his speech grabbed headlines, one of his Muslim interlocutors, former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, thought it opportune to spring to the RSS chief’s defence.

The arguments in favour of and against a dialogue with the RSS are equally compelling.

It is important that no aspersion should be cast on the former establishment figures and the odd journalist-cum-politician who went and stated the obvious in the exalted presence of the unelected ‘leader’ of the Hindus. Also important is not to question their right to initiate a conversation regardless of whether they can claim to represent the Muslim community.

Also read: Was the Meeting of Muslim Intellectuals With the RSS Chief Really a Dialogue?

Given that Muslims in India are so irreconcilably divided on lines as diverse as caste, sect, region, politics and language, there is hardly any organisation that can represent the entirety of the community, except perhaps the Muslim Personal Law Board, whose ‘representational character’ may not be called into question though it is a monument to inanity and retrogression. Whether or not the RSS truly represents the Hindus is an equally (im)pertinent question, though its dictates do matter for the Indian state and government and a substantial chunk of Hindu society, especially its radicalised sections.

Will a dialogue with the RSS lead to a resolution of the communal problem, which has existed for close to a century now and exacerbated again recently? Will it make sense for the Muslims to enter into a dialogue with the RSS so long as the latter insists on the former’s acquiescence and adoption of a second-class citizenship?

The answer to both the questions is a big No for three reasons.

First, dialogue of any kind presupposes a certain level-playing field. The relationship between the RSS and the Muslims has from the beginning been that of an aggressor and a hapless victim. In human history, there is rarely an instance of an aggressor and a victim engaging each other in fruitful dialogue, except at the inevitable moment of final surrender. We are not there yet.

Also read: Watch | ‘RSS Chief Accepts We Are Indian Muslims, Not Hindu Muslims; Next We’ll Meet Modi’

Second, no dialogue outside the framework of the Indian constitution is legitimate. The RSS, or the ideology it represents, is at its core antithetical to everything the constitution stands for.

Third, the only foreseeable solution for the current communal turmoil is for the aggressor to agree to accept and internalise the idea of equal citizenship enshrined in the constitution, rather than the victim agreeing to the abandonment of the legitimate rights given to him or her by that sacred book.

Is the argument then that the possibility of dialogue should be rejected in totality?

Not really.

The dialogue should happen, but not between the RSS/Sangh Parivar on the one hand and the Muslims of India on the other. There must be a dialogue between those Hindus who support Hindutva and those who oppose it. They have to talk to each other and arrive at a consensus as to what kind of an India they envisage. That is the only dialogue that can produce concrete and useful results. If they resolve among themselves that the idea of India as a secular, pluralist, democratic republic based on equal citizenship is passé, there is precious little that the Muslims or other minorities can do to change the ground reality.

File image of RSS members. Photo: Reuters/Files. Illustration: The Wire.

Instead, if they decide that a communally polarised, conflict-ridden India is in no one’s interest and that the letter and the spirit of the constitution thoughtfully handed to us by the founding fathers should be held aloft, that is the ideal outcome of their dialogue. Muslims engaging in dialogue with the RSS will lead at best only to the amelioration of some aspects of their victimhood – such as protection from threats to life and property in exchange for continuing to live on the margins of a resurgent Hindu India, without political empowerment and equal rights.

Secular-minded Indians, including the minorities, perceive the Sangh parivar as a hydra-headed monster capable of saying and doing things that are utterly contradictory. One head may say conciliatory words while the other spews unadulterated venom with no sense of irony. Which head of the monster should one dialogue with? There is also the need and scope for a real dialogue between the Muslims and those Hindus who feel discomfited by a ‘Modified’ India that is increasingly reminiscent of the past of many countries that descended into large-scale targeted killing.

Muslims, too, must begin an internal dialogue as to how they will address their stigmatisation, brutalisation and ostracisation without falling for the lure of zealotry, confessional sentimentality and radical imaginations. One valuable lesson that history teaches and which is applicable to all seasons of hate and violence is this: Dialogue with those you must fight against never produced any edifying results for the victims. Humanising majoritarianism and communal poison may sound soothing against a backdrop of helplessness, but in the long run, it will only empower the forces of darkness in our midst. The Muslims of India must dialogue with all Indians except the forces that nurture phantasmagoric dreams of their eventual disenfranchisement, if not actual annihilation.

Shajahan Madampat is a writer and cultural commentator writing in Malayalam and English. His latest book is God is Neither a Khomeini Nor a Mohan Bhagwat: Writings Against Zealotry.