‘We speak of our Hindu Rashtra. This does not at all mean that Muslims are unwanted in Hindu Rashtra.’ This is what Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, said in New Delhi on 16 September, in the course of what the Washington Post calls ‘a charm offensive’.
Wanting people is certainly better than not wanting them, but there is a difference between wanting Muslims in India and wanting them as equals. If you want them as equals, you won’t call India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, i.e. a Hindu state or a Hindu nation.
Just as a Hindu or a Christian feels unequal in a Muslim state, a Muslim would feel less than equal in a Hindu state.
Clear understanding by free India’s founding fathers led them to reject the idea of a Hindu state and make an unqualified commitment to equality. In 1947, when India became independent, and again in 1950, when the Indian republic’s constitution came into force, a Hindu state was consciously and deliberately eschewed. Equality was made a constitutional cornerstone.
Given that in the past the RSS explicitly sought a Hindu state, Mr. Bhagwat’s recent remark in support of the secular character of the constitution should be noted.
A Muslim state would be praised when its minorities are treated less harshly or less unequally than before. Likewise, a hypothetical Hindu state of India that improves its treatment of minorities would merit appreciation. Far better, however, to preserve India as a state for all. Better still to make it a state where every citizen is treated with respect.
Those who hoped that Mr. Bhagwat’s remark about ‘wanting’ Muslims was a significant turn were quickly troubled when on 18 September he warned that delay in building a Rama temple on the site where the Babri Mosque was demolished in December 1992 could lead to a Mahabharata-type conflict.
This ominous reference to the possibility of large-scale violence was immediately noted by Sharad Pawar, the NCP leader, who expressed concern. Mr. Bhagwat’s remark and Mr. Pawar’s comment can be seen on these sites:
That 1992 mosque demolition was one of free India’s worst moments. Government leaders and security forces watched with folded hands while, in defiance of law and solemn word, a crowd of thousands smashed into smithereens a mosque that had stood for more than 460 years.
Some claimed in 1992 that history was being avenged, that Babur the Mughal had destroyed a temple in 1528, and a wrong had been put right. They called the demolition a righteous deed. Not sufficiently righteous, however, for even a single person to admit at the time or later that he took a direct part in it.
Some months after the demolition, the BJP, which defended and justified the destruction, was soundly defeated in elections in the UP by an SP-BSP alliance. The people of UP disapproved of the demolition.
Building a temple in 2019 is different from demolishing a mosque in 1992. In today’s climate, with the BJP image badly hurt by corruption charges, farmers’ distress and galloping unemployment, a Rama temple is a tempting electoral ploy, especially when cleverly engineered polarization has separated Hindus from Muslims in many parts of India.
If Mr. Bhagwat is bigger than that, if he desires a positive verdict from history -- if he is looking for a moment of pride --, he should not be warning of Mahabharata-type violence. He should be working for goodwill at street-level between Hindus and Muslims.
Initiating an apology from the RSS and allied organizations for the demolition of 1992 would be a great start.