For 72 years there was neither any meeting between RSS and Jamiat chiefs nor any meeting of minds. Therefore when the Jamiat head Maulana Arshad Madani travelled to RSS office in Delhi to call on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, it caused a minor storm. But Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind chief Maulana Madani finds himself isolated and accused of committing a historic blunder.
Hazrat Ji, as Maulana Arshad Madani is called, was engaging a class, we were told, when we reached Darul Uloom. We could wait for him at his residence where he would return for lunch, we were told.
The lunch, we discovered, was usually a community affair as the Maulana shared his food with visitors and guests waiting to have a word with him. His day, we were told, starts rather early at 3.30 am. By way of furniture was a plain bench and one of the six policemen in his security courteously asked us to change our position as Hazrat Ji usually sat at the corner we had plonked ourselves in. The six policemen took turns to accompany the Maulana and two of them would usually travel with him.
For an hour or so, the Maulana chatted. He was pensive and wary. “No, I will not speak on the meeting at all. I have already said what I had to and sometimes speaking aloud does no good,” he declared with a slight smile.
Used to answering questions from newsmen, he evaded them all. Would the meeting serve any purpose? Was he hopeful of any positive outcome? Did NRC figure in the discussion? What did they talk about? He met all questions with stoic shrugs, silence and very few words.
His meeting with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on August 30, he would surely be aware, had triggered a storm! He could not be oblivious of the controversy it had generated in both political circles and in the Muslim community. But the seasoned Maulana would not rise to the bait.
He had told the RSS chief, the Maulana said, that he abhorred the ideas of Savarkar and Golwalkar and saw no meeting ground. Mohan Bhagwat, he claimed, told him to leave the past behind and look forward to nation building. Let us not talk about Savarkar, he apparently told the Maulana. He had agreed to work together in national interest, the Maulana softly added.
He also claims to have broached the subject of mob lynchings of Muslims. But Babri Masjid did not figure in the conversation, he clarified.
The meeting at the RSS office in Delhi was supposed to have been kept a secret. And the RSS functionary, Sanjay Pandey, who had circulated news of the meeting through WhatsApp, had been reprimanded and sidelined, he was told, the Maulana mentioned.
But the explanations clearly have not satisfied the critics and the storm refuses to subside. The RSS and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind have never seen eye to eye and had never had any formal dialogue. The meeting therefore is seen as a tectonic shift.
Attempts and overtures were being made ever since 2014 though. Last year, the RSS extended an invitation to the Maulana to attend a three-day discourse by Mohan Bhagwat at Vigyan Bhawan. But the Maulana had then wriggled out by saying that it would be inappropriate for him to attend the discourse ahead of the General Election.
But the thumping victory of the BJP in the 2019 election appeared to have forced second thoughts. The realisation that the BJP was here to stay made the Maulana’s nephew Mehmood Madni, who heads the rival faction of the Jamiat, to write a formal letter to Prime Minister Modi, congratulating him on the electoral victory.
“It gives me immense pleasure to extend you, on my behalf and on behalf of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, heartfelt congratulations on your second term victory. The huge margin has proved that the people fully support your Vikas agenda and expect you to steer our beloved country to higher and higher goals of development, peace and prosperity,” he had written.
Each of the two Jamiat factions claims to be the real Jamiat, a socio-political organisation. While on paper, there is no connection between Darul Uloom and the Jamiat, most of the members of Jamiat happen to be ex-students of Darul Uloom. The dispute is in court and while the Mehmood Madni faction controls the Jamiat headquarters in Delhi and has given a room to the other faction to operate from, the Arshad Madani faction, which enjoys more support and respect, plans to build a headquarters of its own.
In June, the president of the RSS-affiliated Muslim Rashtriya Manch, Indresh Kumar, visited Darul Uloom at Deoband, where he was welcomed by the Chancellor, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani.
The meeting has put the Maulana in the eye of a storm. And he is clearly on the backfoot. Critics have questioned the need and timing of the meeting and have described it as a political coup by the RSS.
Congress leader Imran Masood says, “Meeting the RSS chief at a time when Muslims feel cornered, discriminated and hounded will carry a negative message. This will be construed as a surrender to communal forces and would further weaken Muslims.”
Not that the Maulana does not have defenders. The Shahar Qazi of Saharanpur, Qazi Nadeem Akhtar, says, “Maulana has broken the ice. Someone had to break the ice between the two communities. This step is very progressive and praiseworthy. The dialogue will help in ending differences existing between the communities.”
A social worker and former Nagar Palika member of Deoband, Arif, demurs: “People are upset because the Maulana consenting to go to the RSS office is like kneeling down before the forces of hate. Maulana Arshad is the head of Jamiat which had actively participated in the Independence movement and his meeting with the RSS chief is regrettable.” He echoed popular sentiment that the meeting betrayed a sign of desperation.
The meeting has upset liberal activists as well. Says social activist Shabnam Hashmi, “Personally I am very upset because I held him in great esteem and in a very different league from other Muslim clerics. He is not only a serious scholar but has done a lot of work very quietly. The general feeling is that the Maulana chose to compromise with the RSS.”
Arshad Madni’s meeting is also seen as a setback to forces which were vocal in the Pehlu Khan and Akhlaq Ahmed cases and were aggressively running campaign like ‘Not In My Name’. “This is a setback to forces which were fighting against the communal forces,” Hashmi adds.
People close to him, however, are convinced that there was no choice. “Just tell me how can any citizen ignore the government? At some time, one has to talk to the government. The talks were held with the RSS which is the parent of this government. How else does one find the remedy to the poison that has been spread in society,” argues one of them.
To questions of ‘why now’, his defenders point out that the Jamiat did not reach out to the RSS in the first five years of the Modi government. The Jamiat was patient and waited for the BJP to get weaker or get voted out. When that did not happen, there was no option left but to talk, they say. Didn’t we wait a hundred years before revolting against the British? Didn’t we wait for a hundred years to see their back? The Maulana’s supporters also believe that the meeting had embarrassed the RSS chief more. Hindu hardliners are the ones who feel betrayed and have been questioning the need for Bhagwat to meet Maulana Madni.
The Maulana is however under fire. And he may find the going tougher than in 2008 when the Jamiat split.