By Jyoti Punwani
The RSS has achieved one thing with its insistence on everyone chanting 'Bharat Mata ki Jai'. Hindus may not have done so, but many young Muslims have added Bharat Mata to the list of Hindu deities.
This came through in a conversation with two such youths after AIMIM MLA from Mumbai Waris Pathan was suspended from the state assembly for refusing to raise the slogan 'Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Their views can be seen as a representation of a large section of young urban Muslims.
Shanul Syed moved from Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party to Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM in just a few months. The young Jogeshwari resident, who once campaigned for former Aam Aadmi Party leader Mayank Gandhi, is fully in agreement with his party chief’s views on Bharat Mata. "I cannot worship my country but will always be proud of being Indian," he said. "I am willing to say 'Hindustan zindabad'. But Bharat Mata is a goddess. She’s always depicted in a saffron sari with a tiger. She’s up there on the wall with other deities in RSS offices. The RSS can’t force me into worshipping an idol.’’
His views were echoed by Adil Khatri, an idealistic young man from Bandra, who made the same political journey that Shanul did, except that he soon realized Owaisi was not the leader for him. He has now started, along with non-Muslims, an NGO called Jai Ho on civic issues.
"I would willingly say victory to my motherland, but I won’t say 'Bharat Mata ki Jai'," said Adil. "She was originally painted as a goddess by Abanindranath Tagore. When Mohan Bhagwat refers to her, it's as a deity. The RSS worships her."
This is another victory for the RSS — in Modi's India, the ideological body has become the defining word on Hinduism, for many non-Hindus. Was there any other basis for their view? "Wikipedia," replied Adil, adding that there were five temples dedicated to Bharat Mata in India, and her idol could be found in many others.
When the Aam Aadmi Party set up base in Mumbai before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Muslims were conspicuous by their presence in the AAP candidates' election campaigns. "Vande Mataram" and "Bharat Mata ki Jai" were staple slogans raised during these campaigns.
But Adil said that as long as 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' meant "victory to the motherland", he would unhesitatingly shout it, he admitted he had not done so even as an enthusiastic AAP member, who himself had got many Muslims into the party fold. Adil said that Kejriwal and his followers had no Hindutva intention, yet, he maintained, Bharat Mata was a goddess.
Speaking with the two young men, another alarming realisation dawned: they knew very little about the religion followed by 80 percent of Indians. And both of them are educated urban Muslims.
Perhaps that’s the reason for their ignorance. Rural Hindus and Muslims are steeped in each other’s traditions. Mumbai, on the other hand, has always had ghettos. It’s common for Hindus in this city to grow up without striking an acquaintance with a single Muslim. For such Hindus, Islam and Muslims would probably mean nothing more than fanaticism, beards, qurbani, shervani, biryani, sevaiyan and four wives.
What do Hinduism and Hindus mean for Muslims who’ve never had a Hindu acquaintance? Neither Shanul nor Adil personally knew any Hindu who worshipped Bharat Mata. But for them, it was quite natural to assume that a religion which had crores of deities, could have the motherland as one of them. As Shanul put it: "Anyone can be a goddess."
Trying to convince them that having a portrait of someone in a temple does not confer divine status on them didn’t work. They agreed that temples of Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachhan did not make the two icons into gods. But Bharat Mata had the stamp of the RSS, hence she had to be a goddess.
Though Adil insisted that Asaduddin Owaisi or the AIMIM did not represent him, this ignorance of the other’s beliefs is exactly what the Hyderabad MP is looking for in his voter: Muslims whose knowledge does not extend beyond their community, for whom the English-speaking Barrister, who has won the Best Parliamentarian Award many times, is the fountain of wisdom.
Not surprisingly, this situation, wherein the two communities live as separate blocks with little intimacy with each other, suits the RSS perfectly. It makes it so much easier for Bhagwat and Co to perpetuate the "anti-national violent" Muslim stereotype.
But there’s one development that goes against this dismal scenario of fanatics feeding off each other from ghettoisation. Despite Mumbai being full of Muslim ghettoes where schools are many but male dropout rates are high, ie, ideal breeding grounds for the AIMIM, only 200 Muslims turned out at the party’s protest in support of suspended MLA Waris Pathan. Pathan’s plight and Owaisi’s bluster seem to have left his potential voters unmoved.
Does that mean the concept of "Bharat Mata", goddess or not, is too distant for ordinary Muslims, 60 % of whom live below the poverty line in Maharashtra (according to the Mehmood-ur-Rahman Committee report? The RSS-Shiv Sena-BJP have always depended on Muslims getting provoked. If they don’t, what will the Hindutvawadis do?