The large scale exodus from Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai of people from the Northeast notwithstanding after rumours of attacks on them spread thick and fast the festival of Eid not only passed off peacefully, but is likely to be remembered for an unusual show of bonhomie by a very unusual person.
This act of friendliness did not come from chief ministers like Tarun Gogoi, Nitish Kumar or Mamata Banerjee who came out to greet Muslims at Eidgahs in their respective state capitals but from the former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, K.S. Sudarshan. Sudarshan set off from his residence at the RSS office in Bhopal not just to greet Muslims, but also to offer namaz in Taj-ul Masjid, creating a somewhat embarrassing situation for the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Madhya Pradesh. The urban development minister of MP, Babulal Gaur, who is also a former chief minister of the state, rushed to convince Sudarshan to give up the idea as the time for prayer was over. He asked Sudarshan to greet Muslims on the occasion of Eid instead. The state additional director-general of police, Vijay Yadav, told the media that it was too late for the police to arrange for Sudarshans motorcade to reach the mosque.
There is no dearth of apologists in the sangh parivar who may say that Sudarshans gesture was an eccentric act by a man in his eighties. They may speak of how Sudarshan lost his way a few days back during a morning walk in Mysore where his brother lives. They may also cite the example of how Sudarshan put the sangh parivar and the BJP in an awkward position two years ago by accusing Sonia Gandhi, of being a CIA agent and of plotting the assassinations of her husband, Rajiv Gandhi, and his mother, Indira Gandhi, both of whom were former prime ministers.
Sudarshan has shot his mouth off on a couple of occasions in the past, for which he had come under fire even from his friends within the sangh parivar. But his recent gesture on Eid is different. Even if it reflects the senility of an old man, it is what William Shakespeare called reason in madness. Shakespeares mad characters, such as the ageing Lear in King Lear, are more realistic.
Whether or not Sudarshan underwent a big change of heart is debatable. But what is not questionable is the importance of festivals like Eid. These occasions can work as cementing factors, thus proving wrong those who had tried to create trouble before the festival.
Sudarshans gesture made news because it was a rather large step to take for someone who subscribes to his line of thinking. After all, he cannot be blamed for indulging in votebank politics. His action this time was not condemned the way his past utterances about Sonia Gandhi have been. Ironically, his move to offer prayers in a mosque came when the tension all over the country following the prolonged ethnic violence in Assam and the subsequent exodus of thousands of frightened Northeasterners from several metropolises was quite palpable all over the country.
India, however, is peopled by millions who have no problem in mixing with people of different faiths. The number of Hindus greeting Muslims on Eid despite the restrictions on sending bulk messages was not affected. Many non-Muslims visited the homes of Muslims to eat sewai and other delicacies. The violence in Assam and text messages threatening attacks could have created a barrier, but it was too small and was overcome by the people. Sudarshan seems to have realized this. Perhaps others in the sangh parivar too may appreciate this reality soon.