Mohan Bhagwat at mosque, earns ‘rashtra pita’ tag
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and some other top Sangh leaders paid a first-of-its-kind visit to a mosque followed by a madrasa in Delhi on Thursday, which was seen as calculated posturing to showcase a rare outreach for “religious harmony”.
The RSS’s effort to project the move as a serious outreach, however, stood punctured when Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, who heads the All Imam Organisation and with whom the Sangh leaders were closeted for over an hour, described Bhagwat as “rashtra pita” (father of the nation).
RSS leaders sought to temper the possibility of Sangh supporters not taking too kindly to the overtures by saying Bhagwat’s visit should not be projected as a trip to a mosque as the shrine where he went also houses the office and residence of Ilyasi and that the RSS chief went to meet the All India Imam Organisation head at his office.
Bhagwat and the other Sangh leaders first reached the mosque at a roundabout in central Delhi’s Kasturba Gandhi Marg to meet Ilyasi and later drove to a madrasa in north Delhi to interact with students.
RSS publicity chief Sunil Ambekar said the visits and the meeting were part of an ongoing outreach by Bhagwat. “The sarsanghchalak (RSS chief) meets people from all walks of life. It is part of the continuous general samvad (dialogue),” Ambekar said.
Talking to reporters, Ilyasi termed Bhagwat “rashtra pita”. Asked about Bhagwat’s past remark that Muslims and Hindus in India had the same DNA, Ilyasi said: “Whatever he has said is right since he is the father of the nation.”
Ilyasi, the chief of the all-India organisation of imams who lead prayers at mosques, later accompanied Bhagwat and the others to the madrasa. Here too, addressing the students, Ilyasi described the RSS chief as “rashtra pita”. RSS leaders claimed that at this juncture Bhagwat intervened and said there was only one “rashtra pita”, seeking to indirectly refer to Mahatma Gandhi, and that all others were “Bharat ke santan” (children of Bharat).
Ilyasi later claimed the RSS chief visited the mosque and the madrasa on his invitation. “We discussed several issues for strengthening our country,” Ilyasi said.
The timing of the unusual outreach was significant. It came on a day the news of a meeting last month between the Sangh chief and a group of prominent Muslims broke and also raids took place across the country on properties associated with the PFI, dubbed an “Islamic terror outfit” by the Right wing.
The group of five that met Bhagwat last month included former poll panel chief S.Y. Quraishi, ex-Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, former Aligarh Muslim University vice-chancellor Zameer Uddin Shah and RLD leader Shahid Siddiqui. The participants said they had sought to meet Bhagwat to discuss the “toxic atmosphere” in the country and ways to mitigate and usher in “religious harmony”.
Internally, RSS and BJP leaders said that with the Gyanvapi mosque controversy set to intensify in the days to come, they want to sense the feeling among Muslims and take counter-measures.
Bhagwat had questioned the “need for looking for a Shivling under every mosque” but at the same time not spoken against the move to claim the existence of a Shivling inside the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi adjoining the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Some BJP leaders said they wanted to fulfil their agenda in “Kashi and Mathura”, like in Ayodhya, while taking care that the move did not blow up into a big international controversies.