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Betrayal or Pragmatism? Why Madanis of Deoband Praised RSS & Modi

Why Mahmood Madani & Arshad Madani’s overtures to RSS are result of Muslims’ dilemma under Narendra Modi’s rule.

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The leaders of the two factions of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind – Maulana Arshad Madani and Maulana Mahmood Madani – have recently made conciliatory statements regarding the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Narendra Modi government.

Maulana Arshad Madani recently met RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat and praised him. Here are excerpts from his interview to The Quint after the meeting:

  • “Bhagwat ji has an organisation (RSS) which is a very strong organisation. In my opinion, there is no one else like him in India.”
  • “RSS is capable of doing away with their idea of Hindu Rashtra”
  • “If the RSS is soft with us, why should we not be?”

Maulana Mahmood Madani has also made a number of statements in favour of the RSS and expressed his support to the Modi government on issues such as Kashmir and the National Register of Citizens:

  • I feel that RSS has tried to show kindness/liberalism of late. This is a golden opportunity and must be welcomed for interactions.”
  • NRC should be conducted across India to know how many intruders are here.
  • Kashmir is ours, was ours and will always be ours. Whatever is India’s stand, we are with it.

There are different ways of looking at the statements made by the two scholars. Some say that this is part of the tussle between the two Madanis for control of Jamiat and that both of them are now competing for the government’s patronage. They are both from the family of Jamiat founder Mahmood Hassan and of its former president Husain Ahmad Madani.

Professor Hilal Ahmed of CSDS said that Jamiat doesn’t represent Muslims and he accused Mahmood Madani of communalising issues like Kashmir and NRC.

Mohammad Asif Khan, who documents hate crimes against Muslims in India, accused the Madanis of peddling the Hindutva narrative.

However, it is important to understand the Madanis’ moves from a broader perspective and two aspects in particular: first, from the prism of the Jamiat’s own ideology and second, from the larger challenge that Muslims in India face presently.


What Jamiat Stands For

Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind is the primary organisation representing scholars belonging to the school of thought prescribed by Darul Uloom at Deoband in Uttar Pradesh.

Though Deobandis are a minority among Indian Muslims – according to certain estimates, around 15-20 percent Indian Muslims identify themselves as Deobandi – they are more centralised than the more numerous Barelvis.

As a result of this relatively more centralised nature, Jamiat exercises control over the largest network of mosques in India. Compared to other Muslim organisations, Jamiat has historically enjoyed much greater clout vis-a-vis political parties and the government.

Muttahida Qaumiyat

The main concept driving Jamiat’s political ideology is that of Muttahida Qaumiyat or “composite nationalism” that was laid down by Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani in 1938 in his book Muttahida Qaumiyat Aur Islam.

The idea behind Muttahida Qaumiyat was in opposition to the belief that Hindus and Muslims constitute two different nations – which was the credo of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League at that time.

As per Muttahida Qaumiyat, different religions were not seen as different nationalities. Rather nationality was seen as being linked to a territory, where both Muslims and non-Muslims share the same nationality. Muslim and non-Muslim communities living in this territory could share attributes such as language, ethnicity or culture.

The Example of Madina

Husain Ahmad Madani invoked the example of Madina under Prophet Muhammad to sanctify the concept of Muttahida Qaumiyat. According to him, Muslims and Jews of Madina shared a similar sense of common nationality during the Prophet’s era under the Treaty or Constitution of Madina.

Similar to the Treaty of Madina, the Jamiat after Independence put forward the idea that Muslims and non-Muslims have entered upon a mutual contract – or Mu’ahadah – in India, since independence, to establish a secular state. The Constitution of India represents this contract and every Indian Muslim must uphold the Constitution as part of this Mu’ahadah.

The Jamiat’s belief was that Muslims have a better chance of following their practices and personal laws in Congress-ruled India than under the Muslim League’s Pakistan. Jamiat’s leaders saw the Muslim League leaders as non-observant Muslims and expected the Congress to be more tolerant of Muslim personal laws.

However, the Jamiat’s concept of Muttahida Qaumiyat did not go uncontested from within the Muslim community. Deobandi scholars like Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi and Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani both argued that Muttahida Qaumiyat as well as Husain Madani’s invocation of Madina’s example, are not backed by Islamic scriptures. Usmani later formed a breakaway faction of the Jamiat – Jamiat Ulam-e-Islam – and supported the creation of Pakistan. Husain Ahmad Madani’s ideas were also criticised by individuals like Muhammad Iqbal and Jamaat-e-Islami founder Syed Abul ala Mawdudi.


Madanis’ ‘Practical’ View

The efforts of Maulana Arshad Madani and Maulana Mahmood Madani to reach out to the RSS in today’s time, are in some ways an extension of Husain Ahmad Madani’s Muttahida Qaumiyat. They have also gone against the concept, which we shall discuss later.

The two scholars have rightly recognised that just as the Congress represented Hindus when Husain Ahmad Madani put forward the concept of Muttahida Qaumiyat, the community is represented by the BJP today. Therefore in their worldview, any negotiation with Hindus has to be with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

Mahmood Madani’s letter praising Modi after his victory in the Lok Sabha elections this year and Arshad Madani’s meeting with Mohan Bhagwat must be seen in this context. The Jamiat recognises that it can no longer deal with Hindus through “secular” parties like Congress and Samajwadi Party, it has to be done through the BJP and RSS. This is an objective reality and beyond a point, the Madanis can’t be blamed for acknowledging it.


Muslims’ Dilemma

The Madanis’ overtures to the BJP and RSS are the product of a larger dilemma in the Muslim community: how to survive the onslaught of Hindu majoritarianism.

Put simply, since Independence, Indian Muslims have mostly counted on “secular Hindus” to keep “communal Hindus” at bay. Politically, this translated to overwhelming support for “secular” parties like Congress, Janata Dal and its breakaways, BSP, Left etc instead of “Muslim” parties.

With most of these parties being decimated by the BJP, largely due to the consolidation of Hindu votes behind Modi, Muslims have now been forced to reconsider their strategy.

There are now elements within the community who say that the way out is to reach out to the BJP and RSS .

It’s not just the Madanis. Muslim elites like former Union minister Arif Mohammad Khan, businessman Zafar Sareshwala and educationist Firoz Bhakt Ahmed have consistently been saying that Muslims must not consider the BJP as an untouchable. The BJP too sent a clear signal on the kind of Muslims it wants, by rewarding Khan with a Governor’s post and making Ahmed and Sareshwala chancellors of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University.

The more common approach is giving issue-based support.

Legal scholar and Vice Chancellor of NALSAR Faizan Mustafa, wrote in a recent article that people need to listen to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s views on reservation.

On the abrogation of Article 370, the support for the Modi government was even more widespread with several Muslims ranging from senior journalist Shahid Siddiqui to social media influencers like Zainab Sikander and Tehseen Poonawalla praising the government’s move.

Like the Madanis, the common refrain among such sections is to “take a practical view keeping in mind the existing reality in India (read dominance of BJP and RSS).”

However, this isn’t entirely a practical view.


Where Madanis Have Gone Wrong

Despite Madanis and a few other Muslim elites “engaging” with the BJP and RSS and supporting them on certain issues, the latter have hardly taken any steps towards addressing the concerns of Muslims.

Where the Madanis seem to have deviated from the concept of Muttahida Qaumiyat is by forgetting the fact that the contract to establish a secular state was a two-way agreement and not just from the side of Muslims.

The BJP and RSS may not be officially declaring India as a Hindu Rashtra but many of their decisions do dilute India’s existence as a secular state and go against India’s contract with minorities. For instance:

  • Hate crimes against Muslims have only increased in the past few years with the BJP doing little to prevent them. BJP leaders garlanded those involved in the lynching of Alimuddin Ansari in Jharkhand and honoured one of the killers of Mohammad Akhlaq in Western Uttar Pradesh.
  • The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from neighbouring Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. This is discriminatory and defines Indian citizenship in opposition to Muslims.
  • The increased emphasis on cow protection means that the BJP and RSS are willing to prioritise the beliefs of Hindus over the dietary choices of others. Cow vigilantism goes a step further as it subordinates even the rule of law to the will of Hindus.
  • The Triple Talaq law criminalises a practice among Muslims even though it was declared null and void by the court.
  • The BJP gave a ticket to an individual like Pragya Thakur, who is accused of being involved in the Malegaon Blasts in which several Muslims were killed. She also praised Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi.
  • The abrogation of Article 370 showed that the BJP and RSS are quite willing to tinker with the Constitution to push their ideological aims. The Constitution represents the Jamiat’s Mu’ahadah and attempts to tinker with it need to be taken seriously by the outfit.

These examples make it clear that the BJP and RSS aren’t quite working to preserve secularism. And we haven’t even begun discussing BJP leaders’ statements targeting Muslims or calling for a Hindu Rashtra. The next step could well be Uniform Civil Code, which would take away what Jamiat values most – freedom in the sphere of personal law. Or a nationwide NRC, which could potentially harm Muslims the most.

Jamiat and Muslim elites need to work towards holding the government accountable on the preservation of secularism and Muttahida Qaumiyat, instead of appeasing the Sangh and strengthening the march of majoritarianism in India.

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