On 20 Septemer, The Quint broke the story that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat recently held a closed door meeting with a group of five 'eminent' Muslims – former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, Rashtriya Lok Dal National Vice President Shahid Siddiqui, former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University Lieutenant General (Retired) Zameer Uddin Shah, and businessman-philanthropist Saeed Shervani.
From the RSS side, Sah Sarkaryavah Krishna Gopal was also present in addition to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
After the story was published, we had a detailed conversation with Shahid Siddiqui on what prompted him to meet Mohan Bhagwat, what happened at the meeting, and what is likely to happen next.
'There Is Too Much Communal Toxicity'
Siddiqui discloses that the group actually came together about a year ago to work in the field of education through an organisation called 'Alliance for Education and Economic Development of Underprivileged'.
"We came together for the sake of promoting education. Already we have undertaken a number of projects. But at one point we realised that education alone isn't enough. We were all extremely concerned about the communal toxicity and felt that we needed to do something about it," Siddiqui told The Quint.
He said that this realisation came some time during the entire Nupur Sharma controversy. It was then that they sought time to meet Mohan Bhagwat. However, they were given time over a month later and the meeting was held around the end of August.
On being asked why they chose the RSS chief, he said, "I knew this question would come up. Why Mohan Bhagwat? Why not Narendra Modi? See we must understand that this is not just an issue between Muslims and the government. It has to be dealt with at the community level."
"We must admit that Mohan Bhagwat leads an organisation that is influential among a large number of Hindus. So that's why we reached out."Shahid Siddiqui, RLD vice president
'We Are Not Enemies...But There is a Lot of Misunderstanding'
Siddiqui says that this is not the first time he has met Bhagwat and that he met him in 2007 as an MP, and then again in 2016.
"Look, we are not enemies. We need to keep the dialogue alive," Siddiqui said.
"Hindus and Muslims are not enemies. We have lived together for centuries. We need to understand this."Shahid Siddiqui, RLD vice president
However, he admitted that there is a great deal of misunderstanding between the two sides which needs to be addressed.
During the meeting, Mohan Bhagwat is said to have remarked that "Muslims and Islam are integral to India but they need to stop referring to Hindus as Kafirs."
To this one of the group members pointed out, "The term Kafir was used in a particular context and didn't mean the Hindus of today".
During the meeting, a number of issues such as the Gyanvapi mosque, the Nupur Sharma controversy, madrasas, and the population control issue came up.
'This is Only the Beginning of Dialoague'
Siddiqui says that this is only the beginning of the dialogue.
"We will reach out to other Hindu leaders as well as leaders of other religious communities. We will also hold dialogue within the Muslim community," he said.
The RSS chief is said to have allotted four Sangh functionaries to carry forward the dialogue with Muslim representatives.
On 22 September, Bhagwat also met Umer Ahmed Illyasi, chief of the All India Imam Organisation. Later in the day, he visited a Madrasa near Delhi's Azad Market.
This comes at a time when there is a survey on Madrasas being conducted in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and the Assam government carried out a demolition of a Madrasa.