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25 October 2012

Late Hindu nationalist draws praise from Muslims

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An article eulogising K.S. Sudarshan raises hopes for improved ties between India's Hindus and Muslims.

By Chandan Das

Jamshedpur: When the mouthpiece of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) recently ran an article eulogising the passing away of a prominent Hindu figure, it raised many eyebrows, especially at a time of mutual distrust and animosity between the two religious communities in India.

K.S. Sudarshan, who led the ultranationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) from 2000 to 2009, died September 15th in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. A week later, the JIH-affiliated magazine Dawat ran an article commemorating his life. It highlighted his interest in Islamic culture and the Qur'an as well as his desire to participate in the religious functions of the Muslim community.

Whether the tribute, penned by chief editor Parwaaz Rahmani, will help lead to a better understanding between the two communities is an open question. Still, many see it as a positive gesture.

"Nearly a month before his death, an ailing Sudarshan had expressed his eagerness to visit the Tajul Masjid in Bhopal to participate in the Eid-ul-Fitr prayer and offer his Eid greetings to his Muslim brethren," Rahmani wrote. "However, his wish was not fulfilled, as members of the RSS as well as the police prevented him from going to the mosque, citing traffic problems."

"Later, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Babulal Gaur accompanied the former RSS sarsanghchalak (chief) to one of his Muslim associates' home, where Sudarshan not only offered his Eid greetings to the Muslim brethren, but also took delight in sewaiyan (a special sweet dish prepared during Eid)," the article said.

Speaking with Khabar South Asia, Rahmani said that many RSS members disapproved of their former leader's actions, attributing it to dementia.

And yet Sudarshan had "always shown profound interest in Islamic culture and had even read the English translation of the Qur'an", the Dawat editor said.

A re-evaluation of views

In an earlier article, published on September 1st, Rahmani wrote that the ex-RSS chief reconsidered his stance towards Islam after he quit the post of sarsanghchalak.
In his retirement, Sudarshan was a “free man who had started reviewing his ideologies and beliefs regarding the Muslims that he had developed following his long association with the Sangh", he wrote.

Arshad Ikram Ahmed, an Islamic scholar at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi, pointed to another reason for Sudarshan's apparent openness to Islam. The RSS chief, he said, became close to some Jamaat leaders in 1975, when they were lodged in the same prison during the Indian Emergency declared by then-prime minister Indira Gandhi. Both Jamaat and the RSS were banned during that time.

"During their stay in the prison, these leaders not only expressed one another's views on Hinduism and Islam, but also exchanged religious literature," he told Khabar.
Speaking to Khabar, RSS mahapracharak (chief messenger) Manmohan Vaidya said Sudarshan "was a very learned person and took interest in all aspects of life, including the religion as well as culture of other communities".

"It is very natural that people from all religious communities, including Muslims would recognise his virtues and praise him for his benevolent attitude towards them," he said.
Several Muslim clerics as well as Christian leaders attended Sudarshanji's funeral in Nagpur, the home base of the RSS headquarters, he noted.

M.W. Haq, a tax lawyer in Jamshedpur, described the Dawat article as a "very positive" development that could help bring the two communities together.

"In this era of economic liberalisation and other changes in the society, people from all faiths are realising that they cannot improve their lot as long as there is animosity and mistrust among the communities. I'm happy that our leaders have awakened to this reality and also articulating their views more openly," he told Khabar.

(Courtesy: Khabar South Asia)

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