Lucknow, March 8, Having apparently succeeded in making some inroads into the Muslim community, specially among women, by aggressively campaigning against "triple talaaq", the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has begun a second and subtle round of wooing the minorities. The move assumes significance in the run-up to the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha polls, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be seeking a second term.
While the RSS -- the BJP's ideological parent -- vehemently denies that it is "doing anything of this sort", its affiliate organisations like the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM) have undertaken an aggressive plan to romance the minorities, particularly women. And for this, they have started first-of-its-kind initiatives like monthly pensions for divorced Muslim women, and freebies like books and uniforms for orphans in many parts of the country.
In Uttar Pradesh alone, which accounts for 80 of the Lok Sabha's 543 elected seats, the MRM has adopted some 700 families under its unique pension scheme that is being run in Varanasi, Gorakhpur and the Bundelkhand region. Muslims comprise about 20 percent of Uttar Pradesh's 220 million population.
Denying any RSS role in these pro-minority moves, Indresh Kumar, the "guide" of the MRM, says the organisation was being run by "nationalist and well-meaning Muslims who wanted their community to shun dogmas and become progressive in life". Talking to IANS, he said that they were moving fast in the direction of achieving their objectives. "Hum tez gati se aage badh rahe hain," he mused while pointing out how the number of volunteers was swelling, "irrespective of the negative portrayal by the media".
He added that initiatives like the monthly pension scheme of Rs 500 per divorced woman were efforts to "bring light" to the otherwise dark and gloomy setting these women are forced to live in.
"Ye rajnaitik nahin, ek imandaar prayaas hai ki jo ye andhera phailaya hai usme roshni bhari jaye" (this is not political, it is an honest effort to bring some light in their lives), Indresh Kumar told IANS.
Sources confirmed that while there is now ownership by the RSS of such public events and programmes, it was covertly moving to "inform and educate people about the nationalistic and people-friendly policies of the BJP governments, especially to Muslims who are not favorably disposed towards the saffron camp".
Building on the initial "thaw in mindset" that began with the introduction of the bill against triple talaaq by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, the organisation has increased its focus on the state, as is evident from the growing number of visits by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to Uttar Pradesh -- and his longer stays -- as well as "on-the-ground" activities that are being undertaken by the affiliates of RSS.
The MRM has also rolled out a free foodgrain scheme for Muslim families in Modi's Varanasi parliamentary constituency. This scheme initially targets 800 families in poor slum dwellings and would be taken further as and when our resources increase, an official informed.
At a convention at the Ayodhya Shodh Sansthan auditorium this week, the presence of a large number of Muslim women buoyed the spirits of RSS mandarins who feel that the "outreach's response is more than a trickle now". Muslim women openly spoke of their support to Modi's anti-triple divorce move and also extended their support to the demand of a grand Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.
Shabana Azmi, a professor with the Arabic Culture Department at Lucknow University, told the crowd at the Ayodhya convention that Lord Rama was "one of the 1.24 lakh Nabis sent by Allah and that it was only natural that his grand temple be built at Ayodhya".
Salim, a middle aged driver from Badaut, Baghpat, in western Uttar Pradesh, is a Modi admirer and while driving along the Lucknow-Agra Expressway told IANS that "so far no harm has come to us during BJP rule" and added that he "knew that 2019 will be another term for Modi".
"We are supportive of the development talk of Modi... as for the rest, everyone has some faults," he said.
Insiders say the RSS has been trying to make inroads into segments that were not supporters so far -- and hopes that these efforts will fructify by the time of the next general election.