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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 33 New Delhi August 8, 2015

Coming Out of the Closet: Making Sense of the Meeting of RSS and Jamaat-e-Islami Leaders in Varanasi

Saturday 8 August 2015

by Fahad Hashmi

‘The masses have never thirsted after truth...Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.’Gustave Le Bon in The Crowd

In what might be called a classic case of political naivety, the Student Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami of India, recently organised an international seminar on ‘communal harmony’ and ‘nation-building’ in collaboration with the Department of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) where Indresh Kumar1 of the RSS was invited as the chief guest. Since Indresh Kumar could not turn up, Laxmikant Vajpayee, the State President of the BJP, substituted for him.2

One of the lectures delivered in this seminar was on ‘Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Syed Abul Ala Maududi: A Comparative Study in Communal Harmony and National Integration’.3 We know the politics of Malaviya, one of the architects of the Hindu Mahasabha, as well as of Maududi—the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami—who talked about establishing an ‘Islamic state’. The former talked about a ‘Hindu nation’ and latter propagated the idea of ‘establishment of religion’. Both these ideologies are theoretically exclusivists, and promote majoritarianism. A sensible person will agree that communal harmony and the policies of the RSS are poles apart. Only a person or a group devoid of any trace of political consciousness can expect from the RSS to make an effort at communal harmony. It would be like Jews expecting consideration from the Nazis, or Blacks engaging with the Ku Klux Klan in the hope that the White supremacist group will change its stripes.

After this seminar, social media is abuzz about a tussle between SIO cadres and others on this issue. The SIO is now taking shelter behind the issue of a humanitarian ground as a pretext to explain its move, and has come up with a weird explanation for organising this show.4 If one views this programme holistically then it becomes clear that this sharing of the dais was premeditated and planned beforehand.

This meeting between the Hindu and Muslim Right-wing groups has sent shock waves among activists, intelligentsia and others who are concerned with the issues of minorities in India. This coming together of the RSS and Jamaat can be understood and interpreted in many ways. The origin of such an alignment, in my opinion, is in the genetic make-up of Islamism which owes a lot to the idea of Jahiliyya. If one tries to delve into this notion vis-à-vis the political stances of Islamism, then this would come as no surprise.

Jahiliyya: A Protean Character

The idea of enemy is embedded in the discourse of Islamism/political Islam as the presence of an ‘other’ is sine qua none for existence as well as continuation for any party that is engaged in a competition for harnessing political power in an environment where multiplicities of ideologies are at odds with each other. One finds that this notion of enemy of Islamism is based upon, borrowing the words of Carpentier for our context, ‘a series of binary oppositions such as good/evil, just/unjust, innocent/guilty, rational/irrational, and civilised/uncivilised’. (Carpentier 2011: 16) Out of this series of binary opposites one element always requires sympathy and the other deserves hatred.

Maududi sums up its hated ‘other’ in a single term called Jahiliyya. (See Maududi 2012, 2013) Jahiliyya conveys everything that stands in opposition to Maududi’s understanding of Islam. Political Islam employs this notion to compart-mentalise its ideology with other ideologies, Islamic as well as non-Islamic. In the traditional parlance, Jahiliyyameans pre-Islamic Arabia—a period before the coming of Islam. (Jalal 2008: 248) It also connotes a ‘sense of moral savagery’ which of course does not make the notion a political enemy of Islam. There is a further distinction of ‘pure Jahiliyya’, and ‘partial or mixed Jahiliyya’. When there is a complete denial of supernatural authority in providing guidance to mankind, it has been termed as pure Jahiliyya. The latter is an adulterated form of Islam. (See Ahmad and Ansari 2000: 32) Maududi has almost made Jahiliyya an anthropomorphic entity which is out there to devour Islam. (Maududi 2012) Sayyed Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideologue, defines it as:

People—in any time and any place—are either governed by God’s sharia—entirely, without any reservations—accepting it and submitting to it, in which case they are following God’s religion, or they are governed by a sharia invented by humans, in whatever form, and accept it. In that case they are in jahiliyya and are following the religion of those who govern by that sharia, and are by no means following the religion of God. (Quoted in Shepard 2003: 524)

Given this nature of Islamism where the political arena is defined in friend-foe terms, it could be explored using the tack of ‘political theology’ which owes to Carl Schmitt. Schmitt, just like Maududi and Qutb, understands politics in the ‘Either-Or’ paradigm. Looking through this vantage point of political theology, one is either for or against the ‘other’. Therefore, this understanding of politics by Islamists as ‘Islam versus Jahiliyya’dichotomy coincides with Carl Schmitt’s idea of political theology.

The political reading of Jahiliyyaby Maududi and Qutb, and their understanding of politics where ‘God’s shariah’ is at odds with ‘shariahinvented by humans’ makes it easy to see that it is an attempt at inventing and defining one’s ‘other’— Islamic as well as un-Islamic— which are not in keeping with Islamism. In this reckoning of the political arena the faith meets faith(s).

In this particular understanding of politics, one has to be on either side of this cosmic battle as the faith meets faith(s). There is no ‘no man’s land’ in this understanding and interpretation of politics. This certainly tells that there is no space for indifference, ignorance and neutrality. Belief in revelation, in such a comprehension of politics, becomes ‘a concept of self-identification and self-characterisation’, one of the elements of political theology. (See Meier 2002) Meier has also got very keen observation when he writes that there are no ‘neutral parties’ as far as the plane of political theology is concerned. There could only be ‘political theologians’ even if they be ‘theologians of the antitheological’. (Meier 2002: 84)

Getting an understanding of and outlining this Jahiliyya is an uphill task because this conceptual enemy is inherently problematic as there is no thorough and substantial logic to it as Maududi defines it, ‘every such conduct which goes against Islamic culture, morality and the Islamic way of thinking and behaving’. (Cited in Shepard 2003: 523) Since there could never be a standard definition of ‘Islamic culture, morality and the Islamic way of thinking and behaving’ given the multiplicities of diversities within the Muslim world, therefore, such a definition of Jahiliyya attests to the fact that there is no distinct discursive sphere for an enemy in the Islamist discourse. This vague and amorphous nature of ‘other’ endows the enemy of political Islam with a protean character.

JIH’s Terrains of Contestations

It becomes clear from the above that political Islam understands, comprehends and interprets contemporary times through the ‘Islam versus Jahiliyya’ paradigm. Since Jahiliyya is not well articulated, defined, and explained, therefore, it is subject to multiple interpretations by Islamists. Giving a quick glance over the stances of political Islam on the subcontinent, one gets the impression that it is desperate to have its own version of Islam imposed on the society by hook or by crook. To put it differently, ends justify the means for political Islam. The Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan had provided the ideological plane as well as foot soldiers in sustaining and perpetuating General Zia-ul-Haq’s seizure of power in a coup d’état in 1977. This also got reflected in the answer given by Maududi to Justice Munir’s question about the Islamists’ vision of establishing an Islamic state in Pakistan followed by establishment of a Hindu state in India. Maududi had replied: ‘I would have no objection even if the Muslims of India were treated in that form of government as shudras or malishas, and Manu’s laws were applied to them depriving them of all share in the government and even the right of citizen.’ (See Ahmad 1969)

Such a haste for political power which is of course an outcome of Maududi’s political reading of the Quran led him to liken the mission of Yusuf (Joseph)—one of the prophets mentioned in the Bible as well as in the Quran—to Mussolini’s dictatorship. (See Ahmad 2010: 66) This is blasphemy par excellence, isn’t it? Ask the Islamists, please!

Seeing this slippery character of Jahiliyya, it could be said that it is difficult for Islamists to pinpoint its actual enemy. And this makes the party to move hither and thither, as well as to and fro on the political spectrum which shows its desperation for political power for imposing its version of Islam. It could be substantiated seeing the political instances of the JIH in the Indian context. One comes to know the JIH’s ‘romance’ with the cadres of the RSS and Jan Sangh during their stay in jails as it was banned along with many political parties during the Emergency of the 1970s. (See Jafar 2003, 2006; Naeem 2006) Once the JIH had a ‘pro-Congress shift’. (See Islam 1975) The JIH supported the LDF in Kerala in the 2012 Assembly election.5 In contemporary times the people and parties affiliated to the Left also suit the Jamaat.6 These days one finds cadres of the SIO with various Left-wing students’ organisations in various protests on the roads of Delhi which was not possible earlier.7 However, this is the same Jamaat which had, to use Ahmad’s word, ‘floated SIMI’ in order to counter the Leftist organisations on the campus of the AMU, Aligarh. (Ahmad 2009: 34) Since a couple of years back it has been celebrating anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism weeks and programmes.8

The latest political tilt of Islamism towards the Right-wingers has surprised and shocked many. However, the meeting of the twain had taken place earlier too. The JIH, at one point in time, wanted to have liaison with the RSS. The aim was to devise ways for coming together on a common platform to counter secular and progressive forces and their non-religious activities. (See Ahmad 1969) Nafis Ahmad has written about the JIH delegation’s closed-door meetings with the Hindu Mahasabha in Gujarat in the 1960s. The particular aim, in the words of Nafis Ahmad, of such a meeting was ‘to discuss the possibilities of a united platform against progressive and socialist forces in the country’. (Ahmad 1969: 17) The JIH’s cadres almost canvassed for a Hindu Mahasabhacandidate in one of the parliamentary elections in Bihar.(See Jafar 2003, 2006)9

How could one understand this current sliding of Islamism towards the Hindu Right? If one sees through the lens of ‘Islam versus Jahiliyya’, then one could easily make sense of this latest move of making alliance with the Hindu Right-wing. Since the RSS and its affiliates believe in multiple deities, and seeks to do a particular type of religion-based politics, therefore, it would come, if one extends the logic of Jahiliyya, under the category of ‘impure Jahiliyya’ in Jamaat’s conception of things. The political language of articulation of the Left and secular parties is secular, which is, in other words, a total denial of supernatural authority in accepting guidance in matters of social life. Therefore, the praxis of Left and secular parties boxes them, by stretching the logic of Jahiliyya, in the category of ‘pure Jahiliyya’.

The politics of the RSS is certainly neither Islam nor any adulterated form of Islam; however, as far as the RSS’ scheme of things is concerned, there is also no denial of religion-based politics. Therefore, such logic, derived from Jahiliyya, demands that it is always better to go in for ‘impure Jahiliyya’ than ‘pure Jahiliyya’. Drawing from such logic, the same could be said about the Islamists’ alignment with imperialist powers in militarily overthro-wing the Soviet regime in Afghanistan. The mujahideen, who were introduced by Reagan as ‘moral equivalents of our Founding Fathers’ in the Oval House, fought the anti-USSR ‘jihad’ on behalf of the USA, after being recruited and trained by the CIA!

The Jamaat, just like the RSS, plays its politics on the moral terrain. Moreover, it backs its moral policing under the guise of religion, Islamic culture etc. For instance, one of the objectives entailed in Article 2 of the Constitution of the Welfare Party of India (WPI), the political wing of the JIH, is the ‘promotion of ethical values and high moral standards in the political system and other realms of public life’.10 The JIH’s stances on various issues give an idea of its ‘ethical values and high moral standards’. It aspires to bring the blasphemy law in India, had tacitly justified the forced exile of M.F. Hussian, and also argues about banning the internet for stopping Western obscenity.11 This party also resorts to browbeating and intimidating writers for questioning and exercising their reason on Islam and its practices.12 The Jamaat wants abolition of co-education.13 It denies the sexual rights of the LGBT.14 The Jamaat backs moral policing.15 One could see the activities of the cadres of the SIO on Valentine’s Day.16 The SIO cadres and sympathisers also spread canard against people on the social networking sites.17

Islamism’s Promises: Hoping against the Hope?

Being a part of contemporary times one is knowingly or unknowingly caught up in a set of oppressions. Movements are supposed to give hope to the oppressed and marginalised for transcending predicaments and woes through struggle. In this sense, movement is ‘weapon of the weak’ in today’s time. Therefore, one is bound to look up to Islamism, besides some other movements, which promise freedom, for some sort of ‘quantum of solace’. Islamism does promise, like so many other movements, emancipation and liberation from the structures of power that are oppressive, domesticating and dominating but only to have its own hegemony as it gets clear from the theory it propagates as well as the type of struggles it engages itself with.

On the whole Islamism’s struggle has been on the terrains of culture and morality. Its political takes clearly reflect that it is desperate for getting its ideology translated into action without taking into consideration the means through which it ought to achieve such a goal in a political environment. To cap it all, political Islam defines the political terrain that demands actual struggle in contemporary times as a terrain where God’s friends are at war with God’s foes. Moreover, political opponents are defined in terms of God’s enemies pitted against God’s friends. All these attest to the fact that the idea of an ‘Islamic state’ has its problematic even theoretically. What is that idea of a ‘just society’ and ‘social justice’ that Islamism propagates when it cannot include at least in theory all those sections of the society who are on the margins, and fighting for their rights in a democratic country?


The JIH’s political stance in the Indian context, as it is clear from above, has been schizophrenic so far. The answer to this ambiguity towards the ‘other’, which determines and effects political stances of Islamism, could easily be traced to the elusive notion of Jahiliyyawhich lacks a substantial inner logic to it. Given the nature of this notion a specific Jahiliyyacould pop up from the immediate situation, and could also be abandoned as soon as the situation changes. In other words, Islamism can always excuse itself from its earlier partner by giving any pretext and it can also make an alliance with a new Jahiliyya by fetching a new justification. Thus “who exactly is its ‘other’?” is a perplexing issue at Islamism’s disposal as it could change at the whim of the party.


1. Indresh Kumar was involved in many blasts. These blasts were Malegaon (2006), Ajmer Sharif (2007), Samjhauta Express (2007), Mecca Masjid (2007) and Malegaon (2008). Aseemanand had given all such information in his confession. To get an idea of who actually Indresh Kumar is, one could see Subhash Gatade (2011).

2. The SIO is denying that it did not know the facts about Indresh Kumar. However, K K Mishra, HOD of Political Science Department, BHU, has said that the SIO guys got the invitation card printed, and were fully aware of the fact. Listen to his interview with Siddhant Mohan at https://soundcloud.com/siddhantam/talk-with-prof-kk-mishra-of-bhu-over-indresh-kumar-controversy.Accessed on June 26, 2015. Also see http://twocircles.net/2015jun17/1434493626.html#. VZmI4fmqqkp. Viewed on July 1, 2015.

3. Dr Obaidullah F. Falahi of the Islamic Studies Department, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), gave this lecture. The way he has drawn a parallel between Malaviya and Maududi is quite interesting, and needs to be heard. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2t7TIHQWxQ&feature= youtu.be. Viewed on July 4, 2015.

4. See http://twocircles.net/2015jun19/1434732752.html#. VZmGOvmqqkq. Viewed on July 4, 2015.

5. See http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/kerala-polls-jamaat-e-islami-extends-support-to-left/1/135067.htm Accessed on December 1, 2015.

6. In a personal conversation with one of the key cadres of the JIH at its headquarters in New Delhi, he categorically used the word suit. He talked about this and other stuffs on the condition of anonymity.

7. One finds the name of the SIO and its cadres along with various Left-wing student organisations in various pamphlets as well as their involvement in scores of protests. This coming together of the two was not possible earlier. I am saying this because of my observation as well as involvement in such protests.

8. Of late one finds that the Jamaat celebrates anti-capitalism and anti-empire weeks. Booklets, pamphlets, taranes (songs) sung with passionate intensity, are used and distributed for this particular purpose. Available at www.saveindiacampaign.net. Viewed on August 10, 2013.

9. While recounting the days spent in jail during the Emergency of 1970s, Muhammad Jafar, the erstwhile General Secretary of the JIH, who was in jail with Zeya ul Huda, the then President of the JIH, Bihar zone, writes: “Ram Lakhan Gupta, the general secretary of Jan Sangh, Bihar, was an MP from Munger and had contested election while remaining behind the bars. Gupta jee requested Dr [Zeyal ul Huda] sahib to remember him in prayers [for electoral victory] as well as told him to make his colleagues ‘support’ him [in the upcoming election]. Dr sahib used to take care of personal relationship. He [Zeyal ul Huda] asked Mr Abdul Wadud and reminded him to inform people [JIH’s cadres] at Munger to help Gupta jee. Instead of being a member of Jan Sangh, Gupta jee had preferred contesting election as an independent candidate after being impressed by Dr Sahib. Therefore, at the behest of Dr sahib Mr Abdul Wadud travelled to Munger, and informed Mr Abdul Khaliq Badal and others about this [Zeya ul Huda’s advice of supporting Ram Lakhan Gupta in the coming election].” See Jafar 2003: 102, 2006: 209-210)

10. See the Constitution of the Welfare Party of India (WPI) at http://welfarepartyofindia.org/welfarepatry-info-all?event=vi&id=240. Viewed on March 5, 2014.

11. The WPI’s President (then ex-General Secretary), who is also a member of the JIH’s National Advisory Council, has talked about all these in an interview to Tehelka’s Karuna John. See http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main51.asp?filename=hub180212DrSQR.asp. Viewed on March 5, 2014.

12. In one of the instances, Aarhus-based Indian poet and novelist, Tabish Khair, was threatened by the JIH’s cadre, besides others, at his home in Gaya for writing an article on Islam. I am saying this because I also come from this place.

13. In the wake of the unpopular Delhi rape of December 16, 2013, the JIH came up with 11 points of recommendation as a suggestion to the Justice J.S. Verma Committee Report. See http://jamaateislamihind.org/eng/jamaat-e-islami-hinds-suggestions-sent-to-justice-j-s-verma-committee-to-review-anti-rape-law/ Viewed on March 5, 2014.

14. The Jamaat vehemently attacked the Delhi High Court’s decision on considering the LGBT’s sexual rights that came in the year 2009. On the contrary, it welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision that revoked the Delhi High Court’s decision on IPC 377 in 2014, and got itself busy in organising seminars and protests along with the leaders of other religious organisations. See http://jamaateislamihind.org/eng/joint-statement-of-religious-leaders-on-supreme-courtorder-on-article-377/. Viewed on January 26, 2014.

15. We had come across the news of the Police Inspector of Golconda (Andhra Pradesh), Syed Nayeemuddin Jawed, who had chased down couples in the park. His cops had manhandled boys, and girls were forced to do sit-ups on live camera. The Movement for Peace and Justice, a human rights front of the JIH (AP), had praised and backed this moral policing of the police Inspector. See http://twocircles.net/2013dec28/ncw_demands_actions_against_%E2%80% 98muslim_moral_police%E2%80%99_islamists_stan d_defense.html#.VZboZfmqqko Accessed on July 4, 2015.

16. The cadres of the SIO celebrate February 14 as ‘chastity day’. They visit cyber cafes, college campuses and other places to make students and youths understand the ‘ills’ of Western modernity. It resorts to moral persuasion fused with intimidation of ‘other-worldly’ punishments in targeting couples in parks, on college campuses, and other such places. They inform about the ills of love, and also convince in charge of cafes not to allow couple to sit in cabins, and blocking the pornographic sites etc. All this is done euphemistically in the name of stopping consumerism and challenging Western culture in the country. See http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tpandhrapradesh/ protests-against-valentines-day/article1797592.ec. Viewed on March 5, 2014.

17. When Mahtab Alam, a popular activist, raised his objection on the moves of the SIO on his Facebook page, cadres of the SIO, just like the Sanghis, started hunting him in a pack. A malicious campaign was making the rounds for days on the Facebook. Mahtab was branded with titles of opportunist, dal-badlu (since he was part of SIO once upon a time), Commie, Bakch**d (Hindi slang for gossip), sold out, rumour-monger, and aasteen ke saanp (a snake in the grass). See http://twocircles.net/2015jun18/1434613726.html#. VZmGiPmqqkr. Accessed on July 4, 2015. Also see http://twocircles.net/2015jun19/1434732752.html#. VZmGOvmqqkq. Viewed on July 4, 2015.


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The author is a Researcher, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, South Asian University, New Delhi.