But what has the Congress done to counter it all these years?
Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist organisation. It differs from jihadist organisations like al-Qaeda and ISIS in that it does not seek a violent revolution across borders to establish a Muslim ummah. Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood is okay with both democracy and the nation-state.
The central idea of the Muslim Brotherhood is to work with and through society, spreading its ideology among people. This will, in due course, help it capture state institutions through perfectly democratic means and then establish a theocratic state.
Rahul Gandhi was thus not wrong when he compared Muslim Brotherhood to India’s Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Speaking in London, Rahul said, “RSS is trying to change the nature of India. Other parties haven’t tried to capture India’s institutions. RSS’ idea is similar to the idea of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world… And the idea is that one ideology should run through every single institution; one idea should crush all other ideas.”
Clarifying his statement to a news agency, Gandhi said, “Both organisations were founded in 1920s, both organisations view the electoral process as a means to capture. Muslim Brotherhood was banned after Anwar Sadat’s assassination, and the RSS too was banned after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Women are not allowed in either of these organisations. So, there are tremendous similarities between both the organisations.”
The similarities in their outlook and strategies are actually striking. They both have the same objective: uniting people on the lines of the majority religious group and establishing the hegemony of that religious group over society and state alike.
Both Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the RSS organise men for social action that is actually political. If the RSS runs shakhas, the MB runs sports clubs. Both run schools and do social service.
They both think long-term, ground up. They both seek to change hearts and minds in favour of their ideology. The MB’s strategy of “tarbiyya” (preaching and educating) sounds similar to that of the RSS, which spreads its message through shakhas and the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs alike. Both seek to change the outlook of individuals, then families, and subsequently of society at large.
They have both been banned off and on, although the MB has been banned far more often. Both the RSS and the MB show great flexibility, allying with liberals and secularists today, taking to violence tomorrow, and then shunning violence for mainstream acceptance.
There are differences, of course. The RSS did not participate in the Indian freedom movement, whereas the MB got quickly drawn into the Egyptian freedom movement against British colonial rule. For the MB, getting Egypt rid of the British rule was part of its anti-Western agenda, which continues even today. Yet, the RSS was also shaped by the colonial experience. The RSS website states the British “attempted to subvert the Hindu mind”. According to the RSS, British colonial rule used English education to indoctrinate Hindus into thinking that they were a “dying race” needed to be saved by Westernisation. This feeling of a colonial assault on religious identity is shared between the MB and the RSS.
Both the MB and the RSS have been accused of using violence as a political means, especially against religious minorities. Both deny the charges and are seen as taking recourse to plausible deniability.
Their outlook towards religious minorities is similar. Both present religious minorities as having extra privileges, appeased by the secularists, and a threat to the religious majority to whom the nation rightfully belongs. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for instance, feels that the country’s Coptic Christians should pay a jizya tax since they are exempt from compulsory military service.
The MB also regularly doubts if the religious minorities are patriotic. Like the RSS, the MB is accused of fanning the fire of hate against religious minorities. Both love conspiracy theories.
When Sardar Patel lifted the ban on the RSS, he made them promise they won’t participate in politics. So, the RSS claims to be a cultural organisation, but it by-passed this problem by creating a political front, the Jana Sangh, which later became the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Similarly, religious groups were barred from contesting elections in Egypt until 2011. To bypass this, the Muslim Brotherhood created a political front, the Freedom and Justice Party, which first claimed it wouldn’t contest elections but then it did.
As a result, Mohamed Morsi became the first democratically elected president of Egypt in 2012. A year later, the army removed him in a military coup amid widespread protests. The protests were on economic issues but also against the “Brotherhoodisation” of Egypt – the increasing Islamisation of the country and the government, and the MB’s capture of state institutions.
This is again similar to how the RSS puts its own people into institutions big and small when the BJP comes to power, seeking the dominance of its ideology on state and society.
The RSS’ commitment to democracy and fundamental rights is often doubted, although it claims to believe in democracy. Similarly, many fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will give up its commitment to democracy once it captures power. After all, their slogan is “Islam is the solution” and they openly seek to establish Sharia, or Islamic law. This is similar to how the RSS wants to make India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, while claiming to be committed to the Constitution of India, which is inherently non-religious and secular.
What did Congress do?
Rahul is right in comparing the MB to the RSS, but he also needs to explain what his party has done to counter the RSS’s slow Hindutvaisation of Indian society. For 10 years, Rahul’s party ruled at the Centre, but what did it do? His father, Rajiv Gandhi, and then the next Congress prime minister Narasimha Rao gave in to the RSS-BJP blackmail in Ayodhya. Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, former President of India, recently went to the RSS headquarters and described RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar as a “great son of Mother India”.
Maybe Rahul could learn some lessons from Egypt’s crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood, or perhaps it’s too late for that since the RSS’ political front, the BJP, has managed to establish complete political hegemony.