Indira Gandhi won elections by going on temple runs before every one of them and flaunting her religious credentials unabashedly. There is no reason why her grandson cannot do the same.
But, unfortunately for the Congress, it is seen as a pro-Muslim party.
The Gujarat election campaign of the Congress party has run into rough weather again. The catalyst for the latest controversy is a visitors’ book meant for ‘non-Hindus’ wherein the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s name appears alongwith that of Ahmed Patel. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its formidable social media team have gleefully cast doubts on whether the putative Congress president is a Hindu by religion in the first place. The official Congress spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, has gone ahead and announced that Gandhi is not only a ‘Hindu’ but a ‘janeudhari Hindu’ thereby raising the hackles of the social justice warriors (SJWs) of the commentariat on Twitter as well as other media. The arguments put forth by the aforementioned class are two-fold:
- (i) Flaunting of what is termed as ‘caste-privilege’ is politically incorrect and is not something that a ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ party should engage in as that would amount to risking the secular-liberal vote.
- (ii) The overt display of Hindu religiosity amounts to fighting a battle with the BJP on what is termed as the saffron party’s ‘turf’ and can only result in another sting of ignominious defeats for India’s grand old party. Parallels have been drawn with Rajiv Gandhi’s opening of the gates of the disputed structure for worship by Hindu devotees. Shekhar Gupta — the long time editor of the Indian Express and someone whose opinion I greatly respect — has made this point in his weekly ‘National Interest’. As a matter of fact, I had the privilege of meeting and engaging with him on a similar issue at the Jaipur Dialogues Conclave about a fortnight ago. However, in my humble opinion, both propositions are incorrect if they were to be tested on an empirical anvil. The problem with the Congress is not too much but too little ‘Hindutva’ as I had argued in this piece way back in April.
Frankly, I was unable to understand how and why so many editors and journalists felt that flaunting one’s ‘janeudhari’ credentials is a celebration of ‘caste-privilege’. As a practising observant Hindu myself, who does not at all subscribe to the abominable institution of caste, I feel that each and every practitioner of the religion can and should wear a sacred thread — all that it does signify is that one is an initiate qua the study of the Vedas, which is in any case a religiously enjoined duty. And, it is not as if my views on this matter are new fangled.
Those who have read the Upanishads would recall the story of Satyakama Jabala, who was initiated into the study of the Vedas after an Upanayana ceremony despite the fact that his mother was a practitioner of sex work. The Arya Samaj — the sect to which Surjewala himself belongs — has been investing all its adherents with the sacred thread for almost a hundred years now. Even the Gayatri Parivar, which is of more recent vintage, but has millions of followers, has adopted this practice. As a matter of fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that for millions of Indians today, and of course such people would not be known to the ivory-tower dwelling liberals, the ‘janeu’ is not so much a marker of caste privilege as it is of religiosity. At any rate, I don’t think we should expect the SJWs to know anything about Indian society or for that matter polity or even the institution of ‘caste’.
A prominent member of the aforementioned category who is also a prominent talking head on TV and also a member of my profession expressed surprise to me recently at the fact that ‘Lodh’ Rajputs have been placed in the other backward classes (OBCs) category. To her, all Rajputs protesting against Padmavati were merely exercising their ‘caste’ privilege! If I were to continue discussing the monumental ignorance of these SJWs, I would also have to talk about how another one of them could not distinguish between Dalits and OBCs and that can only be the fitting subject of a separate piece. Suffice to say that the Congress party would do well to rid itself of the baleful influence of the SJWs. I have, in one of my earlier columns discussed how the Congress party’s terminal electoral decline coincides with the rise of the SJWs in the party’s brains trust. Indira Gandhi won elections by going on temple runs before every one of them and flaunting her religious credentials unabashedly. There is no reason why her grandson cannot do the same. If that entails telling people that he is a janeudhari Hindu, who performs the sandhya vandana thrice a day, then so be it.
The second point that we somewhere need to appreciate is that an election is qualitatively different from a ‘battle’ or a ‘war’ and therefore, the rules of engagement with one’s opponent are qualitatively different. There may be some merit to the proposition that battles are not to be fought on the enemy’s turf. However, the most basic difference between a battle and an election is that while the former might result in a total decimation of one’s enemy, the latter can never culminate in a similar outcome. At the end of an election, one’s political opponent has a chance to lick its wounds, sit in opposition and start preparing the strategy for the next contest at the hustings even as the party in government has to step down from the ideological pulpit and get down to the cold hard business of governing, which is almost 90 per cent ideologically neutral. Also, given the fact that governing our country is an extremely difficult job, anti-incumbency starts to set in.
However, the problem that the Congress is confronted with in this country in general and Gujarat in particular, is peculiar. The latter has been run by the BJP for almost 22 years now and while it would only be fair to say that the BJP has done a good job, it would also be fair to say that the people are now looking for an alternative and for the people of the state, the Congress is not the alternative as it is seen as a pro-Muslim party. Twitter — and I don’t know how reliable it is — tells me that one of its former lawmakers from Surat has been convicted for being a part of an Islamist terrorist conspiracy.
The patronage extended by leaders of the Congress party to gangsters and bootleggers like Abdul Latif is also relatively fresh in public memory. I have already written about how the Congress party’s aggressive courting of the Muslim community has not resulted in the community warming up to its overtures. Wherever the Muslims have the critical mass in terms of numbers to ensure that only their vote can get a candidate elected, they have consistently voted against the Congress party in favour of communitarian parties like the Indian Union Muslim League or blatantly communal parties like Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.
Some apologists of pseudo-secularism also want to argue that secularism has worked for the Congress party evidenced by its two ‘victories’ in 2004 and 2009. Even this argument falls apart at closer scrutiny. While it is true that the Congress managed to win 145 seats in 2004 and 206 in 2009, the seat count was primarily boosted by a good performance in states like Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and to a lesser extent even Maharashtra and Rajasthan, where ‘secularism’ was never really an issue as Muslims did not constitute a large enough voting bloc in the first place.
On the other hand, the Congress party’s decline in the key battleground states of north India like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which send 120 members of Parliament to the Lok Sabha after its opposition to the Ramjanmabhoomi movement leads us to two obvious conclusions. (i) The ‘secular’ vote is not large enough for the Congress and the ‘socialist’ parties to fight over, and (ii) Given the fact that it is the BJP that has gained the most from the decline of the Congress party, the Congress voters of Uttar Pradesh were probably not secular enough to begin with.
From the point of view of pragmatic politics, it makes sense to now shed the ‘liberalism’ as well as the ‘secularism’. The most obvious example of a party having shed excess ideological baggage in order to market itself as an alternative to an electorate fundamentally transformed is Tony Blair’s New Labour, which governed the United Kingdom for two successive terms. There is absolutely no reason as to why this example cannot be emulated by the Congress party. I also have reason to believe that something on the aforementioned lines is being actively considered in the higher echelons of the Congress party.
The BJP is not going to win every election from now until the end of time. The nature of the beast is such that despite its best efforts, it shall lose every now and then. However, when the history of this era is being written Narendra Modi’s biggest success would be counted as the manner in which he would have ‘Hinduised’ the polity completely and that in itself is not mean achievement at all.