Hindutva Politics Of the Sanghis And the Congress

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Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi pays obeisance at Somnath Temple in Somnath, Gujarat. — File photo

The preamble of the Indian constitution says: India is a socialist secular democratic republic. The RSS has scant regard for the preamble and many within the BJP have been pain-stakingly trying to prove that the constitution does not define India as a secular country. Some like Yogi Adityanath even go to the extent of falsifying the very existence of secularism.

 

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal | Caravan Daily

IF the BJP betrayed its racist streak by asking Rahul Gandhi to prove his Hindu identity, the Congress did not lag behind in trying to be a mirror image by going out of its way to oblige the BJP with a display of Rahul’s Brahmanical ‘janau’ and his religiosity.

The preamble of the Indian constitution says: India is a socialist secular democratic republic. The RSS has scant regard for the preamble and many within the BJP have been pain-stakingly trying to prove that the constitution does not define India as a secular country. As far as possible, the Hindu right wing organizations omit this definition of the country. Some like Yogi Adityanath even go to the extent of falsifying the very existence of secularism.

The Congress professes belief in secular values but gets into fits of palpitation when questioned about the religious identity of its leaders. The question that is of significance is not whether Rahul Gandhi is Hindu or not. That cannot be a qualification for legitimacy in politics. The larger and more important question that begs an answer is: Should religious identity matter in a country with secularism as one of its core ethos? 

The Somnath temple which has now been at the centre of the fresh controversy over the religious moorings of Congress as a party or its major stalwarts has been in the midst of political rows before too. Interestingly, soon after partition when the Somnath temple row began over whether the government should be seen as patronising its reconstruction, Sardar Patel discussed this idea with Mahatma Gandhi, who endorsed reconstruction of the Somnath temple but suggested that the Centre should not finance it. Patel agreed to the suggestion that the fund should be collected from public donation.

While the construction was going on, the manner in which some leaders, including those in Congress, began to use the construction to strengthen their own Hindu constituency made the first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru warn against ‘Hindu revivalism’. In 1951, when the Indian president Rajendra Prasad was invited for the inauguration of the Somnath temple, Nehru wrote to him about the long term implications of attending such a function as the head of the state. Nehru was conscious of how the state aligning itself with a place of worship of the majority religion will pave way for legitimising the use of religion for political ends. Nehru’s sanguine advice went unheeded.

 It (Congress) needs to realise that the only way it can defeat Hindutva is by opposing the ideology, not by emulating it. It needs to provide an alternative model of politics, one that is rooted to the traditional ethos of this country; one that is free from superimposing religion in public and political spheres. It has just gone the other way and legitimized Hindutva even more.

It is sad that the present prime minister should see loyalty to the same Somnath temple as a measure of the Indianness of any politician. While distorting the historical fact about the reconstruction of Somnath temple post-independence to singularly malign Nehru, Narendra Modi said during a recent election rally in Gujarat, “This land of brave people will not forgive those who have acted against the Somnath temple.” The remarks betray a venomous level of communalism as they treat the act of ignoring Hindu places of worship as treason. Is being Hindu the prime qualification of being Indian? Is promoting Hindu temples the core purpose of the actions of the ‘nationalists’?

This is neither what the Indian constitution lays down nor was this the essence of the Indian freedom struggle and the ideals that this struggle was launched on. Unfortunately, post-independence, despite Nehru’s desire, he could not totally keep religion out of the political satchels of his own contemporaries within the party. His own party men continued to patronise temples and Hindutva constituency for their vote bank politics, soon after independence. During the respective reigns of his predecessors, there was greater temptation to blend secular ideology with Hindutva.

Indira Gandhi tried to both appropriate cow politics and set limits to it in late 60s but within a decade, she played the Hindu card and laid the foundations for legitimising the politics of the Hindu right wing organizations. She visited Hindu shrines and also promoted a kind of Hindu militant nationalism, particularly post-emergency when minorities and liberals began drifting away from Congress.

Two unfortunate examples of this policy were Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. In Punjab, she first promoted the radical Sikhs to counter the challenge of the Akali Dal but the extensive militancy put her on retreat and she took a U-turn invoking the slogan of saving ‘Hinduism’ from the onslaught of Sikhs.

In Jammu and Kashmir, she used the same card and consolidated the Congress vote-bank by playing the Hindu card in Jammu region by raking up the fears of Resettlement Bill in 1983. The card worked as planned, as she walked away with 23 seats in Jammu region alone giving her greater control of the state’s politics (even though the politics of the state had always been comfortably controlled from New Delhi) but left the state completely polarized, the regional divide becoming the euphemism for religious divide for times to come.

Her son and predecessor, Rajiv Gandhi, notoriously tried to outdo the influence of the Hindu right wing and allow the shilanayas at the dispute Babri mosque site by opening the Ram temple doors. And who can forget the clumsy handling of babri demolition by then Congress prime minister Narasimha Rao, who chose to patronize the rabid Hindu radicals through his silence because he feared that any opposition would weaken his hold over Hindu population. Needless to point out the many communal riots that Congress regime presided over mostly through the eighties, much before Gujarat 2002 happened.

History of recent decades is replete with instances where Congress played the majoritarian communal card. It reaped at best short term momentary gains initially but eventually left the floor open for the more hardcore Hindutva to penetrate into Indian polity, horizontally and vertically. Congress never learnt lessons. At a time, when the venomous form of Hindutva is appealing to a vast section of the population, why should it be mesmerized by a lukewarm form of Hindutva. BJP leader Arun jaitley is right when he says why would anybody settle for a clone when they have the real thing.

Only the Congress is in denial by hoping to challenge the Hindu right wing by aping and emulating it. It is a party in virtual identity crisis which cannot discover its own USP. If fails to grasp the reality and understand that the only way it can pose a formidable challenge is by unequivocally appealing to the liberal and secular sensibilities and reaching out to minorities reeling under a huge sense of insecurity.

Rahul Gandhi recently began emerging as a new leader, with a new image-makeover, till he decided to make temple visits the biggest priority in Gujarat elections. Congress had the opportunity to change its fortunes when BJP shamefully began questioning Rahul Gandhi’s religious identity. It should have insisted faith to be a private matter and probably even had the courage to flaunt with pride Rahul Gandhi’s plural lineage, whatever his religious beliefs. It needs to realise that the only way it can defeat Hindutva is by opposing the ideology, not by emulating it. It needs to provide an alternative model of politics, one that is rooted to the traditional ethos of this country; one that is free from superimposing religion in public and political spheres. It has just gone the other way and legitimized Hindutva even more.

 

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