Were it not so obnoxious, it would have been easy to brush aside poll-time bilge of who is a real Hindu; what ‘gotra‘ Rahul Gandhi is; whether Congress is becoming the “B” team of BJP when it comes to Hindutva; and which of the two parties Hindus can trust.
The contours of this dubious “debate” are framed by the Tongue Parivar (and amplified by air heads and tweetiyas) in such a way that a non-janeudhari might think Hinduism, or the toxic militant-mutation of it, owes its existential sacred-thread to the BJP.
33 years ago, Harish Khare—the former Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune, who also served as former media adviser to prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh—wrote a piece in The New York Times, that was titled ‘In India, a Hindu Revolution’.
The provocation was the 403 seats the Congress under Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, gobbled up in the election following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards in October 1984.
“While the extent of this mandate is reassuring, its nature seems quite ominous,” wrote Dr Khare, a Yale doctorate who was then an assistant editor at Hindustan Times, with remarkable prescience.
Inter alia, he wrote:
“The Congress party’s triumph is frightening because Rajiv Gandhi depicted the assault on the State [the assassination] as the work of separatist Sikh fundamentalists. His campaign theme of “unity in danger” deeply touched many Hindus, appealing subtly to their historical fears and mistrust of non-Hindus.
“Rajiv Gandhi’s mandate can be summed up as a triumph of neo-Hinduism. Thousands of chauvinistic Hindus abandoned their traditional champions—right-wing parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party—to rally under his banner. And though these parties have been decimated, the right-wing constituency has, in fact, been strengthened and enlarged, putting the liberal, democratic fringe in mortal danger….
“In voting the Congress party back to power, the Hindu majority seems to be saying it did not really mind the horrible anti-Sikh carnage that took place in the wake of Mrs Gandhi’s death. Never before has the majority betrayed its temperamental appetite for intolerance and extreme methods.” (emphasis added)
Prof Mahesh Rangarajan too points out in the Indian Express, that the Congress’s “shift in emphasis and style is partly to avoid being painted as a party primarily of and for the religious minorities.”
“The dilemma is more acute today. Unlike in the 1980s, when the Congress was clearly the largest political formation, it is boxed in. The idea that it can win over the people via religiosity is not novel. But the terrain has been transformed beyond recognition. Most so since the mass mobilisation of the rath yatra of 1990, the core vote of Hindutva had taken shape.
“The base of the Congress has also been undercut both by regional parties but also by groups whose origins lie in caste-based social justice movements. Since the 1990s, the Congress has chosen to align either formally or informally with such parties to counteract the BJP. It wants to undercut the latter via direct electoral competition and minimise electoral contests with virtually all other parties. This makes a soft Hindutva a preferred, though by no means the best option.
“Let us be clear on one point. The Congress was never a radical or irreligious force — it sought to create a minimal consensus.”
In other words, the BJP owns Hindutva, not Hinduism.
The Congress has been there, done that, and sold the bloody tee-shirt: when Shiv–bhakt Rahul Gandhi was 13 and when Ram–bhakt Narendra Modi was 33. The Congress milked its electoral cow on the carcasses of Sikhs; the BJP on Muslims.
Congress “temple run” today is more a strategic one, prompted by diminishing returns, instead of leaving the field wide open to a latter-day interloper. It doesn’t present a pretty sight, but politics is an ugly, equal-opportunity game.
There is no, one ‘thekedaar‘.
Screenshots: courtesy The New York Times, The Indian Express