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  Opinion   Columnists  12 Apr 2017  Will the real Rahul Gandhi stand up?

Will the real Rahul Gandhi stand up?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in New Delhi
Published : Apr 12, 2017, 2:46 am IST
Updated : Apr 12, 2017, 2:46 am IST

The Congress has the bulk of the votes from the Opposition’s kitty.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
 Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

It was seven years ago that WikiLeaks revealed a conversation Rahul Gandhi had with former US ambassador Timothy Roemer. That sharing of a pivotal idea scrubbed off much of the adverse imagery reserved for the Congress Party scion by his friends and foes in turn. What was vital was that the young politician had spelled out his blunt views on Hindutva.

While “there was evidence of some support for (Lashkar-e-Tayyaba) among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” Rahul had told Roemer.

This was also how Nehru and Indira Gandhi would have liked him to frame the current challenge that India faces, preferably more openly, to his own people, not just to foreign diplomats. It was an improvement nevertheless from his views in 2004, the year the Congress defeated Vajpayee’s India Shining campaign. “They have always tried to harm my family... They are a joke,” he had said of Hindutva. Rahul had either evolved very rapidly in three years, or he had resisted saying in public what he knew or felt in his bones to be true.

It was their crystal-clear understanding of Hindutva that became the main reason for Nehru and Indira Gandhi to be so reviled by the right wing, to the extent that PM Narendra Modi baulks at the thought of crediting Indira Gandhi with the war for Bangladesh. At a meeting of African leaders in Delhi, it was the visitors who reminded Mr Modi of their memory of Nehru and of non-alignment.

Advisers first dragged Rajiv Gandhi to Ayodhya and got him to open the locks of the disputed Babri Masjid. After uncorking major trouble, to balance his folly, he began indulging the Muslim clergy. Rajiv’s law minister got him to embrace the clerics’ self-assigned prerogative to steal Muslim women’s rights, which other Indian women had fought for and won from the grudging state.

Rahul too could fall prey to bad advice, and, in fact, that may already be happening for all we know, a kind of Camelot of no proven abilities to lead India out of the mess. His advisers, instead of showcasing his stunningly astute observation to Roemer, sought to deny it. What then gives hope that the damage to India by Hindutva is reversible? Is it the 59 per cent vote that didn’t go to Mr Modi? The Congress has the bulk of the votes from the Opposition’s kitty.

For better or worse, therefore, one cannot imagine a gameplan for secular India without the Congress, not necessarily in the engine room of the rescue ship, but as the much needed sinews and ballast that stabilises the quest. Its unhindered pan-India reach, despite the steady erosion of followers over the years, makes the Congress vital for a last-ditch fight for the country’s secular soul. And, if the party accepts such a role with humility and wisdom, Rahul’s help would become crucial to forge a united Opposition.

For its own good, the most hopeful sign for the Congress is that the party today stands at its most abbreviated moment in history. As an embodiment of all that is good and wrong with Indian politics since Gandhi, the Congress with 40-odd seats might want to stand in front of the mirror. What it would see is that most of its right-wing flab is gone. Followers have fled to the BJP, as we saw in UP recently. Some more will go in the Gujarat and Karnataka campaigns. That is not a bad thing, really.

The claim that 59 per cent voters didn’t elect Mr Modi needs to be put to test, however. If the Indian majority has within it any remnants of Hindutva or right-wing nationalism still lurking, the Opposition could be eyeing the wrong victory. If the 59 per cent include the so-called soft Hindutva, the journey will be impossible.

Hindutva is not about banning beef and targeting “love jihad”. It is more insidious than that. The culture of vigilantism being blamed on the Sangh Parivar has its roots in years of vigilantism that supposedly liberal governments unleashed in Kashmir, Assam and Chhattisgarh. How are the cow-worshipping mobs different from the state-backed Kuka Parray in Kashmir, Sulfa in Assam and Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh? How is the BJP’s definition of nationalism and sedition narrower than how Manmohan Singh used it against anti-nuclear protesters in southern India? Dr Singh had described Maoists, for all practical purposes a militant militia of tribespeople who do not want their forests to be usurped by big corporates, as the biggest internal security threat. If he hasn’t changed that opinion, the 59 per cent majority becomes an illusion.

The Congress must discard its reactionary past. I remember Rahul campaigning in western UP during a state election when he made one of his more inconsequential observations. “My grandmother broke Pakistan into two,” he reminded the whistle-stop audience near Moradabad. Had his claim fetched him two extra votes in UP Assembly one would have considered it sound strategy.

The Congress cannot afford to be a B team of Hindutva. Nor is any other Opposition party going to win two extra votes by competing on the BJP’s pseudo-nationalist turf.

Finally, if the 59 per cent majority comprises querulous parties whose selfishness produced the UP verdict last month, any hope of rescue in 2019 looks false. Plan to retreat instead. In any case, it’s time the real Rahul Gandhi stood up. Hindutva nationalism is setting the country on fire from Odisha to Gujarat, from Kashmir to Kerala. Who will douse the inferno, if anyone will?

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: hindutva, rahul gandhi, lashkar-e-tayyaba, muslim community