In order to spring a comeback, the Congress needs to institutionalise a framework to systematically work for removal of its anti-Hindu taint
“It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice”, goes the famous refrain of Deng Xiaoping. According to him, it was unwise, nay counterproductive, to try to force-fit a society within an ideological model. On the contrary, the question is, what must be the policies that produce the desired results? In other words, the clothes should fit the man. This pragmatism espoused by Deng explains why China is still governed by the Communist Party of China (CPC) while the USSR no longer exists.
Panning the focus from CPC to INC (Indian National Congress), I recall an apocryphal story from the 1980s in then undivided Andhra Pradesh. The late T. Anjaiah was CM and also PCC president. He suspended a prominent man from the Congress Party who had been critical of its leadership. That man then turned around and ridiculed Anjaiah for suspending him, a non-member. Anjaiah smugly retorted, “Since you are not a member of any other political party you are automatically deemed to be a Congress member and hence you are suspended.” What is the message in this hilarious yet profound story? That the Congress was a microcosm of Indian society wherein one is considered a Hindu by default unless one explicitly denies it. Likewise, in the political arena, all Indians, by default, were considered Congresspersons.
The absence of any viable Hindu party during the freedom struggle and for a while thereafter, and the inclusiveness of the Congress, gave rise to a perception that it was a Hindu party. Whether it represented in any measure the Hindu interests was beside the point. The role of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Ali brothers Maulana Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, the Muslim League and other non-Hindus in imposing the aforesaid image on the Congress was no less, notwithstanding denial by its leadership. This foisted Hindu persona ensured political fortunes for the Congress in a largely Hindu India for more than half a century.
The 1980s marked an important turning point in the political trajectory of the Congress. The Janata Party, an unprincipled conglomeration of opportunistic, casteist, pseudo-Hindu and left-liberal elements, captured power immediately after the Emergency, only to implode within three years. Some of its power groups and individuals gradually wormed their way into the Congress. They destroyed the base of the Congress.
The progressive marginalisation of the Congress was accompanied by increasing attacks by overtly Hindu groups castigating it as pseudo-secular and anti-Hindu. The rhetoric of the left-liberal motormouths of the Congress ecosystem did not help dispel this negative narrative. It resulted in Hindus being pushed into the BJP’s lap. In other words, by living up to the slurs, the Congress ceded the centre-right political space to the BJP. Notably, even though the DNA of the BJP is as casteist and divisive as that of many splinters of the erstwhile Janata Party, it has the huge advantage of its “holding company”, the RSS.
Going back to the CPC, Deng’s pragmatism should be a lesson for the Congress. The grand old party has become a prisoner of its own anti-Hindu rhetoric, making it electorally irrelevant in large parts of India. If the slide in its electoral fortunes continues, then the BJP’s avowed plan of “Congress-mukt Bharat” might become a reality sooner than later.
After more than eight years of disappointing rule, a large section of Hindus are disillusioned with the BJP. They have seen through the diabolical game of the RSS which polarises society on communal lines on inane issues in order to secure Hindu votes. But it does not redress any of the accumulated collective grievances of Hindus. For want of suitable political options, this disaffected chunk of Hindus is silent. If the Congress is any wiser, it would tap into this huge section of votes.
Interestingly, the Congress has institutionalised frameworks for addressing issues concerning SCs, STs, OBCs, farmers, professionals, women, students, labour and minorities, but not of Hindus. Since India is a secular polity, the concerns of every section of society, big or small, ought to be addressed by any national party. Ignoring legitimate concerns of Hindus who are the largest voting segment is certainly not politically advisable. Gone are the days when there was no party to contest the foisted pro-Hindu image of the Congress.
Take the most important example of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue which the BJP adroitly exploited. Under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, it did make sincere efforts to resolve the issue amicably. But at every stage, the left-liberals and the Hindutva brigade blocked its initiatives. If the Congress were allowed to resolve the issue then they both would have become politically irrelevant. While the left-liberals would instigate the Muslims, the RSS-BJP would get the VHP to mass-mobilise Hindus.
A political party in a predominantly Hindu country cannot be perceived as anti-Hindu and yet seek to gain political power. And a party that remains out of power for too long might disintegrate even. Power is the centripetal force that binds a political party. In order to spring a comeback, the Congress needs to institutionalise a framework to systematically work for removal of its anti-Hindu taint. It must mainstream itself by re-rooting itself in civilisational centrism.