Soft Hindutva Cannot Save Congress

Aijaz Zaka Syed

INDIAN Muslims fell out of love with the Congress Party, long before Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in his infinite wisdom decided to unlock the doors of the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, unleashing a monster that still continues to maul the Indian polity.

The Muslims haven’t still gotten over the fact that it was under the Congress that idols were first sneaked into the 16th-century mosque in 1949 and it was a Congress government that allowed ‘shilaniyas’ (foundation) ceremony for the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya. Again, it was under a Congress Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, that a Hindu mob amassed at Ayodhya and destroyed the mosque on Dec. 6, 1992.

No wonder the Congress remained the most despised party for Muslims throughout the 90s, perhaps even more than the BJP. They strategically voted against it wherever possible, keeping the party in the political wilderness and out of power for long years, giving rise to regional parties. Incredible as it sounds today, Muslims then were prepared to vote for anyone but the Congress.

When Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the grand old party, it took her years of hard work and reaching out that gradually and eventually persuaded the Muslims to forgive the party. They saw Sonia’s Congress as a different beast than what it had become under Indira Gandhi and her sons.

The Congress was seen as a secular and inclusive party for oppressed communities, especially after it chose Manmohan Singh as prime minister. It was considered the best bet to keep out the Hindutva.

This is why it’s interesting to note that battered by the BJP in successive polls the Congress is now overwrought by the notion that it is perceived as a “pro-Muslim party”. Speaking at a conclave in the capital recently, Sonia Gandhi emphasized that the Congress is taking steps to “correct” this perception.

Of course, course correction is always welcome, if you know what has gone wrong in the first place! Who would have any issues if the Congress reaches out to the electorate whose majority happens to be Hindu? After all, this is a predominantly Hindu majority nation. There’s no getting away from the fact.

But if voters are deserting the party that charioted India’s freedom movement, it has nothing to do with Muslims or its much-talked-about ‘bias’ in favor of the minority.

Ironically, the ‘appeasement and pampering of Muslims’ by the Congress has long been the myth spawned by the BJP. The saffron party has exploited it successfully over the years to create an absurd fear psychosis and victimhood in the more than 80 percent Hindu majority of the country vis-à-vis a voiceless and increasingly powerless minority that is, according to the last census, barely around 13 percent.

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The BJP has strategically and successfully used the bogey of “Muslim appeasement” to grow from the margins of Indian politics into the uncontrollable monster of a party that now rules most of India’s 29 states. And now by interpreting this meteoric rise of the BJP as a fallout of its own alleged “pro-Muslim policies,” the Congress party is beginning to believe the myth perpetuated by Hindutva.

Truth be told, if the BJP has reached this far where it controls virtually all arms and levers of power including the media and judiciary, it is not because of the secular pandering to Muslims but because of the Congress’ criminal failure to confront the fascist worldview of Hindutva politically and ideologically and check its politics of hate and intolerance all these years.

Ignoring the historical role of the Right in the destabilisation of the country by purveying hate and strife between Hindus and Muslims and their far from secret role in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination as well as thousands of anti-Muslim riots, successive Congress governments humored it and looked the other way. Not one person involved in all those riots under the Congress has ever been convicted!

It was under the nearly 6-decade long Congress rule that thousands of RSS shakhas came up in the country and have operated openly preaching hate and bigotry coupled with physical training to impressionable Hindu youth.

It is thanks to the RSS’ groundwork and indoctrination of all sections of Indian society, including bureaucracy, police and security forces, under the nose of the Congress that the BJP is in power today and enjoys unassailable position across the length and breadth of India. The Congress has to blame no one but itself for this state of affairs.

The BJP has grown all these years right under the successive Congress governments, at the expense of the Congress and with the blessings of the Congress. Not because of its much-trumpeted munificence to Muslims!

The number of those killed in anti-Muslim riots since independence must run in thousands, if not millions. Ensnared in false cases by security agencies, thousands of young, promising lives have been wrecked.

While a significant majority of Muslims, charmed by Nehru’s liberal, effervescent personality and the idea of an inclusive India, rejected the idea of Pakistan and chose to stay in India, the Congress presided over a systematic dispossession and dehumanising of the minority.

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Using the politics of tokenism and feeding stereotypes of skullcap sporting netas fraternising with the community, Muslims have been kept down in their ghettos in every respect.
If the community is stuck at the bottom of the pit today in terms of all political and economic indicators, and stares at an increasingly bleak future, who is to blame?
In the current Lok Sabha, there are only 26 Muslim MPs in a house of 545. In the last Lok Sabha, it was even worse; with just 22 MPs, it had been the lowest ever representation of Muslims in the world’s largest democracy.

Without a voice and presence reflecting their population size in parliament and assemblies, in government services and the highest decision-making bodies, the dispossession and powerlessness of Muslims is complete and unprecedented.

In his book, Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India, the late Dr Omar Khalidi argues that not only is the number of Muslims wearing army fatigues not proportional to their share in population, it is politically indeterminate and potentially minuscule. Former Defence Minister Mulayam Singh suggested that it stood around 1 percent.

The dispossessed minority is seen as the “safest enemy to have” in India today, in the words of Ajay Gudavarthy. Anyone can get away with murder and often does.

As the party that has governed India for more than half a century, the Congress is solely responsible for this state of affairs. Yet the Muslims have supported it, again and again, ignoring its politics of opportunism because they see it as more broad-based in nature representing India’s pluralism.

Not only has the Congress long taken the Muslim support for granted without giving anything in return, in its increasing desperation to reach out to the majority, it is beginning to see it as a millstone around its neck.

If the grand old party thinks it can win back the majority by deliberately shunning the minority and by endless temple visits, it is welcome to its delusions. In any case, it’s not the Muslims who need the Congress but the other way around.

Congress can win back the confidence of India’s voters — Hindus, Muslims and everyone else — by not playing these cheap and self-serving games with the BJP but by going back to the democratic values and ideas that once inspired it — inclusion, secularism and progress for all.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and former editor. Email: Twitter: @AijazZaka

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