By Ram Puniyani
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the nation did say that he is a Hindu; at the same time he went on to say that religion is a private matter for him. His greatest disciple Jawaharlal Nehru was a rationalist agnostic, who laid the foundations of secular India where matters related to religion were supposed to be dealt with at social or personal level.
Nearly six decades after the death of the first Prime Minster of India, matters have drifted beyond imagination. Nehru’s great-grandson who began his political career with no signs of public display of religion, today is making a clear public display of his religiosity. From stating that he is a janeudhari (one who wears the sacred thread) Shiv Bhakt to visiting temples by the dozen, or making the pilgrimage to Mansarovar.
With him as president of Congress, its Madhya Pradesh unit planned a Ram Van Gaman Pad yatra, and is promising a gaushala (cowshed) in each Panchayat.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons are questioning all these moves, as if their monopoly in such matters is under threat.
The result is that there are critics labeling Congress politics as being soft Hindutva. These signs, in the party of Gandhi and Nehru, are disturbing at one level.
Still does it mean that Congress is abandoning the path of secularism, the path outlined in our Constitution; of religion being a matter of people’s personal choice, to be dealt with by individuals-communities on their own?
Is the Congress trying to walk the path which the RSS-BJP have pursued to gain power, the path of political polarisation of communities along religious lines, the path of divisive politics, the path of abandoning material issues while creating a haze of emotive ones, like Ram Temple and Holy Cow-beef?
After its defeat in the 2014 general elections, the Congress party’s A.K.Antony Committee gave the report that the major cause of its defeat was the popular perception that it is seen as a pro-Muslim party, and thereby automatically it is regarded as being anti-Hindu.
This came in the background of tireless propaganda from the RSS-BJP stable that the Congress has been appeasing Muslims, etc. That propaganda has been mixed up with the lie that Jawaharlal Nehru was the descendant of a Muslim, and that the Congress is not interested in taking care of the interests of Hindus, etc.
The argument was also put that the Hindu BJP is on one side and godless secularists are on the other.
To unearth the roots of this lie, we have to go back much further. As the Indian National Congress came to be formed, it represented rising India – as the umbrella organisation of all Indians it had members from all the communities of India. This was manifested in people like Pherozeshah Mehta and Badruddin Tyabji as its initial presidents.
Right at that time the progenitors of the future Hindu Mahasabha-RSS ideology, a section of Hindu landlords and communal elements, started saying that the Congress was appeasing Muslims.
As we go further, RSS-trained Nathuram Godse accused Gandhi of emboldening Muslims, due to which they had demanded Pakistan and got India partitioned. It is on this misunderstood plea that Godse killed the father of the nation.
With independence, some policies needed in a democracy to preserve matters related religious minorities, permitted them under the Constitution to have their own educational institutions. This, along with the Haj subsidy, which as such was a subsidy to Air India, acted as a potent weapon in the hands of the RSS Combine to propagate the falsehood of ‘minority appeasement’.
Such propaganda got a further boost when the Congress in a grave mistake overturned the verdict of the Supreme Court in the matter of Shah Bano and passed a ‘Muslim Women Protection Bill’. This opened the floodgates of propaganda of ‘appeasement of Muslims’ being done by Congress.
It was a grave error of judgment, mostly forced by conservative Muslim elements’ protests against the Shah Bano judgment, which had granted her maintenance after divorce.
The role of the Congress in controlling communal violence lapsed into inefficient handling of riots, and it was actually biased against Muslims and Sikhs in particular.
The Congress’ role in opening the gates of the Babri mosque, under conservative Hindu pressure, and then helplessly watching the demolition of the Babri Mosque, were pathetic political blunders.
All said and done its effort to maintain a secular poise had holes which could not halt the march of Hindutva, Hindu nationalism.
Today, political discourse is being dictated by Hindutva politics, politics being conducted by the RSS-BJP. Not only the Congress, even Mamata Bannerjee has lately shown the tilt towards displaying such religiosity, by sanctioning subsidised electricity for Durga Puja pandals and by participating in the Ram Navami festival.
So question is whether what the Rahul-Gandhi led Congress is pursuing is soft Hindutva? No way.
It is an unwanted tilt in the display of religiosity, an attempt to try and undo the illusion of being pro-Muslim, and to undo the image of being godless secularists.
Hindutva politics is based on the Brahmanical hierarchy of caste and gender. It aims to gradually do away with secular democracy and bring in a Hindu Nation.
To combat this, what is needed is the adoption of an inclusive concept of Gandhi’s Hinduism, where the values of pluralism and diversity have greater importance.
It is surely a sign of regressive times that the Hindu nationalist discourse is getting the better of the Indian nationalist ethos.
How can the RSS Combine terms of debate be countered – of a ‘Hindu’ RSS-BJP versus a ‘pro Muslim, godless secularists’?
The display of religiosity is a reaction to what the terrain of discourse has become. What is important now is to take up the issues of marginalised sections of Hindus like farmers, the oppressed castes and women the victims of patriarchy.
The Congress took up the role of leading the movement of freedom from British rule in yesteryears. Now it needs to assume a similar role, in freeing the nation from the caste hierarchy, communalism and patriarchy.