The Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid yesterday called on secular forces to support the Congress. Such an appeal whitewashes the Congress’ complicity in laying the foundation of HIndutva politics. Through this appeal, the electorate is expected to forget the ways in which the Congress took recourse to orchestrating communal violence against Muslims and Sikhs ever since its electoral dominance began to crack. In the final years of Indira Gandhi’s regime, when she actively began to speak of protecting Hinduism in the face of the crisis unfolding in Punjab, the Congress clearly appropriated the mantle of the Hindu Right. The controversial events in Ayodhya, ignited by Rajiv Gandhi’s actions, are too well-known to be repeated. How can the Shahi Imam, or anyone else, forget that the Congress systematically laid the groundwork for the BJP and other affiliates of the Sangh Parivar?
It has often been suggested that the communalisms of the Congress and the BJP are fundamentally different. The Congress’ communalism is supposedly ‘pragmatic’ in that it is deployed to maintain the party’s political dominance. But this can be said about the BJP as well. Sociologist Raheel Dhattiwala’s study of the riots in Gujarat reveals that the worst violence was orchestrated in the areas where the BJP’s electoral dominance was precarious. On the other hand, we are told that the BJP’s communalism is programmatic, in that it seeks to establish political power to establish Hindu Rashtra. While the Congress has admittedly never said it intends to impose Hindu Rashtra over Indians, neither has the BJP- at least not for the last several elections.
Even a casual glance at the words and deeds of the leading lights of the Congress of yore reveals the extent to which it took India’s Hindu character for granted. The newly appointed head of state of the Indian Republic, Rajendra Prasad, considered it his honorable duty to wash the feet of 200-odd Brahmans in Benares, where the BJP is now fielding the ‘Hindu-minded’ Prime Ministerial candidate nominated by the RSS. The President and Home Minister Sardar Patel considered it their duty to participate in laying the foundation of the temple at Somnath.
But they were unapologetic about flaunting their Hindu-ness. On the other hand, even that fount of secularism in the Congress, the darling of the self-styled progressive elite, Jawaharlal Nehru did not so much as blush when the honorific of ‘Pandit’, a title used by religious scholars, was conferred upon him. In his magnum opus The Discovery of India he can scarcely conceal his admiration for what he called ‘the record of public service and personal sacrifice for the public good’ (page 87) of the Brahmans. Independent India made its ‘tryst with destiny’, under his watch, to the blaring of conch shells at the ‘stroke of the midnight hour’, a replay of Hindu rituals attending to the anointment of kings by priests in an earlier era. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha is not far off the mark when he called Nehru a Hindutvawadi- “When he can preside over a function inaugurated by Vedic chants, what else does that make him but a Hindutvawadi?” Sinha asked in an interview with India Today.
Contemporary discourses matter too. And here again, the similarities are uncanny. The BJP’s tilt towards Hindu idioms is commonly known. It is when the Congress competes with the BJP to ostensibly reclaim the Hindus that the slippages become apparent. It is when the Congress mouths sentiments that ‘India is secular because Hinduism is secular’ that its substantive continuity with the Sangh Parivar become evident (As a thought experiment, how secular would it sound if Sheikh Hasina said- Bangladesh is secular because Islam is secular). Digvijay Singh, who styles himself as Modi’s antagonist and a great champion of secularism, personifies this way of thinking. In a piece written on his blog last year, he leaves no stone unturned to convince readers of his Hindu devotional credentials and Sanatanist affiliations. The Sangh Parivar, he alleges, is steeped in Arya Samaji thinking, which is intolerant of Sanatanist views. The fratricidal nature of the Congress’ tussle with the BJP comes through clearly from his polemic, especially when he refers to the supposed tolerance of the Sanatanists against the alleged intolerance of the Arya Samajists. The Congress/ BJP tussle maps onto the Sanatanist/ Arya Samaji joust. People who lie outside these embrace of these factions (such as religious minorities, Dalits and Adivasis) can expect unkept promises of protection and vague threats of subordination from the two factions. But they cannot expect either the promise or practice of equal citizenship from either.
Secularism in India deserves better champions than the Congress. It is unwise of the Shahi Imam to write off political parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party under whose watch Uttar Pradesh’s law and order situation was remarkable. Even the Samajwadi Party is a better champion of secularism than the Congress Party can ever be, Muzaffarnagar notwithstanding. Has the Shahi Imam forgotten that it was the SP that, for the first time ever in independent India, deployed troops to prevent Hindu mobs from destroying a Muslim shrine? And has he forgotten that the very party that he now holds up as a champion of secularism twiddled its thumbs when this shrine was demolished two years later? True votaries of secularism in India would do well to ensure the defeat of both the Congress and the BJP in the ensuing elections.