Sonia Gandhi's iftar party on Monday was meant for sending a strong message in political circles that the Congress would continue to spearhead the "secular" parties in their fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies. Instead, the event turned out to be a mere political dinner, where most of the top bosses of regional outfits as well as the Left parties decided to stay away. Even amongst Muslims, very few prominent faces turned up, thus causing deep concern amongst the top Congress leadership, which has been wooing the community, without much success, in electoral battles.
The much publicised gathering at the Ashoka Hotel was captured in a tell-all photograph published in national dailies where Sonia Gandhi was seen seated with Trinamool Congress representative Derek O'Brien and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Derek had, a day earlier, represented his party also at the iftar hosted by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, thus his presence indicated that for his chief, Mamata Banerjee, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress were to be treated at par with each other. Nitish too has been giving a lot of importance to Kejriwal and his attending Sonia Gandhi's iftar was merely to give respect to an ally, given that Bihar elections are round the corner and the Congress is expected to play second fiddle to Janata Dal (United).
The party had stopped hosting iftar parties while it was in power and allowed the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh to organise this event every year. However, in an attempt to get back its lost vote bank, Sonia Gandhi has been making renewed effort to get the Muslims on her side. In the process, she seems unaware that it was the Congress' perceived tilt towards the minorities that had led to polarisation of the majority community in favour of Narendra Modi in the last Parliamentary polls. The last straw was when the meeting of the Jama Majid Shahi Imam with Sonia Gandhi was widely telecast by all TV channels, resulting in the consolidation of the Hindu vote.
The Congress, it is evident, has not learnt any lessons from its drubbing and till today has not properly analysed the reasons for its defeat last year, though A.K. Antony did admit that its perceived inclination towards minorities had contributed to the loss. It is extremely sad that the party has done nothing to remove the causes which led to its downfall, and that the people who were actually responsible for its rout continue to dominate while Rahul Gandhi has got all the blame.
In order to resurrect itself, the party must change its strategy and give up its obsession with the minorities as in its nearly 130 years of existence, the Congress has been fortunate to enjoy the support of all castes, communities and classes. It is only in the last ten years or so that it started deviating from its basic secular ideology and started tilting towards some communities. The only way it can hope to make a comeback is by involving all sections and not pursue actions which have boomeranged. It is nobody's case that the Congress should give up its secular beliefs altogether. But while supporting or giving added importance to the minorities, it has diluted its ideology, which the BJP under Modi's leadership very cleverly exploited.
The Congress is certainly not the preferred party of the Muslims, who have shown that they were open to supporting any regional outfit, which was in a position to stop the BJP. In the two politically important states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Muslims have continuously chosen Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav over the Congress. In fact, the message which came out clearly from Sonia's iftar was that the regional parties do not wish the Congress to be revived as this would impact their influence and growth. This is something which Congress leaders must understand.
Parliament is going to meet in the coming week and the party is still not prepared to fully involve Kamal Nath, its most experienced politician in the Lok Sabha, in its scheme of things, leaving the defence to a non combative Malikarjun Kharge and a reluctant Captain Amarinder Singh, who has time and again expressed his desire to go back and work in his state of Punjab. Rahul Gandhi had been vocal in the last segment of the budget session, but he has to cross several hurdles before he can make his presence felt in Parliament, even though he is functioning as the de-facto chief of his party.
The politics of iftar has become very outdated, as in most of the parties, it is the same bunch of people who are on the guest list. Therefore, the common Muslims have understood that the annual ritual is merely symbolic. At least for the Congress, it is not going to bring in votes. The grand old party, by its unexplainable actions, continues to be the best insurance for the continuation of a BJP government at the Centre as both Muslims and Hindus view it with suspicion. Between us.