On 19 May, the Congress Party must have placed the champagne bottles back in the larder, given the scale of its setbacks. Two states that were among the handful that it still ruled, Assam and Kerala, went over to the opposition, while in the case of Tamil Nadu, its addition to the DMK fold was not sufficient to compensate for the hold that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa still has among voters in her state, especially women. Even Pondicherry has been much closer a race than in the past.
Why has the party done so badly? An explanation vests within the system of Nehruvian secularism that the party has embraced since the 1950s. According to this construct, which has as little to do with secularism as Wahhabism has to do with genuine Islam, the most vicious and toxic variants of communalism are kosher, provided they emanate from religious minorities in India, principally Muslims, the community that got divided into two states in 1947. Mahatma Gandhi’s encouragement to the religious frenzy witnessed during the 1919-22 Khilafat agitation, of which the Mahatma was among the most enthusiastic supporters, was a historical blunder that unfortunately has been repeated all too often since then. This was to regard extremists as being the only representatives of Islam, which, in fact, is a religion not of conflict but of peace. The Khilafat movement resulted in such aftershocks as the Moplah massacres in Kerala and the deepening of divisive tendencies within the Muslim community in India, which subsequently allowed M.A. Jinnah to win millions of adherents (mostly in UP and Bihar) for Winston Churchill’s plan of vivisecting India. After the 1945 war, London ensured that Sri Lanka and Myanmar got separated from control by Delhi, and later on, that Pakistan was formed. Jawaharlal Nehru carried such a lessening of geographical boundaries further by allowing Pakistan to retain a third of Kashmir and rejecting the offer from Oman for Gwadar and from the Ranas for Nepal. But for Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon, there would have been half-a-dozen more independent states within the present boundaries of India, including Hyderabad and possibly Travancore. However, the Sardar soon passed away, and being insufficiently sugary in his praise of Nehru, V.P. Menon got sidelined in favour of more emollient officials, who were rewarded by Nehru by the retention of the entire structure of colonial laws and governance of the British raj by Nehru and, of course, his successors.
The Manmohan Decade has been in many ways as toxic for the future of India as 1919-22 was, and for the same reason, which is the untrammelled encouragement given to minority communalism in the guise of promoting “secularism”. The Congress has not been alone in such a flawed strategy. In the past, Jyoti Basu used it in Bengal, facilitating a flood of immigrants from Bangladesh and integrating them into his state. Both Mulayam Singh as well as Lalu Yadav have been enthusiastic backers of Nehruvian secularism, ignoring the growth of communal passions within select communities while expressing surprise and displeasure at the reaction such events inevitably created within the Hindu majority. In the 2016 Assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee has succeeded with her Jyoti Basu strategy, but in the coming years, certainly before 2019, a Badruddin Ajmal will emerge in Bengal who will siphon off enough Muslim votes to ensure a stellar BJP performance in the Lok Sabha polls, which is the only election in India that really matters. In Kerala, the Hindus (who are still a majority) have almost entirely left the Congress, even while Muslims have gravitated to the Muslim League and Christians to the Kerala Congress, leaving Rahul Gandhi’s party with only a very thin layer of supporters. In Assam, the Muslims that Tarun Gogoi was relying upon to flock to his standard went over to Ajmal, while Hindus turned away from his party because of its adherence to Nehruvian secularism, in which Hindus have become the victims of discrimination (for example in the shape of control of temples by the state, or edicts such as the RTE), about the few countries in the world besides examples such as Bahrain where the majority community suffers in this manner. What the Mahatma omitted to consider in his enthusiasm for the Khilafat movement (which has interestingly been revived in the present time by Abubakr Al Baghdadi) was that it would open the way for extreme communal tendencies and organisations to emerge. Which is what has happened during the decade of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was open about the fact that for his government, only minorities were the focus, rather than the population as an entirety. The Congress is being outflanked by extreme communal groups such as those led by the Owaisis or the Ajmals, which is precisely what took place during the 1920s and later.
BJP spokespersons claim on television that it was “development” which won them Assam, when the reason for much of their votes in the just concluded Assembly polls was the fact that this is the only party which—once Narendra Modi emerged as its undisputed leader in 2013—has repudiated Nehruvian secularism. Thus far, of course, it does not seem to have found the time to ensure that discriminatory and communal laws such as the RTE be replaced with legislation that is wholly secular i.e. religion neutral. Certainly there ought to be an RTE, but the sacrifices for such a step within the pool of private schools should be shared by all rather than (as Manmohan Singh decreed) only by Hindus. Hopefully, such abominations will end before the 2019 polls, as also such injustices as Hindu temples being under the state and hence the playthings of politicians, of course provided Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu agrees to cede control over Tirupati, something he was reluctant to do when A.B. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi is not Vajpayee. Had voters believed him to be so, they would not have given him the mandate they did in 2014. What is needed is to ensure genuine secularism on the scale of France, where religion and the state have been separated in a most wholesome manner.
Those in the US or in the EU who receive Wahhabi funding from Qatar or Saudi Arabia may protest, but if India is to avoid fresh attempts at partition, it is crucial to the future to replace Nehruvian secularism with the genuine variety. As for the Congress, it dwindled from a party with the support of a majority of voters to a party
relying on minority votes to the present situation. Rahul Gandhi needs to understand that in the 21st century, to continue to embrace the policies of his paternal great-grandfather and grandmother would be to ensure the fulfilment of Prime Minister Modi’s call for a Congress-mukt Bharat.