First, the self-avowedly secular Congress took the lead in expelling a member of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen from the Maharashtra Assembly because he refused to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai, though he was ready to shout Jai Hind. The Shiv Sena, the BJP and the Congress found themselves on the same page in insisting on his saying Jai to Bharat Mata. Anyone refusing to shout that slogan was a lesser patriot in their view. There could be no compromise on putting every citizen through that litmus test for establishing that he was one hundred per cent loyal to Bharat Mata. Period.
A few days later, to embellish its credentials as a patriotic force further, the Congress again tried to outdo the BJP on the question of national interest and security. This time it picked on the visit of a team from Pakistan to see for themselves the scene of the recent terror attack in Pathankot. Here it had the newbie Aam Aadmi Party for company.
At least in the case of AAP it can be explained that unencumbered by any pedigree the opportunistic gaggle of self-seekers remains ever eager to pick any issue which might help it raise its media profile. The party thrives on the oxygen of publicity, duly paid for by the hapless Delhiites who can only grin and bear it while they build a cult around the crafty Arvind Kejriwal at a cost of over Rs 500 crore. Now they even advertise their wares in Gujarat and Maharashtra at Delhiites’ costs, but the Delhi High Court seems to be in no hurry to dispose of the PIL challenging the astronomical rise in the publicity budget by the Kejriwal government.
But to get back to the Congress, the party has a long history, and, at least since Independence, it has pointedly nurtured the minority constituency, even if it is for purely electoral reasons. What, then, explains its rightward lurch, virtually trying to appropriate the Sangh Parivar platform and thus risk alienation of the so-called secular vote? Could it be that the party has concluded that the Muslim vote is beyond its reach, it having drifted towards the Asaduddin Owaisis and Badruddin Ajmals of the rising Muslim League-type outfits, and, therefore, it must try and adopt an aggressive posture on security and patriotism to tap into the Hindu vote a la the BJP?
Maybe the contrary ideological signalling is actually a reflection of the disarray and confusion that prevails in the party owing to the immaturity and inexperience of the de facto boss Rahul Gandhi. We believe the second to be closer to the truth. Having made the old guard irrelevant, the Gandhi scion relies on nouveau politicians who, like him, lack grounding in politics. So, the Rahul Congress seems to craft a response to current issues, as it goes along, uninformed by the party’s long history and ideological moorings.
That would explain the shrill noises against the visit by Pakistan’s Pathankot team. Now, the visitors, even if they were all from the ISI, which they weren’t, could not have taken away anything which we wanted to hide from them. Nor could they have possibly stolen any new secrets from the airbase, which they did not already know.
In these days of aerial and online imagery, there is a lot available at the click of a mouse. And that which was not to be shown to the visitors under any circumstances, they could not have seen because their movement was restricted and strictly monitored by our sleuths. Of course it was utter nonsense to suggest that the country’s security was compromised by retracing the Pathankot attack for the benefit of Pakistan’s investigators. The visitors could not, did not, just wander off wherever their fancy took them. No.
But look at the pluses from the visit. To begin with, it immediately denied Pakistan the excuse that it had no access to the scene of crime and, therefore, it cannot follow up with its nationals back home who had hatched the conspiracy. Courts in Pakistan are more likely to attach weight to their own investigators who had independently visited the scene of crime and satisfied themselves with the facts.
To that extent the defence of the accused will get devalued.
Another gain could be much bigger. Unlike 26/11 and other such terrorist acts, when Pakistan had stonewalled action against known conspirators on the ground that it had no direct knowledge about the crimes, India could in the near-future get access to Masood Azahar in Pakistan for his alleged role in the Pathankot attack. If that happens, and such an outcome cannot be ruled out, Indian investigators will get a rare opportunity to interrogate the terror-mastermind whose jihadi outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad, was said to be behind several terrorist attacks. In any case, even if Pakistan denies access to Azhar, the visit by Pakistan’s investigators gives India an upper hand legally and politically to counter the culture of deniability that Islamabad has so far fostered in the wake of previous jihadi atrocities. Denying Pakistan an opportunity for deniability is no mean gain by itself, is it?
Also, critics of the Modi government vis-a-vis the visit of Pakistan’s team make a serious mistake. For questioning the ruling party’s patriotism cannot, will not, yield any dividend. Nationalism, nay, desh bhakti is the Sangh parivar’s strongest suit. Its members wear their patriotism on their sleeve. In the popular mind it will be hard to dilute the image of BJP as anything less than an ultra nationalist party. The Congress cannot easily replicate the BJP DNA
Any attempt to do so can only result in the Congress forfeiting whatever little support it might still enjoy among the dominant minority community. An aggressive display of hyper-nationalism puts off even the most level-headed and patriotic Muslims. Having cultivated the minority constituency all these years by abusing the BJP for being “communal”, the Rahul Gandhi Congress risks losing it without there being any hope of his denting the BJP’s nationalist image.
The Congress’ embrace of hyper-nationalism ignores the fact that the saffron party has always been pragmatic while in power. A.B. Vajpayee as foreign minister in the Morarji Desai government back in 1977 had set that template when he virtually persisted with what he had previously critiqued as the Nehruvian foreign policy. Modi has Vajpayee’s excellent record to guide him while extending the olive branch to our perennially hostile neighbour. But in case the Congress has decided to adopt soft Hindutva under Rahul Gandhi, it should consider the folly of supporting Kanhaiya Kumar’s clarion call for azaadi one day, and make Bharat Mata Ki Jai as a test-case for patriotism the next. That way, you end up losing your present friends without making any new ones.