The Congress seems to have waded into unnecessary controversy by highlighting Hindutva as a central point, barely three months ahead of the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, the BJP, which has a well-oiled propaganda machinery and has a tremendous influence over social media, has latched on to the Congress theme, to make it appear like a party that was against the majority community.
It is not difficult to distinguish between Hindutva and Hinduism, but in the current politically surcharged divisive atmosphere that exists in the country, any party that attempts to give its version of the issue, would only be inadvertently helping the BJP.
Former Union Minister, Salman Khurshid, is undoubtedly amongst the most articulate politicians of our times. His observation in his latest book that equates robust political Hindutva to jihadist Islamic groups such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram, has stirred up a row that the saffron brigade shall turn into a major issue.
Salman had made this comparison to draw a distinction between the Hindutva as practised by the religious fundamentalist forces as against real Hinduism which had been embraced by the sages and followers of the faith. However, with a more effective communication apparatus, the BJP has not only blurred the lines between Hindutva and Hinduism, but has launched a campaign to project Congress as an anti-Hindu party.
Senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad tried to do damage control when he said that likening Hindutva with Islamic extremists was factually incorrect and inaccurate. Azad realises that this narrative suits the BJP, which would use it to focus attention on divisive politics in order to conceal the failures and shortcomings of its own government in Uttar Pradesh.
However, first another party leader, Rashid Alvi and then Rahul Gandhi also jumped into the political slug fest by making their comments. Alvi said that all those who chant Jai Shri Ram were not saints, while Rahul tried to give a very feeble account of how the ideological battle was to be carried forward without fully comprehending the fallout and serious political ramifications of what was unfolding.
Recognising the inherent advantage the party could take from this miscalculated political point of the Congress, the BJP has orchestrated a countrywide reaction from its spokespersons in various states, showing the Congress as a party that had scant regard for Hindutva (read Hinduism).
The BJP has already got into poll mode and Amit Shah’s meeting in Varanasi with the activists made in-charge of all the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh besides prominent party workers and 98 prabharis, is clearly an attempt to set the tone for the electoral battle. The BJP is stressing on the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya as the focal point of its campaign and by raising the issue of Hindutva on the eve of the polls, the Congress is diminishing its own chances.
The irony is that the principal adversaries of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh are going to be both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Congress has no organisation at the grassroots and its cadres had shifted to the BJP in more than 300 seats when the alliance with Samajwadi Party was announced in 2017.
The leadership was evidently unaware that the Congress had been fighting against the SP and BSP for 25 years and when asked to support Akhilesh Yadav, the cadres, preferred to drift towards the BJP, which at one point had a very truncated presence in India’s most populous state.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been attracting crowds in her meetings but in the absence of any organisational network, it is difficult to imagine how the party would be able to micromanage the polls. Clearly, the Congress high command has not learnt from its past mistakes. The Antony report after the 2014 debacle in the Parliamentary polls had provided two reasons for the dismal performance. First was the perception that the grand old party had tilted towards the minorities at the cost of the majority community and the second was the absence of an organisation. What the report did not spell out in black and white terms was that the central leadership of the Congress had failed on both counts. In evolving a strategy keeping in mind the ground realities and in building or strengthening the organization. Nothing has changed since then and the party has won in elections, but only in places where state leaders or individual candidates wield influence.
The Congress should have kept its narrative in UP and other places on rising prices, growing unemployment, alarming economic situation and mismanagement of the state and Central governments to replicate the issues that helped in its victory against the BJP in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh bypolls.
Rahul Gandhi has the good of his party in mind but is apparently not equipped to tackle the challenge from the Hindutva forces led by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath. Politics is not an easy game and symbolism also counts.
Firstly, there is no need to take up the BJP narrative when the end result can be predicted. Secondly, while speaking about the Ram Temple, the party should hand pick its representatives who can talk about the theme, and not permit everyone to make observations about this sensitive subject. Since religion is involved, the selection has to be meticulous. The construction of Ram Temple, under no circumstances, should be opposed. Between us.