It has been an effective (but somewhat tacky) catchphrase signifying nothing, except that in its viciousness and vitriol lies a subliminal message directed at ‘the family’. The slogan ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ or an India free of the Congress, seen by some as both tasteless and fascist, is actually a call for a ‘Nehru-Gandhi-family-mukt Bharat’. This is because the family is perceived to be providing an unfair, undemocratic and, more importantly, unearned head-start to the Congress. The RSS, concedes a long-time watcher of the organisation, wants to make the family politically irrelevant. And a seasoned political leader, who has travelled extensively during this election, strengthens the perception when he says he found much more anger directed against the family than against the Congress as such.
Whatever be the charges against the family, the grand old party of 128 years’ standing cannot be accused of rigging elections at least. It can, in fact, take legitimate credit for building an institution like the Election Commission and for allowing Indians to take free and fair elections for granted. Ironically, it was also a Congress government under Rajiv Gandhi which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 (as an aside, it was Indira Gandhi as the Congress president in 1959 who recommended the creation of Gujarat as a separate state). And an estimated 150 million first-time voters this time, almost one-fifth of the total electorate, are said to be so disillusioned and angry with the old order that the fate of the ruling coalition and the Congress is widely believed to be sealed weeks before the last vote is polled on May 12.
Notwithstanding the widespread lack of credibility of opinion polls, there is little doubt that the Congress is fighting a losing battle against a far better-oiled war machine. Political scientists and authors Zoya Hasan and Sudha Pai make no bones about their feeling that ‘India without Congress’ is a proposition both ill-conceived and premature. But they do agree that the Congress has gone through a ‘leadership crisis’. Hasan blames the party for its failure to communicate its policy achievements and laments the weak campaign it has put up against Narendra Modi. Pai agrees to the suggestion that Rahul Gandhi was found wanting. But both believe it is wishful thinking to suggest the party will wither away.
Modi has indeed taken pains to point out that getting rid of the Congress would essentially mean getting rid of the Congress ‘culture’. The brutal phrases he uses—Congress-mukt or sabka vinaash, the acronym denoting the SP, BSP and Congress—come partly from the RSS, which is rattled by the cases of Hindu terror against it. The second description comes from the BJP’s distaste for smaller parties, which are seen as an impediment to the creation of a pan-India agenda.
But the trouble with the proposition is that his own party seems hardly immune to the culture it seeks to ridicule. In Gujarat, a different slogan mocks the original. They are calling it a ‘Congress-yukt-BJP’ (BJP with the DNA of the Congress) there, referring to the fact that of the 26 BJP candidates for the Lok Sabha, 11 happen to be Congress turncoats. By accepting the personality cult around Modi and his authoritarian style of functioning, the party has only diluted the contrasting profile it had imagined for itself.
India, says Mainstream editor Sumit Chakravartty, will be poorer without the Congress and the liberal-secular space it occupies, especially with the marginalisation of the mainstream Left parties. An overwhelming majority of people find it difficult to accept the conflicting idea of the BJP, which is unable or unwilling to field a single Muslim from Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat. Yet, despite his scepticism of opinion polls, Chakravartty thinks the Congress has little time to reinvent itself. That is because if the BJP falls short of the halfway mark, as seems likely, it will certainly call for a mid-term poll sooner rather than later and seek a mandate for stability.
No one, however, is writing off the Congress, at least not yet, never mind if right-wing websites have been writing its obituary since long. Though deeply disappointed with its leadership and management, historian Ramachandra Guha told an interviewer in 2010 that the alternative to Congress was either “Naxalism or balkanisation”.
M.J. Akbar, in his new avatar of BJP spokesperson, would, of course, beg to differ. The Congress, he says, was indeed central to the idea of India once, but no more. Muslims, he goes on to say, were gifted only fear during the UPA regime. “You talk of secularism, but in West Bengal, arguably one of the most secular states, the Muslim population is around 28 per cent but they occupy only 2 per cent of government jobs whereas in Gujarat, which has only 9 per cent Muslim population, the figure is over 5 per cent,” he claims. Akbar also believes the BJP is moving to a more centrist position and is the new Congress. Every word in the party’s manifesto, he insists, was vetted by the RSS, suggesting even they’re ready for change and are now more flexible.
The suggestion outrages the liberals. The proof of the pudding, they point out, is in the eating. And there is no evidence to suggest that the RSS has deviated from its core beliefs on Hindutva. The BJP’s transition from a rabid, somewhat irresponsible right-wing party to a sober, responsible and centrist party, they insist, is at best a work in progress. It would take several years.
A broad social coalition is required to govern India, says Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, but he goes on to question the ‘inclusive’ idea of the Congress. Inclusion on the basis of identity, he suggests, leads to fixity. “The basis of inclusion has to be equality and freedom,” he suggests somewhat enigmatically, parrying the question whether India stands to lose if the Congress gets decimated and whether it can bounce back in that eventuality.
The Congress, he suggests, was in poorer shape in 1996, when it lost power again. There is no reason, says the veteran Congress-watcher, why the party cannot rally around a member of the family again. Congressmen themselves believe the party has paid a price for flirting with free market and for liberalising the economy. “The party made the mistake of trying to ride two boats. Now, both big corporate bodies as well as the poor seem to have turned against us,” complains a Congress leader.
While electoral reverses are hardly uncommon, several commentators admit to a sense of disbelief at the unfolding scenario. While acknowledging the all-pervasive anger against corruption that prevails in the country, they wonder why it would consume even the mainstream Left and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which spearheaded the anti-corruption movement. Be that as it may, Congress-watchers warn against jumping to hasty conclusions. Indira, they recall, was dubbed a “goongi gudiya”; she proved to be anything but a dumb doll. Sanjay was written off as a rogue cannon while Rajiv was not exactly known for his vision. Yet they rose to the occasion when the need arose. And since politics abhors any vacuum, the grand old party, they hope, will weather the storm and stand up to be counted.
How the Congress and the BJP are not that different, after all
Dual Centres of Power
A Short History Of The Congress
Some of the seismic events in the lifetime of the grand old party
By Uttam Sengupta with Pragya Singh, Pranay Sharma and Namrata Joshi
Don’t give up on Rahul yet (If the Family Loses This Hand...). His late grandmother Indira was anything but the dumb doll she was dubbed to be. He is a political thoroughbred, politics runs in his family.
Mickie Sorabjee, Mumbai
The Congress won’t go anywhere. Because more than half the morons who are screaming for a Modi-fied India voted for the Congress the last time round. It’s like cricket. Man of the series and people bow down to the cricketer, a duck in the series and they go pelting stones at his house, but another man of the series and it’s back to demi-god worship again.
The Congress of today has no semblance to the party that was founded by the stalwarts of the nation. To call it the Indian National Congress as the press at large continues to do is the same as perpetuating the Gandhi name that the Nehru family continues to destroy.
“India,” says Mainstream editor Sumit Chakravartty, “will be poorer without the Congress....” I don’t know about India becoming poorer but many in the media will surely feel orphaned.
Narayan G.N., Mumbai
I wonder why there is so much fear and alarm over the prospect of the BJP forming a government and Modi becoming the PM. It’s supposed to spell doom for the country and its minorities. The fact is, no such thing will happen. Our Constitution, the President and the legal system will never permit any such thing to take place.
Navin Malhotra, Delhi
History is full of examples where rulers and their families were thrown into the dustbin. Nothing terrible happened as a result of such events.
Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
Who is afraid of President Modi? Precisely none, other than another president—of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi.
C.V. Venugopalan, Palakkad
The BJP is offering to the people of India a man-eater when it says it is a friendly feline to guard you and your property while the Congress is giving us a donkey when it says it is a horse to gallop.
Gilbert D’Souza, Bangalore
Who is afraid of President Modi? Outlook?
Khurshed Pastakia, on e-mail
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Mickie Sorabjee >> Politics runs in his blood. Like his late father Rajiv he is a belated entrant and a dark horse, but he is nevertheless a long distance stayer. Time is on the young Gandhi scion’s side and he can yet prove his detractors wrong with his great grandfather’s bloodline to finish a difficult race with flying colors.
Going by your logic, mass murders and genocide and war mongering are also in the bloodline of pappu. His Grandma (indira) was a master warmonger, ignited insurgency in Punjab and imposed emergency and suspeneded our constitution granted civil liberties for 19 months. His Daddy presided over 1984 genocide and also sent our soldiers to die in the battlefields of Sri Lanka (IPKF disaster) and presided over the insurgencies of Kashmir and Assam. This being the genetic record of Prince pappu, we should be mortified at the rise of this prince...
>> Jab tak Amit Shah,Togadia, Giriraj, jaiso ke sar pe Modi ka haath rahega,
Jaanta ka bharosa Congress ke haath mein rahega.
Aur Janata ka paisa Pappu ke Swiss bank account me rahega, aur janata ki zameen, Pappu ke jijaji ke khaate me rahegi.
>> Jab tak Amit Shah,Togadia, Giriraj, jaiso ke sar pe Modi ka haath rahega,
Jaanta ka bharosa Congress ke haath mein rahega.
You certainly have a point!
Dont give up on Rahul yet! His late grandmother Indiraji was no dumb doll like her adversaries tagged her and went on to prove she was a power house of a globally recognised leader. Neither is Rahul a namby-pamby male Barbie doll Ken like his opponents make him out to be. He is a political thoroughbred. Politics runs in his blood. Like his late father Rajiv he is a belated entrant and a dark horse, but he is nevertheless a long distance stayer. Time is on the young Gandhi scion’s side and he can yet prove his detractors wrong with his great grandfather’s bloodline to finish a difficult race with flying colors.
History will repeat itself in a hat-trick should a bragging BJP show itself incapable of keeping its empty promises and a chastised nation clamours for Congress return.
Jab tak Amit Shah,Togadia, Giriraj, jaiso ke sar pe Modi ka haath rahega,
Jaanta ka bharosa Congress ke haath mein rahega.
“BJP thinks it can replace the idea of India with the idea of Hindutva, but India’s narrative isn’t RSS’s.” Mahesh Bhatt
Fair enough Mr. Bhatt! But what is India’s narrative?
Is it “Indira is India & …’ or “Congress is India & or “Gandhi Family is India ...” or “India is family business of congress).
Is supporting congress is the only idea you for countering RSS and defining India’s narrative?
Why India’s narrative cannot be defined with an idea, which is above these political outfits only interested in power grab, self-enrichment and devoid of any idea?
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