1. Not ‘BJP lite’, Congress must become a modern, liberal party

Not ‘BJP lite’, Congress must become a modern, liberal party

Having failed to delineate a cogent and credible line on secularism, the Congress will have to articulate a new position to find its way back into political reckoning.

By: | Published: April 15, 2017 11:49 AM
For Congress M.P. Shashi Tharoor, however, “for Congress, peddling ‘BJP lite’ is like Coke Zero. It will get us zero”.

Having failed to delineate a cogent and credible line on secularism, the Congress will have to articulate a new position to find its way back into political reckoning.

For a start, the party will have to realise that its efforts to delink religion from politics, or the church from the state — the essence of secularism — went off track because it identified the “church” too closely with Hinduism and did not pay enough attention to keep Islam also at a distance from the state.

Because of this tactical error, the Congress played into the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which made no secret of its closeness to Hinduism and accused the Congress of being partial to Islam for the sake of Muslim votes. This is a factor which A.K. Antony, among others in the Congress, acknowledged in a report on the party’s defeat in the last general election.

However, the report banked on run-of-the-mill explanations for the party’s setback such as infighting, demoralisation among the workers, the absence of pre-poll alliances, the party’s corrupt image and communal polarisation orchestrated by the BJP.

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While much of this may be true, the report did not spell out how the Congress could recover its earlier prime position. A suggestion which has been floated in recent weeks is that the Congress can try “soft” Hindutva as a means of wooing voters. This is a line which has long been prevalent in the Congress with V.N. Gadgil (1930-2001) being one of the early proponents.

For Congress M.P. Shashi Tharoor, however, “for Congress, peddling ‘BJP lite’ is like Coke Zero. It will get us zero”. Instead, the former Minister of State for External Affairs wants his party to be demonstratively uncompromising on secularism.

Apart from the pursuit of secularism in its pristine form which keeps religion, in all its manifestations, at a far distance from governance, what the Congress can do is to reboot itself as a party of the 21st century which rejects the superstitious medievalism of the saffron brotherhood with its propagation of a milk-drinking Hindu deity — Ganeshji doodh pi rahein hain — or the conjuration of a patently fictitious past when Indians were said to have invented everything from stem cell research to cars to planes to television, or astounding claims about cows exhaling oxygen and cow dung providing protection against nuclear radiation.

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To rescue the country from such outrageous, antediluvian ideas, the Congress has to present itself as the exact opposite — a forward-looking, progressive party committed to the development of a rational, scientific temperament so that the common man will not be prone to sectarianism based on hate and prejudice.

To achieve this objective, the Congress itself will have to shed some of its present inhibitions such as a disinclination to take a forthright stand on the crucial issues of the day. These include the country’s economic direction to which the merit versus quotas debate is related and the question of bans.

To start with the last, the Congress will have to set its face against bans of all kinds — on books, thereby acknowledging that it made a mistake in banning Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” in 1988 (P. Chidambaram has done so, though only in 2015); on films; on liquor and on beef. It has to be remembered that the Congress was the first to ban beef in Madhya Pradesh in 1955 when it was in power and the BJP was not even formed. Moreover, even today it is in favour of a nationwide ban on beef, as its senior general secretary Digvijay Singh has said, in line with Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s views.

Yet, this pandering to the Hindu cause has led it nowhere, just as its propagation of “socialism” — subsided food under the Food Security Act, doles for the rural unemployed under MNREGA — has been of little help to the party.

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The reason is the inherent insincerity in these gimmicks which are seen as populist, vote-catching manoeuvres by an outfit clutching at straws to hold on to power. In contrast, the steps by the BJP against books such as Wendy Doniger’s tract on Hinduism or on beef are seen as driven by convictions even if they are ill-conceived in the eyes of the liberals.

The latter cannot but be disappointed by the palpable cynicism of Jawaharlal Nehru’s party. What is worse for the Congress is that these duplicitous ploys do not deceive anyone. Even if the Congress calls for a nationwide ban on beef, the political advantage will still be the BJP’s just as Rajiv Gandhi’s shilanyas (foundation) for the Ram temple did not fetch the Congress any votes in the 1989 election that it lost.

Instead of indulging in such deceit, the Congress will have to underline its adherence to the principles of liberalism which believe in a free, open society where there are no constraints on what a person reads or eats, or who he or she chooses as a life partner.

(This column is written by Amulya Ganguli. He is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal)

  1. A
    Apte
    Apr 15, 2017 at 3:01 pm
    1. As a citizen of independent India, I ask this question: Has the Congress party made any difference to my life in last four or five decades? Answer is probably yes and no. Yes if accept that without a national party like the Congress party, India would have been doomed by regional parties. No, if I recognise that the Congress failed to be truly secular and did not do enough work to counter the regional parties’ divisive politics. 2. Question to be considered is whether Shri Rahul hi can save a party which is on a death bed. Only time will tell. The Congress party is, I suppose, a good option as a centrist party or as a left of the centre party. It can provide a good alternative to other parties, particularly to BJP and the leftists. 3. It has been suggested by many individuals with no specific political leanings for survival and growth the Congress party’s top leadership has to reduce its over-dependence on NEHRU-INDIRA HI. Can the Congressmen get courage to do that?
    Reply
    1. L
      l k
      Apr 15, 2017 at 2:15 pm
      No thanks. Congress will remain a party of anti Hindu, pro minority,, freebies subsidies and reservation and corruption party.
      Reply
      1. Y
        Yogesh
        Apr 15, 2017 at 1:59 pm
        'what the Congress can do is to reboot itself as a party of the 21st century which rejects the supers ious medievalism of the saffron brotherhood with its propagation of a milk-drinking Hindu deity — Ganeshji doodh pi rahein hain — or the conjuration of a patently fic ious past when Indians were said to have invented everything from stem cell research to cars to planes to television, or astounding claims about cows exhaling oxygen and cow dung providing protection against nuclear radiation.' After reading this I scrolled further if there is any mention of other kind of medievalist concept like triple divorce, polygamy, evangelistic soul saving. But I found none. This kind of secularism which stares down at the Hindu but nudge-nudge wink wink at others is already in place. So, what you are suggesting, is to just sell the old wine but in a new bottle.
        Reply
        1. V
          vivek gupta
          Apr 15, 2017 at 4:11 pm
          Well said, u found crux of congress problem
          Reply
          1. V
            Vivek
            Apr 15, 2017 at 4:27 pm
            You fail, whether deliberately or by oversight, to acknowledge that what was written was about the patent falsehoods and rabid nonsense propagated by the saffronistas, which has nothing to do with Hinduism. In exchange, you expect the article to list issues that are not propagated by the Congress, but are inextricably linked with the Congress only in the minds of brainwashed sangh camp-followers. Keep peddling that nonsense, and India will continue to wallow in the cesspool of communalist conflict.
            Reply
          2. R
            Radhakrishnan Ramaswami
            Apr 15, 2017 at 12:33 pm
            Only 20 of India is hard core Hindu, another 10 to 12 have moved to this group attracted by high energy convincing oratory skills of Mr. Modi. Rest wants a liberal environment with no hostility between different communities and would enjoy a multicultural free society.This is where an opposition to BJP can score. Oposition parties have no answer to minority appea t charge by BJP on them even though BJP is brazenly winning elections by appeasing the majority.The opposition has to script a liberal policy that would appeal to 60 of the po tion.
            Reply
            1. J
              Jayesh
              Apr 15, 2017 at 12:18 pm
              Is someone says there is a secular line of thought while saying BJP is non-secular or communal or hinduvata party, you must understand they have no argument at all. By saying BJP is non-secular, it helps consolidation of vote in favor of BJP. We really deserve a better opposition. Opposition with such "lite" brain can hardly keep BJP in check.
              Reply
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