Better go back to basics

Better go back to basics

Better go back to basics, Anser Kidwai, Sections of Muslim leaders. Talking of minorities is an election-time ritual and the more crucial it is the...

Talking of minorities is an election-time ritual and the more crucial it is the louder are the decibles. It is good that the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has assumed a proactive role and in the style of a knight in shining armour his itinerary to date ranged from an erudite discourse at a meeting with the captains of industry, a surprise visit to a riot-hit refugee camp in Muzaffarnagar and following it up with a meeting with sections of Muslim leaders.

The exact identity of the invitees at the gathering of Muslims is not known but obviously they were drawn from the pro-Congress cadres. The exercise, however, was on the lines of the many undertaken by ‘Muslim-friendly’ regional leaders in UP and Bihar at their denominational durbars. A national organisation like the Congress need not follow in their footsteps but for the signs of times. If the party’s new icon really means business he needs to go back to the basics to have a better comprehension of the organisation’s secular history and tradition of which he claims to be the legatee.

For Gandhiji social harmony and peace was part of a deep spiritual and human commitment to serve as an example for the successor-generations; for the leaders who followed this became part of an ideology-based social and political obligation. Gandhiji stayed away and indeed he was above the nitty-gritty of statecraft. He chose Nehru both as his “spiritual and political successor”, and thus it was Nehru’s destiny to play the role as the nation’s architect as India’s first Prime Minister.

The popular hero as Nehru himself was his sway in the party and the government was pre-eminent but not unquestioned. The Congress had just emerged as a political force born out of the national movement. Nobody escaped the scars of the Partition and if Nehru was among the avant garde of left-of centre policy formulations there were other important colleagues having different if not opposite perceptions. Yet the Congress leadership never compromised on its secular ideals: the ideological differences between Dr Rajendra Prasad as the President and his prime minister are part of known history—at times involving highly emotive issues of faith and personal sensitivities. Even so, this never allowed any dilution in the secular value-system.

There did exist the RSS even then but the Sangh Parivar as such lay shrouded in abstract obscurity. The Jan Sangh was born within few years after independence but it was too weak to be taken note of and get counted. This covered most of the Nehru era lasting over 16 years. The Pakistan’s unprovoked 1965 war opened a slight window of opportunity to the extremist fringe but as yet too briefly, and the things remaining much as usual.

The heady days of the Indira regime touched off an ideological conflict primarily with the fragmented Socialist party groups aligned with the conservatives of the old guard in her own party. However, it was finally during the Vajpayee period that the Congress began going on the defensive on many of its policies including secularism.

The rest is recent and also current story of the stitching of coalition alliances of UPA and NDA. But at this juncture came a perceptible shift to the loss of the secular values. It is only to the credit of the pluralistic ethos of the people, not those ensconced in power, nor the regressive mass media, that has kept the torch aloft. As one carrying the burden of rejuvenation of the Congress behemoth Rahul Gandhi indeed faces an uphill task.

The dilemma of making choices has not been particularly so before anyone section of society alone: as a rule, the Muslims as also other minority groups vote for a party having a broad-base programme and a liberal approach. This has worked mostly in favor of the Congress. But now there is an interesting addition with the BJP in its euphoric mood of self-assurance holding the olive branch before the Muslims. They already have the backing of another important minority of Sikhs at least in Punjab and several neighboring areas.

The Sangh Parivar has opted for a strategy of dividing the Muslim votes and sufficiently confusing them with Modi’s change of tone becoming an ardent advocate of national unity—the crucial Ramjanam Bhumi issue being mysteriously swept under the carpet. The CBI court’s clean chit to Modi absolving him of the responsibility of the 2002 Gujarat carnage has come as a big boost to him and more so to his cheer-leaders. Poor worn-out Zakia Begum (widow of the murdered former MP Ehsan Jafri) but sure she would fight out for justice at the higher courts.

The verdict has been roundly criticised by the rights activists including Mallika Sarabhai. However, the real judge will be the people of Gujarat and elsewhere to pronounce one guilty or not guilty, and as such rejoicing at this stage is premature.

Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP and Lalu Yadav/Nitish Kumar in Bihar are among major claimants of the minority votes. Yet the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi has upset the conventional notions of electoral behavioral patterns. The AAP leaders promise to give a run for their money to the two ‘national parties’ in the national elections—felling them a through replication of the Delhi pattern. The wave in the Delhi indeed cut across the caste, class and community barriers. The AAP’s alternative style of politics has already begun causing sleepless nights to the two established majors. And why not!

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