Analysis: Can The Congress Undergo An Ideological Reinvention?

Analysis: Can The Congress Undergo An Ideological Reinvention?

If the first Yatra was to understand India, to feel the pulse of the people at a time when the social fabric of the nation is changing rapidly, then the second is to discover the ideological alternative to BJP’s Hindutva

AshutoshUpdated: Monday, February 26, 2024, 10:27 PM IST
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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi | File Photo

So little has been written about Rahul’s Nyay Yatra that one starts suspecting if there is a conspiracy to invisibilise the whole affair. This is Rahul’s second Bharat Yatra. He is the only leader in post-Independence India who not only once, but twice, has gone from one end of India to another. It’s a courageous attempt. This is a mass contact programme to reinvent the Congress which was once a colossus and is now riddled with serious ailments. The first Yatra helped the Congress to change its image and catapulted Rahul to being a serious political figure at a time when a million dollar industry is out to destroy his image and that of the Congress. I know that at a time when entire media industry is duty bound to create a cult with mythical powers around Narendra Modi, this was indeed a Herculean task, but Rahul did it. It is another matter that he will not get the respect that he deserves.

If the first Yatra was to understand India, to feel the pulse of the people at a time when the social fabric of the nation is changing rapidly, then the second is to discover the ideological alternative to BJP’s Hindutva. No doubt, in the first one, Rahul laid the foundation of the ideological edifice which is needed to challenge the might of the RSS’s social mission and BJP’s political goal. He successfully conveyed the message that the country had to be saved from the poison of communalism and the the binary of Hindu Muslim divide which had been created to fulfil the bigger agenda of Hindutva, ie to construct the utopia called Hindu Rashtra in which Muslims are treated as second-class citizens. His slogan, that he has come to “open the shop of love in the marketplace of hate”, conveyed it all. The second Yatra has thrown open more windows to peep into his ideological strands. Since, it is being carried out close to the general elections, even many of his liberal friends are finding it difficult to comprehend the message objectively.

I don’t agree with the thought that Rahul’s Yatra is badly timed. Elections are all about the connecting with people and sending the message across. During elections, addressing rallies, big or small, is an integral part of campaign. Rahul’s Yatra is doing exactly the same. The Yatra is a kind of road show which is a regular part of an election campaign. He is also talking to people and addressing corner meetings. I don’t think Rahul Gandhi could have done better campaigning for the party and the INDIA alliance, than this one. But more than the campaigning, the Yatra is significant for other reasons.

The Congress’s decline is because of the its de-ideologisation. The party remained a living organism till such time as it was vitalised by the ideals and ideology of the freedom movement. The freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi was not simply a political movement, It was also an ideological movement. Gandhi, despite being deeply religious, did not let religion dictate the movement. He knew that the British after the 1857 revolt had deliberately tried to create a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. Division of Bengal, creation of the Muslim League and a separate electorate for Muslims were parts of a larger conspiracy. Gandhi realised that unless India is united as one unit, freedom would be a mirage. Hindu-Muslim unity was integral to his mission. The support to the Khilafat Movement was given with this aim. He also knew that if India had to attain freedom then Dalits and untouchables could not be left behind. Gandhi worked for the eradication of untouchability; he did not agree with Ambedkar on the issue of a separate electorate for Dalits. It was no wonder that the Congress was called a coalition of different factions not only in terms of leaders but also as a collection of ideas and ideologies.

Nehru tried to keep the same spirit intact. He was conscious of the fact that majoritarian communalism would be dangerous for the country. His commitment to secularism and scientific temper was impeccable but after Nehru that commitment was frittered away for political reasons; and no wonder, when the Congress was faced with the ideological challenge of Hindutva and Mandal politics, it was seen to be wanting. Given the state in which the Congress is presently in, it can’t regain its past glory and fight the forces of Hindutva successfully unless the whole party is ideologically re-wired and re-energised. Ideological reinvention of the Congress is the need of the hour. Both the Yatras by Rahul Gandhi are programmed for that. Rahul Gandhi knows that a short term remedy will not work. The Congress being a national party with a huge legacy is the only force which can take the might of BJP/RSS head on. A future road map has to be drawn up. The party has to discover a new social base for itself. Its failure to take a decisive stand on the issue of mandal and Kamandal, was the main reason for its decline.

As a leader of the party, Rahul Gandhi knows that OBC, Dalit and minorities, together command almost 80% of the electorate and if the party can create a space for itself in the community among the OBCs, then the Congress can re-emerge as a formidable force in UP and Bihar. These two states are comprised of 120 seats. And in both the states, backward politics is very strong. In UP, the BSP is in decline and it’s a golden moment for the Congress to appropriate the BSP space. Rahul’s strong focus on the issue of caste census is aimed at that. A few political pundits and journalists are of the opinion that OBCs were never with the Congress, since the days of Ram Manohar Lohia and any attempt to lure them will prove futile.

Such political pundits must remember that the same was said about the BJP too; that it was a Bania Brahman party, but today it commands a substantial section of OBCs and Dalit community vote. It is because of this reason that the BJP, in most of the North Indian states, wins more than 50% votes in the Lok Sabha elections. This happened partly due to Modi and partly due to BJP/RSS outreach programmes which they have been doing for years and now they are reaping the fruits. Similarly, Rahul’s efforts might not fetch extra votes of these groupings for the Congress in the upcoming elections in UP and Bihar but in the long run this will bear fruit.

Rahul Gandhi’s search for a ‘new secularism’, and integration with OBCs and Dalits, has the potential to rebuild a new social base for the Congress. But unfortunately, some senior leaders of the party are not convinced about Rahul’s endeavour. Rahul has to make an extra effort to take the whole party along. This is a tough task and for this he has to create a new leadership; old leaders should either be asked to retire and make space for youth. Can he do it? That is the million dollar question.

The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B

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