The Grand Old Party is in the throes of an identity crisis. A crisis brought by its impatience to somehow beat the BJP at its own game. Once the self-proclaimed torchbearers of secularism, diversity and equality of all citizens, the Congress has consciously abandoned its long-held credo. And now is at great pains to project itself as a Hindu party a la the BJP.
The objective is to regain lost electoral ground. Whether the voters would accept a copycat Hindutva brand while the original is very much in the market remains to be seen. But the real danger is that by reneging on secularism, the Congress Party might be a loser twice over. For, while forfeiting its old constituency, it might still be spurned by the believers in Hindutva for its sheer opportunism. Following the A K Antony report into the Congress debacle a few years ago, which found that a section of the Hindus think the party to be pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu, Rahul Gandhi has gone to the other extreme.
The in-your-face endorsement of the BJP’s Hindutva plank fully discounted the concerns of the Muslims, with the Congress believing that they per force would vote for it given their visceral hatred of the BJP. However, instead of being nuanced and subtle in making such a tectonic shift, the Congress leadership has been most crude and thoughtless. The advertisement by the party spokespersons that Rahul is a Shiv Bhakat and wears a sacred thread (Janaeu), or his much-ballyhooed ‘pilgrimage’ to the Kailash-Mansarovar are only two of dozens of such examples where the party has most shamefacedly sought to inject religion into electoral politics. Irony is that even the BJP pronounced its faith in Hindutva a little more subtly.
However, in the on-going campaign in the poll-bound States, the Congress has thrown all caution to the winds. It is laughable that it has now embraced gaumata as its own, protection of which has become the party’s foremost duty. In its manifesto in Madhya Pradesh, the party has promised to open thousands of gaushalas (cow shelters), bottle and market gaumutra (cow urine), while its leaders have professed faith in the properties of cow urine. Indeed, at the press conference where the top three claimants for chief ministership released the party manifesto, one of them made bold to claim that he daily drinks two liters of gaumutra.
But this is not all. In Rajasthan, senior Congress leader C P Joshi claimed that only his party can build the Ram temple and in order to bolster that claim, he recalled how the party had allowed a Ram Lalla temple to come up on the disputed site in Ayodhya in 1949 and how Rajiv Gandhi had allowed the shilanyas to be performed at the very same site. Critics, who accuse the BJP of reviving the Ram temple issue on election time, have been surprisingly tongue-tied about Joshi’s bid to steal the BJP thunder. Usual secularist double-standards, here.
There was more from Joshi a day or two later. He questioned the credentials of non-Brahmins to speak about Hindu religion. “What is Uma Bharati’s caste? She is a Lodh. What is Sadhvi Rithambara’s caste? What religion does she belong to? Narendra Modi belongs to some religion.” A former Union Cabinet Minister and Pradesh Congress Chief, Joshi is not a lightweight leader. He made the above remarks at an election rally. Clearly, his objective was also to impress voters that being a pukka Brahmin, he alone could be the most authentic spokesperson of Hinduism.
A day later, when the video of his remarks went viral on social media and the BJP used it to its own advantage, Rahul Gandhi issued a statement, clarifying that Joshi did not represent the party’s sentiments. But the damage was done. A party which is desperate to don the majoritarian colours would obviously like to present itself as the high priests of Hinduism in the best Brahminical traditions where Dalits, OBCs, and other castes must necessarily play second fiddle.
These are the normal pitfalls of forced, shotgun conversions. Embrace the cow and everything about the cow. Become a Hindu-Hindu party and, to do so, claim to be the authentic voice of a true-blue Brahmin who wears the sacred thread, goes to temples, worships Lord Shiva. What next? Adopt Bhagwa as
the party flag? All this for the sake of a few votes? What a fall, Congressmen!