By Saeed qvi
How indistinguishable the Congress ideologically is from the BJP was the theme of the main edit page article written by French scholars Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers in the Indian Express on October 5.
The editor grasped the heart of the matter and gave it an apt headline: Congress and the BJP, “Tweedledum and Tweedledee”. The Jaffrelot-Verniers duo focused on Gujarat — on how principal leaders have repeatedly swung from one side to the other like trapeze artistes in a circus.
I suspect this is the beginning of a wider research because the Tweedledum-Tweedledee image is applicable to all regions wherever there is some Congress presence. In most places it looks like the BJP’s B team — and has conceded space to it for that very reason.
In recent decades there have been two distinct postures the Congress has struck towards the BJP. In Madhya Pradesh, under the leadership of Arjun Singh and Digvijay Singh, the party took the BJP head on. There was no other force to combat.
In Kerala, particularly under K. Karukaran’s chief ministership, the party turned to the Sangh Parivar, whenever help was required for electoral battles with the Left Front. In fact, Karukaran was a master at ambidextrous politics. On one occasion in Kozhikode, he maneuvred the Congress, BJP and Muslim League on the same side to defeat the CPI-M’s T.K. Hamza.
What has been the result of the Congress grappling with Hindutva in Bhopal or flirting with it in Thiruvanthapauram?
State and district-level Muslim Congress leaders I met last week in Indore, Dhar and Mandu painted a dismal picture of their circumstances. Their party’s high command in New Delhi or Bhopal took them for granted. “TI” (There Is No Altertive) factor applies to us, Mohammad Kamran, a Youth Congress leader, lamented. When a Muslim majority village was gutted, no “senior” (for which read “Hindu”) Congress leader turned up.
Circumstances in Rajasthan are similar. When 10 Muslims were shot dead by policemen in Gopalgarh in 2011, an hour’s drive from Delhi, neither Rahul Gandhi nor the then Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, considered it worth their while to visit despite several delegations imploring them to do so. This was the first instance in the country of police firing inside a mosque.
In Kerala, the frequent Congress dependence on sectarian groups has had the effect of slowly opening the door just enough for Hindutva forces to make a bid for replacing the Congress. That this process has been slow is attributable to the state’s distinct and enlightened social structure.
This did not deter Karukaran from his efforts to “Brahminise” Rajiv Gandhi who, in his perception, would not graduate from the ranks of the “Baba log” without persistent “ang pradarshan” or ritual prayers at the Krish temple in Guruvayur. Whether Rajiv Gandhi transited to becoming a Brahmin or even a Hindu is less than clear. What is certain is that he developed a taste for Guruvayur’s famous rice and milk pudding and payasam, large quantities of which were made available for his extended family’s New Year celebrations at Lakshadweep.
Rajiv Gandhi’s unprecedented victory in the December 1984 elections (404 seats in a House of 514) was interpreted as Hindu consolidation in response to minority commulism which had resulted in Indira Gandhi’s assassition. Even the party treasurer, Sitaram Kesari, non-commul to his fingertips, interpreted the mandate in majoritarian terms.
In 1986, VN Gadgil, among the more enlightened general secretaries of the Congress, told me in great confidence: “The feeling is widespread among Hindus that Muslims were being appeased.”
This thinking guided subsequent Congress actions, making it just as indistinguishable from the BJP as Jeffrelot and Verniers found it in Gujarat. How “appeased” the Muslims were became clear in the Sachar Committee report on their social-economic conditions during 60 years of Congress rule. They had, in their social status, tumbled below the lowest Dalits.
The Justice Rangath Misra Commission’s recommendations to help Muslims out of the plight described by the Sachar Committee was placed on the shelf where it gathers dust to this day.
The Srikrish Commission, which med politicians directly involved in the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 in which 900 people (the majority of them Muslims) were killed and their shops and houses gutted, has remained a secret.(Saeed qvi is a commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)