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Karnataka’s Catch 22 Endgame

Saeed Naqvi

(A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on saeednaqvi@hotmail.com. 
The views expressed are personal.)
 
I t was what a film director would have described as a perfect take. “You are a beginner,” he said, grinding his teeth in simulated anger. “These are your days to learn.” A measured pause; he then emoted. “And you are insulting a former Prime Minister, a senior-most leader?”
This was Narendra Modi chastising Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President. In the course of a fierce three-way election campaign, Rahul Gandhi, prompted by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, described the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) as the B team of the Sangh Parivar. Modi tore into Rahul.
The manner in which Modi leapt to Dewe Gowda’s defence raised eyebrows. The outburst cast the JD-S as a party which had the BJP’s sympathies.
If this creeping murmur reached Muslim enclaves which were once Congress vote banks, a section of the Muslim vote which would otherwise have travelled towards Gowda, would check itself. This would be ironical given that the “S” in JD-S stands for secular. After the demolition of the Babari Masjid in 1992, the disenchanted Muslim vote, walking out of the Congress fold, was waylaid by regional parties. In Karnataka, this vote took respite under the JD-S umbrella.
In these circumstances, is the Congress delusion, of being the “only” national alternative, sustainable when a pan-Indian quantity like Muslims is permanently averse to it in the states? To overtly woo Muslims, Congress leadership has been advised, risks loss of Hindu vote in direct proportion to the saffron in the air. Congress avionics are now conditioned entirely by these weather conditions. Such abject dependence on the weather will have its logic. There will be occasion when the flight will not take off at all.
Now, the post-Babari shortfall has to be made up by holding on assiduously to the Hindu vote. This requires the kind of Hindu cohesion the Congress is not geared for. If it plugs upper caste haemorrhage, the lower castes flow out into regional receptacles. It cannot do what the BJP does: Pose the Muslim as the unstated other for Hindu consolidation. The Congress simply steers clear of the Muslim like one would steer clear of trouble. It differentiates itself from the BJP, though. It has a distinct self-image: It’s the party of “good Hindus”. It does not endorse the lumpenisation associated with “street” Hindutva or the BJP.
It is a difficult pirouette. How do you project yourself as a squeaky clean Hindu without criticising excesses in the name of the cow, love jehad, Muslim youth languishing in jails without trial. National monuments like the Red Fort will now be handed to cement magnates for repair and maintenance and so on.
All right, the BJP erects its “hard” Hindu edifice “othering” the Muslims. How does the Congress delineate its “soft” Hindu outlines? Is there clarity or is it all hazy and vague?
Modi chastised Rahul for bad-mouthing Gowda. Rahul found it so important to come clean on the subject that he agreed to give his very first newspaper interview since he became Congress President in December to Karnataka’s Deccan Herald group of newspapers. (IANS)

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Ankur Kalita