Soft Hindutva is no cure for Congress

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INDIAN Muslims fell out of love with the Congress, long before Rajiv Gandhi decided to unlock the doors of Babri Masjid, unleashing a monster that still continues to maul the Indian polity.

The Muslims haven’t still gotten over the fact that it was under the Congress that idols were first sneaked into the 16th century mosque in 1949 and it was a Congress government that allowed ‘shilanyas’ (foundation) ceremony for Ram temple in Ayodhya. Again, it was under Narasimha Rao of the Congress that a Hindu mob was allowed to amass and eventually destroy the mosque on Dec. 6, 1992.

No wonder the Congress remained the most despised party for Muslims throughout the 90s, perhaps even more than the BJP. They strategically voted against it wherever possible, keeping the party out of power for long years and giving rise to regional secular parties. They would vote for anyone but the Congress.

When Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the grand old party, it took her years of hard work and reaching out that persuaded the Muslims to forgive the party. They saw Sonia’s Congress as a different beast than what it had become under Indira Gandhi and her sons.

The Congress was seen as a secular and inclusive party for oppressed communities, especially after it chose Manmohan Singh as prime minister. It was considered the best bet to keep out the Hindutva.

This is why it’s interesting that the Congress is now overwrought by the notion that it is perceived as a “pro-Muslim party”. Speaking at the India Today Conclave last week, Sonia emphasized that the Congress is taking steps to “correct” this perception.

Course correction is always welcome, if you know what has gone wrong in the first place! Who would have any issues if the Congress reaches out to the electorate whose majority happens to be Hindu?

But if voters are deserting the party that led India’s freedom movement, it has nothing to do with Muslims or its ‘bias’ in favor of the minority.

Ironically, the ‘appeasement and pampering of Muslims’ by the Congress has long been the myth spawned by the BJP. The saffron party has exploited it successfully over the years to create an absurd fear psychosis and victimhood in the 80 percent Hindu majority vis-à-vis a voiceless minority that is, according to census, barely around 13 percent.

The BJP has used the Muslim bogey to grow from the margins of Indian politics into the monster of a party that now rules 21 of India’s 29 states. Clearly, by viewing this meteoric rise of the BJP as a fallout of the Congress’ “pro-Muslim policies,” the party is beginning to believe the myth perpetuated by the Hindutva.

If the BJP has reached this far it is not because of the secular pandering to Muslims but because of the Congress’ criminal failure to confront Hindutva ideologically and check its politics of hate and intolerance all these years.

Ignoring the historical role of the right in the destabilization of the country by purveying hate and strife between Hindus and Muslims and their role in Gandhi’s assassination as well as thousands of anti-Muslim riots, successive Congress governments humored it and looked the other way. Not one person involved in all those riots under the Congress has ever been convicted!

It is under the Congress that thousands of shakhas of the RSS have operated openly preaching hate and physical training to impressionable Hindu youth.

It is thanks to the RSS’ groundwork and indoctrination under the watchful eyes of the Congress that the BJP is in power today and enjoys unassailable position across the length and breadth of India. The Congress has to blame no one but itself for this.

The BJP has grown all these years right under the nose of the Congress, at the expense of the Congress and with the blessings of the Congress! And not because of its much-trumpeted munificence and ‘soft corner’ for Muslims!

The number of those killed in anti-Muslim riots since independence runs in millions. Ensnared in false cases by security agencies, thousands of young, promising lives have been wrecked.

While a significant majority of Muslims, charmed by Nehru’s liberal, effervescent personality and the idea of an inclusive India, rejected the idea of Pakistan and chose to stay in India, the Congress presided over a systematic devaluing and dehumanizing of the minority community.

Using its famous politics of tokenism and feeding stereotypes of skullcap sporting netas (politicians) fraternizing with the community, it has kept Muslims down in the dumps in every respect.

Even as the Congress allowed Hindutva to grow into an unstoppable force, it used the specter to keep Muslims locked away forever in their ghettoes.

If Muslims are at the bottom of the pit, in terms of all socio-political and economic indicators and stare at an increasingly bleak future, the credit goes to the Congress.

Without a voice and presence reflecting their population size in parliament and assemblies, in government services and the highest decision-making bodies, the dispossession and powerlessness of Muslims is complete and unprecedented.

In 2014, Uttar Pradesh with a population of more than 200 million – 20 percent of them Muslims — did not elect a single Muslim out of 80 MPs. There are just 22 Muslims in a Parliament of 545 members. Which is less than 4.2 percent — the lowest ever in history. Their representation in civil services is around 2.5 percent. It’s equally negligible in police and security forces.

In his book, Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India, the late Omar Khalidi argues that not only is the number of Muslims wearing army fatigues not proportional to their share in population, it is politically indeterminate and potentially minuscule. Former Defense Minister Mulayam Singh suggested that it stood around 1 percent.

The dispossessed minority is seen as the “safest enemy to have” in India today, in the words of Ajay Gudavarthy. Anyone can get away with murder and often does.

As the party that has governed India for more than half a century, the Congress is solely responsible for this state of affairs. Yet the Muslims have supported it again and again ignoring its historic sins because they see it as more broad-based in nature representing India’s pluralism.

Not only has the Congress long taken the Muslim support for granted without giving anything in return, in its increasing desperation to reach out to the majority, it is beginning to see it as a millstone around its neck.

If the grand old party thinks it can win back the majority by deliberately shunning the minority and by endless temple visits, it is welcome to its delusions. In any case, it’s not the Muslims who need the Congress but the other way around.

The Congress can win back the voters’ confidence — Hindus, Muslims and everyone else — by not playing these cheap, self-serving games with the BJP but by going back to the values and ideas that once inspired it — inclusion, secularism and progress for all.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and editor. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com


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