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February 8, 2019

The BJP’s B-team

Opinion

February 8, 2019

The more things change in India, the more they seem to remain the same. How else would one explain the decision to slap the draconian National Security Act (NSA) against three Muslims in Madhya Pradesh in the name of alleged cow slaughter?

Of course, such bizarre things have become commonplace under the blessed rule of the BJP. Most recently, everyone scratched their heads in wonder when a group of Muslims was charged with the notorious NSA for alleged cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district while the killers of a senior police officer, shot dead with his own service revolver after being beaten black and blue by an angry mob, remain at large. But then again, India’s most populous state of 200 million people is ruled by Yogi Adityanath who himself faces a number of cases, including those of rioting and murder.

The saffron-robed Hindu priest promised to install Hindu deities in every mosque in the country and “take 100 Muslim girls”, even if one Hindu girl marries a Muslim. One of his supporters in his presence exhorted Hindu youths to rape Muslim women, even if they have to dig them up from their graves. The speech was so shocking that the Washington Post quoted it after Yogi took charge of the state that sends the largest chunk of lawmakers, 80, to the Indian parliament.

However, unlike UP, Madhya Pradesh is now ruled by the Congress Party. In fact, a new Congress government, led by Kamal Nath, took charge less than two months ago – on December 17, to be precise – after many long years of the BJP rule, bringing much cheer to all those believing in inclusive politics and the idea of a secular, progressive India.

The return of the grand old party to power in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh after years in the political wilderness in these states is rightly seen as a decisive vote against the Modi government at the centre and its divisive agenda, and the clearest sign yet that the Congress is on a comeback trail.

Perhaps no one has welcomed the renewal of the Congress and its return to power in the three battleground states as enthusiastically as religious minorities, especially Muslims, have. After all, they have been perpetually at the receiving end under the BJP governments at the centre and in various states, facing lynchings and witch-hunts in the name of the holy cow and other sacred absurdities.

Muslims have become the Jim Crows of the “new India”, even as the propagandist-in-chief preaches ‘sab ka sath, sab ka vikas’ with a straight face. The rank hypocrisy and duplicity of this order would have received Orwell’s nod of approval.

All this was supposed to change with the change of guard in the three states. After all, the Congress is supposed to represent the values and ideals that inspired India’s founding fathers and are celebrated by our fine constitution. Religious freedom, secularism as the dogma of the state, and the equality of all citizens before the law – these are the values that brought India global respect and recognition as the world’s largest democracy.

Rahul Gandhi, who formally took charge as the president of the Congress last year, has been championing and defending the same idea of India vociferously and passionately, even as he attacks the governing BJP and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for undermining it.

Perhaps no Congress leader, including his mother and late father and grandmother, has attacked the RSS – the mothership of the BJP and the rest of the Sangh clan – as fearlessly as this Gandhi has. He has repeatedly talked about the fascist worldview of the Parivar and how it has been exploiting the religious sentiments of Hindus on issues like Ayodhya to benefit the BJP electorally.

He has not even shied away from shining a light on the Hindu Right’s role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, and how its top leaders sat out the country’s freedom struggle and collaborated with the British.

More importantly, as I argued in my last piece, Rahul has offered a doctrine of hope and inclusivity against the politics of hate and confrontation of his detractors. With great courage and sincerity, he has portrayed the Congress and its idea of India as something that belongs to all communities and sections of society.

He has been reaching out to various sections of society, including religious minorities, Dalits and other marginalised groups, who have over the years drifted away from the party. And it seems that his message is increasingly hitting home, right on target, if the massive crowds that the Congress leader has lately been attracting are anything to go by.

As a result, a consensus is emerging in the country and even among the many regional stakeholders that the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, can offer a positive and much-needed alternative to Modi’s BJP.

Unfortunately, it seems the old guard in the Congress – which has always practised what is seen as ‘soft Hindutva’, even under Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi – is still resisting and is keen to revert to old ways. This is the same lobby that persuaded the late Rajiv Gandhi to open the doors of Babri Masjid, locked since the idols of Ram were surreptitiously installed in the 16th century mosque in 1949, plunging the country into an endless Mandir-Masjid crisis and Hindu-Muslim conflict.

So what message is MP’s Congress government trying to send just ahead of the 2019 elections? That there is no real difference between the BJP and the Congress when it comes to wooing the majoritarian instincts of the mob at the expense of rule of law and the requisites of justice?

As the Times of India notes in a scathing editorial on Thursday, India’s two national parties mirror each other when in power. Slamming the extremes to which the Congress government in MP and elsewhere are resorting to in their faithful emulation of ‘cow-protection’ policies of the BJP, the country’s largest newspaper comments: “It turns out that chief ministers Yogi Adityanath and Kamal Nath have more in common than they may care to admit. Three Muslims accused of cow slaughter in MP have been slapped with the stringent National Security Act.

“NSA is a draconian preventive detention law meant to be used sparingly – not for ordinary crimes or for punishing minorities but specifically in case of threats to national security. Its inapplicability in such cases constitutes a clear instance of abuse of power. Take the case of cow protection.

“A bad idea that has killed the cattle trade, diminished farm incomes, created a stray cow menace, and promoted overgrazing should have been allowed to die a natural death once Congress replaced BJP in MP. The invoking of NSA and zeal for cow protection reveal the contagion of bad ideas. Congress appropriates BJP’s bad ideas and vice versa.”

It is about time Rahul Gandhi stressed to his flock, including his chief ministers, that the Congress cannot return to power by trying to be the B-team of the BJP. If voters want Hindutva, why would they choose its lighter, spurious version offered by the Congress? Wouldn’t they vote for the real thing? India wants and needs real change – a better, inclusive model of governance, not the ‘Hindutva lite’ of pretenders like Kamal Nath.

The writer is an independent writer and former editor.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AijazZaka

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