The Congress has not lost its penchant for competitive politics, despite being beaten at the game over and over again. Every now and again, and particularly before state or Lok Sabha elections, it pits itself against the BJP in a bid to consolidate the vote. And every single time it finds itself at the losing end, with the politics of the country moving more and more towards the right in the process.
Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde let the cat that many of us suspected was in the bag, to lash out at what he described rather deliberately as Hindu terrorism. The Congress it must be pointed out at this stage believes, and genuinely so, that secularism can be limited to rhetoric and every now and again a statement of this kind will help it regain the trust and confidence of the secularists and minorities without really committing it to policies that will alienate others.
But this time, as before, the Congress beat a hasty retreat when confronted by an aggressive BJP, with Shinde doing irreparable damage to secularism per se with his apology and decision to withdraw the statement altogether.
This is a significant controversy as one, Shinde is not a novice in politics and his statement about “Hindu terror” was clearly offensive in that terrorism cannot be Muslim or Hindu. So by describing it as such, the home minister was clearly trying to earn some brownie points and project himself as a ‘secularist’. This boomeranged, as he possibly knew it would, and the BJP went for the jugular leading to his Parliament eve “regret” and an additional “there is no basis for suggesting that terror can be linked to organizations mentioned in my brief speech in Jaipur.” So the questions that remain unanswered are: 1) Why did the home minister of India make such a statement, on what basis, and with what facts? 2) On what basis did he withdraw these remarks? 3) What about the evidence linking several Hindutva organisations to terror attacks, are we to believe that in the home minister’s view such evidence does not really exist? And regardless of whether the responses are affirmative or not, the fact remains that Mr Shinde is clearly not a very responsible minister, as his flip flop on what is a very serious issue demonstrates, and should be held accountable by the very government he serves.
In the process, once again, the BJP has been able to push back the Congress, and gain more space for the right wing forces and arguments. This has been the pattern for decades now, becoming more visible since the 1990s. The Congress party virtually joined the BJP at that time in sealing the fate of the Babri mosque by allowing the shilanyas, giving the call for Ram Rajya and eventually standing by while the old structure was brought down dome by dome. The BJP gained tremendously with the Congress being reduced eventually to a cipher in its home states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In Maharashtra, the Congress-led government has looked the other way while its police joined right wing forces to attack the minorities; has targeted and arrested Muslim youth all over the state; and in short, has not behaved very different from the right-wing forces it pretends to oppose.
The Indians like political parties that take a stand, and do not have much respect for those who take all kinds of positions without sticking really to any. The BJP is clear about its ideology, the regional parties know who they represent and where their political interests lie, but the Congress has still not been able to make up its mind whether it stands for secularism or is more at home in a communal environment. A responsible leader from a third party told this columnist the other day that the Congress party was promoting Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, in the hope that his presence as a prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 general elections would swing the minority and secular vote to Rahul Gandhi and other leaders within. It is true that the opposition from the Congress to Modi either in Gujarat or in other parts of the country is little more than lip service, with big industry presently supporting both Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Congressmen insist that this will work to their advantage, but as Indians have seen over and over again, the Congress brand of competitive politics rarely serves its interests, and ends up helping the BJP at the hustings.
The writer is a senior New Delhi-based journalist