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Off limits

Publication Date : 15-08-2014


India's Congress president Sonia Gandhi is trying to hang on to a dissolving party with state leaders straining at the leash. She has been unable to shake the status quo, for instance in Maharashtra, despite the fact that the current chief minister is extremely unpopular with the electorate and will cost the Congress valuable votes.

Being cautious, and of course authoritarian in nature, Sonia Gandhi is finding it difficult to move for a change lest that open a new set of circumstances that are more difficult to control than the present.

Her speech to her party MPs at the end of the budget session of Parliament was far stronger than usual. The Congress party that is in the strange situation of finding the BJP---its arch adversary---following its economic and foreign policies should have realised how far to the right it has swung.

 And how far it had departed over the last 10 years from the ideals, objectives and goals laid out by its founding fathers. Unfortunately instead of realising this, and the damage it has done to the polity of India, the party top brass seems to have convinced themselves that the policies were so good that the BJP is copying these. This is what Sonia Gandhi said in her address, as she attacked the BJP for following her government’ s policies at different levels!

This in itself indicates that there will be no course correction on the basic issues of economy and foreign policy. The Manmohan Singh government had swung India so far right, despite loud warnings about the economy in particular from experts, that the BJP has no problem following its policies.

In foreign policy, as Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj pointed out in Parliament recently, her government is following the earlier government’s policy on Palestine and Israel: equate both, have good relations with both, support the Palestinian struggle and ‘maintain’ and ‘strengthen’ relations with Israel. The Congress government did not take a clear cut position for the Palestinians during the last Israeli attack on Gaza when it was in power, the BJP government has done the same. No difference.

In fact even as the Opposition the Congress party has not opened its mouth to condemn in strong terms the genocide in Gaza. It is indeed shameful how this Congress has moved away from all the ideals its forefathers espoused, and all that it can find satisfaction in now is that the BJP is supporting and following its policies! Have Sonia Gandhi and her advisors even stopped to ask why, and what does this mean?

So the only issue that the Congress seems to have left is that of communalism, and judging from the manner in which both Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi have been attacking this, it is clear that this is the new ‘strategy.’ Rahul Gandhi, for the first time in his career as a politician, entered the well of the House with his MPs on the issue of communalism.

Sonia Gandhi spent most part of her address to the MPs lambasting the BJP on this front, and maintaining that while the Congress could tolerate matters of price rise, it would not tolerate any departure from the ideals enshrined in the Constitution. And that it would fight back the forces seeking to divide India on communal lines.

Communalism does not raise its ugly head in a vacuum. An environment has to be created that nurtures this poison, and helps it grow. This has to be done by countering communal forces, and communalism per se on a war footing, and at all levels. And secondly by ensuring that the secular ideology is spread not by targeting one or another community (even favourably!) but by ensuring that the principles of justice, equality, freedom are translated and implemented as per the tenets of the Constitution and the law.

The Congress supported the communal forces in states where it was in power, for instance by accepting the arguments of divisiveness and hate, by arresting innocent persons, and by creating discord and enmity between communities.

In both Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh it worked against the minorities on the ground, but when it came to rhetoric it would pull the Muslims to the forefront and make them the targets of the inimical forces. Scores of Muslim youth were jailed by Congress governments, with the innocents being acquitted after a virtual lifetime in prison with their lives ruined completely.

The Congress has not been able to counter communalism, only pander to it. However, to accept Sonia Gandhi at her word this realisation is welcome. And it will be indeed interesting to see whether the party is able to translate the intent expressed by her into sound policy and action on the ground.

And whether the Congress party has realised that secularism does not mean pandering to the minorities, but ensuring justice, equality, opportunity, security for each and every single citizen of this country without discrimination. And that this also entails distancing state from religion totally?

A disturbing note is that while Sonia Gandhi has vowed to oppose BJP’s brand of communalism, she has not really articulated what her party’s brand of secularism will be. It is all very well to speak of 1947 and before but the Indian polity has undergone many major changes since. And hence several terms we took for granted need to be re-defined, even if it is a reiteration of old definitions at the end of the day. So instead of riding on the communalism of the BJP it would help if the Congress party was able to ride on secularism and turn the negativity into a positive movement.

Even as one writes this, one knows it is too much to ask. A party has to first revive its democratic character and its secular aspirations before it can even hope to counter communalism in this country. And a first here is introspection and a realisation of all that has gone wrong.

For instance, pro-industry and pro-rich economic policies cannot go hand in hand with secularist ideals. This is just impossible. But the Congress still seeks to de-link the two, and in doing so it will never ever be able to counter communalism as its president Sonia Gandhi so emphatically declared at the meeting of the Congress legislature party in Parliament earlier this week.


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