This is my published article, first appeared on Daily O on 12th May 2018.
The Congress party has no vision or ideology – This has been an oft repeated rhetoric from the right wing camp. As Raul Gandhi appears to be coming of age and putting up a fight against Modi, every concerned individual is asking the same question, but what is his vision for the country.
In their debate series called ‘Talk Point’ the current affairs website ‘The Print’ asked “Is Congress’s ‘jan aakrosh’ a sound strategy for 2019 or is it just a political slogan?” In response Mr. Seshadri Chari, former editor of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) affiliated magazine Organiser expressed his disappointment that in the Rally the Congress President failed to show any agenda. “This was an opportunity for the Congress to project an alternative political agenda,” said Mr. Chari.
During Rahul Gandhi’s interactive session with Bengaluru citizens at the launch of Samruddha Bharat Foundation on Tuesday, one of the audience members asked him, “…what is your imagination, your agenda, your vision for Congress and India…”
This search for an “agenda” is a convoluted idea. Perhaps it’s true, Congress party has no agenda, and that’s a good thing. Should political parties have any other agenda beyond following the Constitution and focusing on citizen’s needs? Sure every political party must have a manifesto with some promises for the future but whether these qualify as the loaded word “agenda” is debatable.
The Bhartiya Janta Party has an “agenda” like a pro, it is the mother of all agendas, an agenda on steroid – Hindu Rashtra. The RSS has tirelessly worked across the length and breadth of this country for over six decades with a single agenda, to fulfill the unfinished dream of RSS Guru Golwalkar of making India a nation for Hindus where non-Hindus can stay only at the mercy of Hindus, with no rights whatsoever. To quote Golwalkar, “the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture…must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizen’s rights. (page 104, We Or Our Nationhood Defined’, 1939)
RSS kept its eyes on this goal for six decades like Arjuna had his eyes on the bird’s eye and tirelessly peddled the ideas and beliefs of Hindu nationalism in every nook and corner, in every home, in every heart.
Nationalism is an identity based political ideology that first emerged in early 19th century Europe. It is based upon the idea of inclusivity and exclusivity of certain people to the claim of certain land. Who legitimately belongs to the nation and who does not? Nationalism survives upon a combination of threat perceptions and hatred. For the nationalistic fervor to survive there is always a need to have an enemy, the proverbial “other” – whoever doesn’t seem to fit the chosen identity. Nationalism is like a fictitious story in which you have a hero (Hindu upper caste males), his woman (mothers daughters sisters of the Hindu male), a villain (Muslims, Christians) who is coming to destroy the hero, take his woman (by love jihad) and his land, resources, and so on. The “other” must be both hated and feared and kept within the control, be shown their true place, reduced to second class citizen, lest they become too powerful.
For six decades RSS weaved the story of Hindu nationalism invented misplaced hate and fear for the imaginary foreigners and finally their hard work paid off in May 2014 when Narendra Modi, RSS Pracharak and three times Chief Minister of Gujarat under whose watch over 1500 Muslims were butchered in one of independent India’s most bloodied anti-Muslim riots, as Prime Minister of India. And their hard work has been since paying off, state after state, ruling 22 states at last count.
Unfortunately, nationalism don’t take you too far. It is a narrow self-eroding idea that alienates and disorients people. As BJP is coming to realize in Assam, that it might be easy to consolidate Hindu votes by vilifying and othering Muslims, but it is not as easy to manage the sub-nationalities that exists within the umbrella of Hindu nation – the caste nation, language nation, and a thousand others in a country as diverse and multicultural as India.
The tension brewing in Assam between Bengali Hindus and Assamese Hindus in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2016 just proves that BJP is utterly inefficient and clueless in governing such a vast and diverse country like India, wearing unified Hindutva glasses.
In a bid to increase India’s Hindu population the Center introduced amendments in the Citizenship Act of 1955 which will allow India to grant selective citizenship only to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and few other countries. This is against the Assam Accord signed in 1985, which is held as sacrosanct by the Assamese nationalists of Brahmaputra Valley, and which fixed 25th March 1971 as the cut-off date for accepting immigrants as citizen. But the Bengali Hindu population in Barak Valley have taken completely opposing position on the bill, they say the Assam Accord is not so sacrosanct, it didn’t accommodate the interests of all parties involved and are adamant that the Amendment Bill is passed failing which they will seek separate statehood.
The conflict has opened up the fault lines of the valley rekindling age old enmity between Bengalis and Assamese. Assam nationalist groups of Brahmaputra valley fear that by adding Bengali population to Assam, the region’s indigenous culture will be destroyed. “Assamese khatre mein hai (Assamese are at threat)” so to speak.
The Indian Express reported, “Cutting across political parties, a large number of people protested against granting of Indian citizenship to Hindu foreigners on Tuesday, saying it would threaten the existence of the indigenous people of Assam.”
It is ironic that BJP is seeking votes in state after state on the same Hindutva plank, raising dead like Jinnah, Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan, insinuating that former PM and Vice President are conspiring with Pakistan, manufacturing fake news to spread hate, fear, and violence; PM Modi in speech after speech in the most uncouth manner is attacking opposition in all sorts of frivolous fake grounds – yet it is this very Hindutva that is failing in Assam and unleashing utter chaos and possible violence.
People of Assam may have overwhelmingly voted for a Hindu nationalist party because of their internalized hate for one type of foreigner Bangladeshi immigrants, which was a major poll plank during both the election campaigns Lok Sabha elections in May 2014 and Assam Assembly elections in May 2016. “Come May 16, Bangladeshi immigrants must pack up,” said Modi in one of his speeches. Now the foreigner has a new dimension to its identity ‘Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants.’
What is amusing is that leading voices opposing the Amendments is relying upon principles of secularism to justify their position. “Amendment to this Bill is going to violate the Assam Accord. Our country is secular, you cannot divide it on religious lines,” said AGP leader opposing the bill.
As it seems then, the Hindutva agenda backfired in Assam. Assamese are united as a linguistic nationality, not Hindu nationality and are rather relying upon Secular values to oppose a selective intake of immigrants.
“BJP unites India under the Hinduism fold and Congress divides India using multiple sub-nationalities” is a lie peddled by RSS for many years. In truth, perhaps Congress had managed the country and it’s complex issues for so long using various methods, some good, some bad, some successful some not so successful, giving a little bit of leverage to all parties – something the RSS calls ‘minority appeasement’.
Note, I have added emphasis to the word foreigners throughout this article, to ask, who is a foreigner and who is Indian? The danger of following nationalist agenda is that the hate for foreigners is insatiable. Nationalism would keep inventing foreigners or “others” for its own survival. This ultimately gets manifested in everyday lives through violence upon women, children, weak and vulnerable irrespective of religion.
Coming back to Rahul Gandhi’s answer to that question, “It is not my agenda for the country…I am an enabler, I don’t impose upon the country some fancy dream I got. I have come to realize you can’t build a vision for a country, just on an individual basis. My job is to listen to you, have these conversations and then translate that into what you feel comfortable.”
In only RSS and BJP didn’t try to impose one or two individual’s fanciful dreams upon the entire country.