Abdul Bari Masoud reports from Udaipur.
Congress doesn’t seem to remain trapped between politics of ‘soft Hindutva’ and ‘secularism’ anymore as sources from the party’s three-day conclave held in Udaipur from May 13 to 15 suggest that the party might take a ‘firm stand’ against the politics of polarisation. Precisely, electoral defeats over the years might have led the party top brass to have a clear-cut stand as it took in the backdrop of 2002 Gujarat riots during the Shimla Brainstorming session held in 2003.
Exposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lofty maximum governance, minimum government slogan, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said it is ‘painfully clear’, the policy meant keeping the country in a permanent state of polarisation, brutalising minorities and threatening political opponents. She added, “It means viciously targeting, victimising and often brutalising minorities who are an integral part of our society and are equal citizens of our republic…. It means using our society’s age-old pluralities to divide us and subverting the carefully nurtured idea of unity in diversity.”
COMMUNALISM HOT TOPIC OF CONCLAVE
Sonia Gandhi did not directly mention the Muslim community in her remarks during her inaugural address to the ‘Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir’ but her words were obvious.
Urging members of the party to combat RSS-BJP’s policy of polarisation, she said, “Most Indians want to live in an atmosphere of peace, amity and harmony. BJP and its cohorts and surrogates want to keep people in perpetual state of frenzy. They constantly provoke, instigate and inflame.”
She went ahead saying that “we have to combat this virus of divisiveness that’s being maliciously spread.”
Hitting out at RSS and its political arm, she said the country is facing numerous ‘challenges due to their policies’ and the conclave gives the party an opportunity to discuss those challenges.
Prior to Sonia Gandhi’s speech, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also made scathing attacks on BJP and RSS. He said, “Today these people have occupied the country in the name of religion. Religion and caste is an issue that can incite riots and violence. Without referring to the recent incidents of communal troubles in Karuli and other places, he said now Rajasthan is number one in their target. Their people are clean of any wrongdoings as there is no raid on them.
Attacking further, the CM said they shamelessly say: What did the Congress do in 70 years?
“Our weakness is that we work but don’t do marketing. These are false fraud people, who work less and indulge in more marketing of their work,” Gehlot remarked.
Over 400 Congressmen and women gathered in Udaipur to discuss the state of the country, the political situation, the economy, the role of political parties, the organisational strengths and weaknesses of the Congress Party, threats to unity, diversity and secularism, the burdens, fears, and expectations of the average family, and a variety of other topics.
Six panels were formed to discuss a variety of topics, including: 1. Attack on the Constitution and Democracy; 2. Protecting religious, linguistic and other forms of variety; 3. Community polarisation is increasing; 4. Self-governing bodies and institutions must be protected; 5. Policy and national security; and 6. Relations between the centre and the states, as well as the choice to form an alliance with regional parties.
The Modi government has completed its three years of the second term in office. The government’s egregious shortcomings in dealing with the economy and the epidemic are internationally acknowledged. Despite its numerous failures, the BJP has continued to win elections by polarising voters and dividing the country along religious and communal lines. The ruling party has done nothing to stop the rising tide of hate speech, which should have been a top priority for any responsible government, but instead has given hatemongers tacit support. They have reaped political benefits by inciting social conflict, creating communal dog whistles, and spreading dread.
Speaking at Chintan Shivir, Mallikarjun Kharge, convenor of political panel, slammed the BJP for its ‘pseudo-nationalism’. He stated that the country is witnessing a fresh phase of communal frenzy and hatred. The ruling BJP and the RSS are deliberately creating fissures on questions of food, faith, festivals, on clothes people wear, languages they speak or the people they love. Uses of provocative language and violence have increased with the ruling establishment looking away, he warned.
It is being encouraged for fringe groups, petty and desperate leaders to propagate communalism, fear, and hatred. Before festivals, provocative statements and slogans have grown frequent, with the police acting as spectators.
Attacking PM Modi, the Opposition leader in Rajya Sabha said, “What is alarming is the conspicuous silence of the Prime Minister. While he loves to speak and does speak endlessly, he has spared no word yet to condemn the bizarre public threats of killing, rape and genocide. His sustained silence has emboldened these fringe elements.”
RSS’ PSEUDO NATIONALISM
He highlighted that the fight in the country is about true Indian nationalism represented by the grand old party as against BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s brand of fake and pseudo nationalism.
“Neither were RSS members there nor were they jailed for fighting the British. They weren’t even involved in the struggle to free India and now they want to teach us (Congress) about ‘desh bhakti’ and nationalism,” said Kharge impassionedly at a press conference held on May 13.
In response to the BJP’s nationalist rhetoric, the Congress rallied behind its pre-Independence freedom warrior heroes. We’re battling on all fronts. They want to teach us something. “If the Sangh members are asal deskbhakt,” Kharge remarked, “where were they during the Quit India campaign and Gandhiji’s marches?”
Reportedly, leaders in the political issues committee meeting said that the idea wasn’t to “reclaim” nationalism but to assert that the Congress represented Indian nationalism and that the BJP represented a “distortion” or “pseudo-nationalism”.
The political committee, according to Kharge, discussed nine issues: attacks on the Constitution and democracy, protecting diversity, religious and linguistic minorities, rising communal polarisation, protecting autonomous bodies and institutions, national security and foreign policy, Centre-state relations, decisions on alliances with regional parties, and issues of North-East states and Jammu and Kashmir.
RULING THROUGH ORDINANCES
Kharge also underlined that the government has also avoided discussions in Parliament. Legislations are passed with little deliberation.
“The government has forced several legislations in great haste; overruling Opposition demands to send the Bills for scrutiny to Parliamentary Committees. We wanted a discussion on the withdrawal of the three farm Acts which the government had imposed through ordinances in the first place. But the legislation withdrawing the farm laws took three minutes in the Lok Sabha and four minutes in the Rajya Sabha to pass.”
Ruling this country through ordinances, in the seven years since 2014, on an average 11 ordinances were promulgated by the Modi Government each year. Over 80 ordinances have been promulgated since 2014. While 70% of the Bills during UPA’s time were referred to Parliamentary committees for scrutiny, the percentage since 2014 is less than 10%, he added.
ECONOMY CAUSE OF EXTREME CONCERN
Senior Congress leader and convener of economic panel P Chidambaram asserted that the state of India’s economy is a cause of “extreme concern”.
When this correspondent asked about the parallel being drawn from the Sri Lankan crisis? Chidambaram said, “No! I don’t wish for it, nor do I fear it. We still have a democratic process although attempts are made by the Modi government to suppress the voices in Parliament and outside. We still have a democratic process and I don’t wish for a Sri Lanka kind of crisis here. I don’t fear a Sri Lanka kind of crisis here, but the democratic opposition must be allowed to speak and protest.”
He dismissed the narrative being propelled by a section of media about the effects of Russia-Ukraine conflicts, saying it is a “lame excuse.” He said, “India cannot blame the rise in oil prices as a reason for this high inflation. This high inflation, there is an inflationary trend that was noticed even during pre-Ukraine war. The high fuel taxes, the high administered prices on cooking gas and the high GST rates, all pre-Ukraine war. Next, they will say Mr. Putin just imposed taxes, that is rubbish.”
U-TURN ON WOMEN’S POLITICAL RESERVATION
In a key recommendation, the social justice and empowerment panel headed by Salman Khurshid suggested that there should be a debate within the party on the issue of reservation for backward communities in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The panel is of the view that there should be quota within quota for SC/ST, backward communities and minorities in the proposed 33% political reservation for women.
The committee has also come to the conclusion that the party should go for a 33 per cent reservation permitting “quota within quota” for women, he said.
It may recall that the Rajya Sabha had passed a Bill providing for 33 per cent reservation for women in 2010, but it could not be passed in the Lok Sabha because of objections raised by the UPA government’s alliance partners.
The party may also go for empowering backward communities through the social justice mode by ensuring greater representation to those belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backwards Communities (OBCs) and the minorities in its organisational structure.
A member of the committee, K Raju, suggested that the formation of a social justice advisory council would go a long way in serving the party to deal with various issues related to the SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities and it would also give impetus to such communities.
The committee recommends that the question of giving reservation for SCs, STs, and OBCs in the private sector be raised. It appears that giving them reservations in government positions is insufficient. Recently, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi raised the issue of ‘Hindutva vs Hinduism,’ which has gained widespread media attention, with many praising Gandhi scion for “plainly explaining the meaning of Hinduism and Hindutva,” the former being an inclusive and secular concept as opposed to the BJP’s Hindutva, which is a divisive political doctrine.
Unlike previous brainstorming conclaves at Panchmarhi, Shimla and Jaipur, the Congress Party this time took a “visible shift” in the policy direction to counter polarisation on national and local levels, emerging from Chintan Shivir. Speaking with Radiance, Syed Nasir Hussain, MP from Karnataka, said the party should take a clear stand on communal issues and not give RSS-BJP a chance to set a narrative on any communal issues. There should be a divide in the opinion of the majority community on such issues. Either stop playing soft Hindutva or embrace it fully. Therefore, the party should counter Hindutva with more vigour and energy without fear of losing votes.