With the BJP seemingly winning the Hindu narrative, the Congress is attempting to differentiate between the words – Hindu, Hinduism and Hindutva. And, now Rahul Gandhi has said India belongs to Hindus.
At a Congress rally to protest rising prices in Jaipur on Sunday, the party’s top leader Rahul Gandhi said : “This [India] is a country of Hindus and not Hindutvavadis.”
He made a couple of more interesting remarks about Hindus including the one about bringing “the rule of Hindus” in India.
WHAT RAHUL GANDHI SAID
“Since 2014, it’s the Hindutvavadis who are in power, and not Hindus. We need to oust them and bring the rule of Hindus.”
In the context of over a year-long farmers’ agitation and the Narendra Modi government’s decision to repeal the three farm reforms laws, Rahul Gandhi said, “When Hindu farmers stood up, Hindutvavadi said, ‘I apologise’.”
He re-emphasised his Hinduness, saying, “I am Hindu, but not Hindutvavadi. All these people here [pointing to the gathering at the Congress’s rally] are Hindus but not Hindutavavadi.”
Rahul Gandhi also offered his definition of Hindu during his speech. “Who is a Hindu? A Hindu is one who respects all faiths.”
His remarks were bound to evoke sharp responses. All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who has been campaigning to mobilise Muslim voters, took a jibe at Rahul Gandhi. In a sarcastic comment, Owaisi said, “Bringing ‘Hindus to power’ is a ‘secular’ agenda in 2021. Wah!”
Owaisi said, “India belongs to all Bharatiyas. Not Hindus alone. India belongs to people of all faiths and also those who have no faith.”
HINDU VERSUS HINDUTVA: NOT THE FIRST TIME
This was not the first time that Rahul Gandhi had tried to compare Hindu with Hindutva. At a session of Congress workers in Maharashtra, Rahul Gandhi had said, “Why do Hindus need Hindutva when they follow Hinduism? Is Hinduism about beating a Sikh or Muslim person? No. But Hindutva is. Is Hindutva about killing Akhlaq?”
“If you are a Hindu, why do you need Hindutva? Why do you need this new name?”
Rahul Gandhi and the Congress started emphasising on Hinduness following the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The polls were dominated by what analysts called the Modi wave.
But Rahul Gandhi and the Congress’s shift to the other side of the secular divide is a marked departure from the past when the party and its top leaders made conscious effort to reach out to the minorities, particularly Muslims.
On December 9, 2006, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heading a Congress-led government told a meeting of the National Development Council (NDC), “We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources.”
Reaching out to Muslims had been central to the Congress’s politics after Independence. While Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was devoutly committed to secularism, he too faced charges from his own partymen that as the prime minister he veered towards Muslims.
In September 1951, Nehru had forced ‘right wing’ Purushottam Das Tandon to quit as the Congress president and his supporters to resign from the Congress Working Committee. A month later, Nehru declared, “If any man raises his hand against another in the name of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, whether from within the government or outside.”
By 1955, Nehru faced strong pushback from the ‘Hindu right’ Congress leaders over the Hindu Code Bill. One of the strong critics of Nehru’s policy on the matter was JB Kripalani.
During the debate on the Hindu Code Bill in Parliament, Kripalani targeted Nehru saying, “I charge you [Nehru] with communalism because you are bringing forward a law about monogamy only for Hindu community. Take it from me that the Muslim community is prepared to have it but you are not brave enough to do it.”
THROUGH THE GANDHI YEARS: INDIRA AND RAJIV
During her multiple stints as the prime minister, Indira Gandhi carved an image of the ‘protector of Muslims’ for herself. Rajiv Gandhi’s Shah Bano decision to reverse a court judgment under pressure from the Muslim cleric on the question of maintenance to a woman divorced by her husband strengthened the pro-Muslim image of the Congress.
His government attempted to strike a balance by looking on the other side during the lock-opening of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in 1980s. However, under the impact of the campaign for Ram Mandir in Ayodhya through the 1980s and the 1990s, the Congress suffered electoral losses.
A HEADSUP AT CWC BY GADGIL
In 1999, a CWC resolution conceded a pro-Muslim tilt in the party’s decision-making. The resolution asserted that “Hinduism is the most effective guarantor of secularism in India”.
Late VN Gadgil, who was one of the architects of the CWC resolution, was particularly harsh on the Congress leadership for pandering to Muslim hardliners. He was terse over Congress warming up to the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid.
Gadgil said, “Every time the Shahi Imam makes a statement, the party reacts as if God himself has spoken. Do minorities mean only Muslims? What about Buddhists, Sikhs and others? When thirty-six Sikhs were killed in Kashmir, not a single Congressman condoled their deaths.”
“In Jammu and Kashmir, there is not a single Buddhist working in the state secretariat. The only Buddhist who was selected through the state public service commission had to convert to Islam to secure a government job The Congress is silent on this.”
Gadgil said, “While appeasing Muslims, we should not forget Hindus, who are a majority in this state.”
Arguing his case, Gadgil said, “Muslims constitute only 18 per cent of the vote share. Even if all of them vote for the Congress, the party will not come to power. We cannot go on ignoring the sentiments of the remaining 82 per cent.”
MODI-FIED RAHUL, CONGRESS
Finally, after the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the AK Antony committee formed to examine the reasons for the Congress’s humiliating defeat reportedly cited the party’s pro-Muslim image among the voters.
A shift became visible within the Congress and Rahul Gandhi after the Congress’s rout in the polls and Antony committee’s assessment. Rahul Gandhi was seen publicly identifying himself as a Hindu with his temple visits.
However, in the middle of this Hindu shift, Rahul Gandhi hit headlines in Urdu newspaper Inquilab in July 2018. The paper quoted him as saying, “Yes, the Congress is a Muslim party.”
According to the report, Rahul Gandhi at an indoor meeting said, “If BJP says that the Congress is a party of Muslims, it is fine. The Congress is a party of Muslims because Muslims are weak and the Congress always stands with the weak.”
Four months later, in November 2018, as the tempo for the 2019 Lok Sabha election started building up, Rahul Gandhi declared: “My gotra is Dattatreya. I am a Kashmiri Brahmin.”
The Congress held a press conference to declare him a “Shiva Bhakt” (devotee of Lord Shiva) and a “janeu-dhari Brahman” (the sacred-thread wearing Brahman).
This drew a sharp taunt from the BJP with its spokesperson Sambit Patra saying that Rahul Gandhi was an “ichchha-dhari [shape-shifting] Hindu” who wore janeu for political convenience.
With the BJP seemingly winning the Hindu narrative, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress are attempting to differentiate between the words Hindu, Hinduism and Hindutva. Of late, Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Gandhi have displayed their Hindu identity in public.
Priyanka Gandhi recently visited temples in Uttar Pradesh and offered prayers. She addressed a public rally in Varanasi shouting slogans praising Goddess Durga. She began her speech reciting a hymn.
And, now Rahul Gandhi has said India belongs to Hindus.