Rahul Gandhi is Right. Congress Must Fight for Minorities Vocally and Candidly

Indian Muslims have put their faith in the grand old party. It must not let them down.

5 min read

Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi is a first-time MP of the National Conference from Budgam, Kashmir, representing the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency. Rather unusually, during his election campaign, he went around apologising to the Kashmiri Pandits who had been driven out of the valley.

Though there are only a few left in the valley, his campaign pitch did not hurt him electorally. On the contrary, he got a lot of visibility and also managed to articulate views that have been largely forgotten. He thundered in the newly constituted Parliament, “The INDIA bloc partners can speak freely about other minorities but not about Muslims. They need to change this. In the general election, Muslims substantially voted for this alliance and consolidated in favour of it.”

By saying all this, Mehdi, a Shia leader, was pointing at the Congress party, which indeed got the benefit of the nationwide Muslim vote to upset the predictions of many pollsters. The party, however, continues to be reluctant to speak out against the escalating violence against Muslims across the country and their continuous marginalisation from politics and society, so that it is not branded as an anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim party.

Rahul Gandhi has been an exception, especially in Parliament last week. “You scare the minorities… you spread violence, hatred against minorities, against Muslims, against Sikhs, against Christians. And what have the minorities done? They stand steadfast with India like mountains, they are patriots, and you attacked all the minorities, spread violence and hatred against them,” he said.

But where does the problem lie with respect to the Congress party's political approach towards different religious communities?


A Note on the Congress' Majority Appeasement Tactics

In some ways, the party is following the very limited observation of their senior leader, AK Antony, after their painful and humiliating electoral debacle in 2014. Antony’s advice, after much consultation with the party's workers, was that the grand old party should fight the impression that it was an anti-Hindu party. After this succinct advice, the Congress party has gone about trying to undo the impression that they had a bias for the Indian Muslims for the purpose of a vote bank.

The impact of this advice was palpable on Rahul Gandhi. When he campaigned in the Gujarat elections in 2017, it was apparent that he and the Congress party were seeking only the votes of the Hindus. Rahul kept visiting temples and shrines – and it seemed that Muslims were peripheral in their strategy. Never once did Rahul visit a mosque or a dargah or stand alongside them for a picture. The Congress leadership followed Antony’s prescription faithfully for the revival of the party, even if it meant conducting itself as a soft Hindutva party.

More than what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have done to our society and polity, the Congress’ attempt to appease the majority community hastened the process of turning large parts of India into totally saffronised zones. The regions where constitutional values of secularism burnt bright were the southern states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. This process was precipitated by hundreds of Congress leaders crossing over to the BJP in different parts of the country.

Many of those who stood their ground were threatened or forced into joining the party. In some parts of the country, the BJP is really the Congress in saffron.

In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, the Congress endeavoured to be a party that was more Hindu than the BJP. Its chief ministerial candidate Kamal Nath’s strategy was to highlight the Hindu side of the organisation and how it was committed to the faith, and even the Ram temple. It did not work. Though Indian secularism is not irreligious, there was no attempt on the part of the Congress leadership to maintain equivalence towards the minorities or show some commitment to the secular values of the constitution.

In fact, there were no protests whenever violence and discrimination against Muslims took place in Madhya Pradesh. The same attitude was witnessed in other states too. Why was the copy of the constitution not held aloft to remind the government and the administration that when they don’t look after the marginalised and the oppressed, including the minorities, then they are doing injustice to the nation? What is forgotten is that minorities are 200 million strong and if they are ignored, then large parts of the country, along with the Dalits, will remain mired in darkness.

For Congress, the Time to Truly Stand Up for Minorities is Now

Much changed after Rahul Gandhi went on the Bharat Jodo Yatra and its second edition, the Nyay Yatra, but its organisers, while raising the moral imperative of taking everyone along, were careful that Rahul and the party were not projected as anti-Hindu. The party chose to talk about the need to hold a caste census but opted for ambivalence on issues like the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and the abrogation of Article 370.

Even in the recent general elections, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan criticised the Congress for not speaking out openly against the CAA. This was quickly denied by the Manifesto Committee Chairman of the Congress, P Chidambaram, who promised to repeal the CAA the moment they came to power. During the 2024 election campaign, despite the fact that the Congress did precious little to promise the protection of minorities, they got their minorities across the country. It seems like the grand old party has mastered the art of getting the Muslim vote without doing much.

In a state like Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP faced a surprising setback, a social coalition of Dalits, Muslims, and disgruntled youth destroyed them. The belief of the BJP that the Ram temple at Ayodhya and the manner in which they raised the spectre of the growing political and financial ambitions of Indian Muslims would overwhelm the fissures in the Hindu faith, failed.

Even the BJP’s attempt to revive the old video of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserting that the minorities would have the first claim over resources did not work. The BJP tried to spin this issue through its captive media but failed.

The Congress may not have come to power, despite Rahul Gandhi manfully trying to revive a moribund party by pivoting it towards social justice issues, but poll results provide a golden opportunity for the party to fight for minorities free from the fear put in place by majoritarian forces. Indian Muslims have put their faith in the grand old party. It must not let them down.

(The author is the editor of Delhi's Hardnews magazine. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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