It's difficult to gauge Rahul Gandhi's politics from his speeches and hence there is always the risk of over-analysing a comment. But if his speech in Rajkot is anything to go by, then this could well be an image-makeover for the Congress Vice President.
RSS is a very effective loudspeaker and there are 2-3 other loudspeakers like them. In Egypt there is Muslim Brotherhood. Both believe they know everything, and they only transmit their views (sic).Rahul Gandhi
Now, when you are addressing a gathering of small and medium entrepreneurs in Gujarat just a few months ahead of assembly polls, why would he compare RSS with the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood, or the Ikhwan as it is known in the Middle East and North African region, is considered a hardline Muslim outfit that propagates a radical view of Islam. Ousted President Mohammad Morsi belonged to the outfit and was removed during a military coup. Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri was associated with the movement at one point. The organisation has a large following globally among Muslims who look at it from the lens of identity, including many organisations in India that are ideologically aligned. Some of these organisations have traditionally supported the Congress party during elections in the past.
So did Rahul Gandhi deliberately distance himself from these organisations by equating RSS with the Muslim Brotherhood? If this by any chance is true, then it’s clear that the Congress is looking to respond to allegations of vote-bank politics, at least in the state of Gujarat.
His visits to temples in the saffron stronghold could be part of the same political strategy – reclaim the majority religion. His detractors though, would call it soft-Hindutva.
But hang on, maybe he is mindful of this other factor too: Muslims in India are experiencing a major churn – with hate crimes unifying the community but reformist debates like Triple Talaq creating rifts between conservatives and progressives. While nothing is black and white, a number of mass-movements by the progressives are beginning to challenge the hegemony of the clergy. So was Rahul Gandhi also catering to this group?
The other part of his speech could clear the air: “The whole world is experiencing this sickness. Look at any of these countries – the US, Philippines, India, Turkey... they don’t have a receiver, just a transmitter!”
Donald Trump in the US, Rodrigo Duterte in Philippines, Narendra Modi in India and Erdogan in Turkey are considered right-wing. The fact that the Gandhi scion is trying to club all of these in one box could only mean one thing: With the government struggling to deliver on the economic front and facing severe backlash from civil society and student movements across the country, Rahul Gandhi is perhaps pitching to become the darling of the progressives!
(Bilal Zaidi is the Director at Centre For Art and Free Expression. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. )