Soft Hindutva: For Congress, the Cows Have Come Home to Roost
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi waves during an election rally in Chenari Rohtas, Bihar, on Wednesday. (Photo: PTI)
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi waves during an election rally in Chenari Rohtas, Bihar, on Wednesday. (Photo: PTI)

Soft Hindutva: For Congress, the Cows Have Come Home to Roost

The cows have come home to roost. Excuse me for twisting Geoffrey Chaucer’s original allusion to “chickens” in The Parson’s Tale penned in 1390. The languorous cow has come to cause some uneasiness in the Congress camp as the beef controversy is taking a communal undertone on the eve of the crucial Bihar elections.

The gruesome killing of 55-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri village of Uttar Pradesh last week, has undoubtedly shocked the nation and all right thinking people. But the attempt by a lunatic fringe to politicise and communalise the issue has stumped the Grand Old Party. The Congress has been experimenting with soft Hindutva on and off with great success till 2014 when the BJP outmanoeuvred it and secured 282 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Stumped by Dadri Incident

Torn between soft Hindutva politics and “minority appeasement”, the latter term being coined by the BJP, the Dadri lynching caught the Congress unawares. Party president Sonia Gandhi is forced to maintain a studious silence over the cow slaughter issue. She may have been advised by party mandarins not to wade into the political-religious landmine.

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi meeting the family of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched by a mob, at Bisara village in Dadri, October 3, 2015. (Photo: PTI)
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi meeting the family of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched by a mob, at Bisara village in Dadri, October 3, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

Nonetheless, lesser minions should have responded with alacrity, but that was not the case to be. None of the Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders rushed to Bisara village to commiserate with the grieving family of Akhlaq.

Their tepid response came five days after the incident.  Rahul Gandhi tried to make amends by visiting the family four days later on October 3.  Is the delayed response or the lack of it (to Akhlaq’s killing as well as the cow slaughter issue) due to the fear of Hindutva proponents or sheer lack of quick wit?  

Course Correction

It was only when the BJP turned the tables and made it an election issue in Bihar that senior and “political” leaders such as Digvijaya Singh realised that the Congress was walking into the BJP trap and went public saying that the party stood against cow slaughter.

Aiming at course correction and putting the issue in perspective, Singh told media persons that, “Out of 29 states, cow slaughter is banned in 24 states and they were promulgated during Congress rule”. Singh’s was an obvious riposte to senior Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi who, in election speeches, had promised that if the NDA wins in the state cow slaughter will be banned. He was oblivious of the fact that cow slaughter was banned in the state as back as in 1955 under the “Bihar Preservation and Improvement of Animals Act”.

Senior leaders such as Digvijaya Singh realised that the Congress was walking into the BJP trap and went public saying that the party stood against cow slaughter. (Photo: @digvijaya_28)
Senior leaders such as Digvijaya Singh realised that the Congress was walking into the BJP trap and went public saying that the party stood against cow slaughter. (Photo: @digvijaya_28)

Like a trapeze artist, the Congress has been struggling to balance soft Hindutva with inclusive politics, a tactic that has run out of steam.  And the arrival of Narendra Modi at the national scene has upset its calculations and the BJP is unashamedly using Hindutva symbols to further its political agenda.

Playing Soft Hindutva

As the Congress overplayed the “aam aadmi” and minority card overlooking the aspirational class on the eve of 2014 general elections, AICC General Secretary and Gandhi family loyalist A K Antony summed up the main reason for party’s rout saying inter alia that the Congress lost the poll because of its perceived proximity to the minorities, a euphemism for “minority appeasement.” What he left unsaid was that in a country comprising 80 per cent Hindus, the Congress needs to play soft Hindutva.

Another senior leader, general secretary Janardan Dwivedi, last year articulated the matter in a nuanced manner as he attributed the Modi victory to “Bharatiyata” (Indianness). As stunned party men started baying for his blood, Dwivedi tried to downplay the blasphemy clarifying that his intent was negatively portrayed by the media.

While addressing an election rally in Bihar’s Sheikhpura district, Rahul Gandhi did not even mention the Dadri incident in his speech. (Photo: PTI)
While addressing an election rally in Bihar’s Sheikhpura district, Rahul Gandhi did not even mention the Dadri incident in his speech. (Photo: PTI)

Rahul’s spin doctors have since been trying to change the image of the Gandhi, to repackage him as a good, if not devout, Hindu Brahmin. The pictures of his recent visits to Kedarnath and Banke Bihari temple dedicated to Lord Krishna in Vrindavan with a tilak on his forehead were splashed across the media.  In 2013, Sonia too was eager to take a holy dip in the Maha Kumbh but had to cancel the trip “for want of cooperation” of the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh due to security concerns though she took a holy dip in 2001. Rahul Gandhi who addressed an election rally in Bihar’s Sheikhpura district did not even mention the Dadri incident in his speech.

Snapshotclose

Playing with Fire

  • Torn between soft Hindutva politics and minority appeasement, the Dadri lynching caught the Congress unawares
  • Rahul Gandhi rushes to pacify Dadri victim’s family five days after the incident
  • Congress stumped yet again when BJP raises cow slaughter issue ahead of Bihar polls
  • Senior leader Digvijaya Singh jumps into the fray, proclaims party will support bill against cow slaughter
  • Congress still recovering from 2014 defeat with its minority and aam aadmi card failing miserably

Hope of Reaping Political Dividends

Soon after the Lok Sabha polls, Congressmen in Madhya Pradesh placed an idol of Lord Ganesha at Indira Bhavan, in Bhopal that houses the MPCC office and party men  bowed before the image while entering the office.

It is also interesting that Jitin Prasada, former union minister and part of Rahul brigade, was on an overdrive last month giving media interviews demanding a re-look at the existing reservation to address the concerns of general castes (read forwards) as poor among them “suffer the same fate as the weak backwards – victims of the flawed social justice system.” He has not been hauled up by the party for deviating from party line.

The Congress cannot be subscribing to any religious ideology as its DNA is markedly different from that of BJP.  So, it remains to be seen if attempts to peddle soft Hindutva will bring the party electoral dividends or the party will fall between two stools.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)

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