We promise to build gaushalas in all panchayats. We promise to start commercial production of gaumutra (cow urine). These are not statements culled out from a political speech of UP’s BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. These are not guidelines from the Sangh Pariwar elder to a BJP functionary.
The two statements are part and parcel of the Congress manifesto for the impending state Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh.
The Congress released the manifesto in Bhopal last Saturday. Those present on the occasion included party seniors Kamal Nath, in-charge of the Congress campaign in MP, two-time chief minister of the state Digvijaya Singh, and former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, one of the lead campaigners and among the party’s top choices for the chief minister.
The Congress, in its manifesto, has also promised to build more cow sanctuaries and provide grants for their upkeep and maintenance. This in a state that boasts of developing the first cow sanctuary, whose foundation was laid by the RSS Kshetra sanghchalak Ashok Soni.
Expounding on the virtues of the manifesto that has strong shades of saffron and could have been mistaken for a BJP manifesto, Rajinder Singh — in charge of the party’s manifesto committee and deputy speaker in the state Assembly — made it clear the Congress wants to shed its pro-Muslim image.
“The BJP used to brand us as Muslim party. Earlier we did not do anything to change the perception. It’s a conscious decision to do away with that tag,” Rajinder Singh told a correspondent.
The party has been out of power in the state for 15 years and is seemingly desperate for homecoming. Surely, the Congress would like to exploit the anti-incumbency sentiments against the BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. But the party seems unsure whether its traditional secular tag shall help it romp home and wrest the state from its arch-rival, the BJP, which has vowed for a ‘Congress-mukt’ new India it engineers to construct.
Is it the fear of getting irrelevant that Congress is out to soak up in a hue of saffron, hitherto an exclusive domain of the BJP. Going by the manifesto’s contents, party leaders’ replies and party president Rahul Gandhi’s discovery of Hinduism (he started his MP campaign with a visit to Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain) the answer certainly seems to be in the affirmative.
Though on the face of it, the Congress shall loathe to discard the secular tag completely, but it feels there is a symbiotic relationship in being secular and being a ‘pro-Muslim.’ It’s the latter image it wants to shed for electoral gains, though it remains to be seen how the party shall uncouple the two.
But the more important question is this: Is the Congress well on its way to becoming a BJP? Is the party square with the fact that it ignored majority sentiments all along? Is it also the admittance of a sort of guilt that it didn’t do itself any good electorally by ignoring the majority sentiments thus far? So, was there merit in BJP’s long-standing accusation that Congress politics has always been about minority appeasement?
The Congress manifesto isn’t just about the cows. The manifesto promises to build a religious tourism corridor in the state by invoking Ram and rivers, some of which are considered holy in India. While the BJP bares its teeth in preparation to reclaim Ram’s birthplace in the disputed Ayodhya site for the Hindus, the Congress has found a MP connect with Ram of Ayodhya fame. According to scriptures, Ram left his imprints in the state, a slice of mythology that has not been popularised. The party has promised to develop ‘Ram Path Gaman’, a corridor that traces the route of Ram during exile in Chitrakoot, MP.
In fact, for all its manifest appropriation of Ram and rivers (Ganga and Saryu — UP CM Yogi Adityanath has started Saryu aarti on the same lines as Ganga aarti in Varanasi, along with Saryu Mahotsav) by the BJP, the Congress wants to replicate a similar model around these two symbols of Hindu faith in MP too.
If voted to power, the party manifesto promises to come up with Ma Narmada Nyas Adhinayam and develop a Narmada parikrama (circumambulation) route dotted with resting places for pilgrims every 15 km.
Congress’ dalliance with soft Hindutva since the days of the return of Indira Gandhi to power post- Emergency is an open secret. Rajiv Gandhi pushed that envelope further by opening the gates of the disputed site at Ayodhya.
PV Narasimha Rao was prime minister when the mosque was brought down. After the humiliating 2014 Lok Sabha defeat and a series of setbacks in the Assembly polls, Rahul set out to discover himself anew and found nirvana in wearing a janeu (holy thread) and going on a temple-hopping spree.
There is no gainsaying the fact when Rahul claims “country’s temples are not the sole property of the BJP and the RSS”. But tapping into identity politics by exploiting symbols of religion and faith to appear as a contender in the battle of competing for majoritarianism has its own pitfalls, some of which have blown up in the face of the idea of India, as our constitutional forefathers had envisaged.