It was “house full” at Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s press conference at Ahmedabad’s Radisson Hotel. The rear entrance enabled me to have a fixed, standing position between tripods and a battery of cameras. “Where is Ahmad Patel?” I whispered to the cameraman peering into his lens. He lifted his head and winked. “Muslims not allowed!” Throughout the Gujarat campaign, the Congress president had missed no temple and entered no Muslim neighbourhood. He was scrubbing very hard to remove the label which the BJP had pasted on the Congress: “a Muslim party”. Imitation, I said, is the highest form of flattery. But if the Congress is seen only as the BJP’s B-team, why would voters not go for the real thing? The BJP, I argued, can be defeated only by changing the discourse, bringing people into focus, their distress which neo-liberal economics has accentuated even as crony capitalism has galloped. Mir Taqi Mir’s couplet always comes to mind. Na mil Mir ab ke ameeron se tu/ Huwe hain gharib inki daulat se hum (Avoid the new rich of today/ It is they who have impoverished us).
Mir was talking about inequality, the bane of our times, against which the “yellow vests” in Paris are agitating exactly as the “Occupy” movement had once entered the very citadel of capitalism, Wall Street. The Hinduism of Rahul’s adoption must vibe with the majority of Indians who are poor. The recent farmers’ agitation looked like the tide with potential. And who in this deeply religious country is more endowed with the very lyric of Hinduism than the Indian farmer?
Admittedly, Rahul’s Hinduism is a tactic. So effective has been the BJP’s saffronisation campaign that even the Communists now shy away from discussing minorities. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has decided to build 10 Sun temples. The Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav will build a Vishnu temple. There is, of course, the biggest temple of all to be built in Ayodhya. If Rahul places his newfound religiosity on a creative track, he can trump the BJP on that count too. Absurd though it may sound, he can, under certain circumstances, bring Muslims around to the idea which the ailing Lucknow cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq has been consistently propagating. Even if the Supreme Court verdict goes in their favour, Muslims should, in an act of magnanimity, help build the Ram temple. This cannot be expected of a community with its back to the wall, and which sees itself as an object of hate. But if Rahul’s is an all-inclusive Hinduism where all are equal, well, the terms of endearment can change.
Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, after all, had the Ayodhya temple locks opened, an act which facilitated the temple movement. Rajiv Gandhi had promised “Ram Rajya” while inaugurating the 1989 election from Ayodhya. He allowed the brick-laying ceremony of the Ram temple on the disputed land but asked officials to look the other way. He fell between stools. Gingerly flirting with Hinduism proved counterproductive. Rahul has come out overtly, causing some of us to smirk. How far will he go? The Congress Party, as Rahul must know, was implacably opposed to the “two nation” theory — that is Hindus and Muslims constitute two distinct nations. Maulana Azad, president of the Congress from 1939 to 1945, had arrived at an agreement for an undivided India with the British Cabinet Mission. He was unequivocal. “Partitioned India will be unadulterated Hindu Raj”.
It may have sounded rhetorical in the earlier years but where we have arrived is exactly what Maulana Azad had predicted. The Congress Working Committee meeting of June 3, 1947 accepted Lord Mountbatten’s Partition plan. Why was Maulana Azad the only leader to have had serious misgivings? The Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, had wept. “You have thrown us to the wolves,” he lamented. Only these two Doubting Thomases? All the others swallowed Partition hook, line and sinker? With some reluctance, even Mahatma Gandhi had accepted Partition. At least this is what Azad writes in India Wins Freedom.
An endorsement of Lord Mountbatten’s plan to divide India implied that the two-nation theory had been accepted. The creation of Pakistan was one step in that direction. Just as the neighbour was called Pakistan, could we not have been named Hindustan? In reality, we glided seamlessly from the British Raj to a Hindu Raj but, ridden by a guilty conscience, hesitated to spell it out. It is this hesitation which had created room for the BJP to step in and grow.
If I were a Hindu, I would ask, as the late Vinod Mehta, my friend of 60 years, asked me in his Nizamuddin flat: “800 years of Muslim rule, 200 years of the British and next door there is now a Muslim state. Against this backdrop, would you grudge me a Hindu state?” Volumes would have to be written to focus on the nuances embedded in Vinod Mehta’s query, but for purposes of a quick column this may be the appropriate moment to touch on issues now that the Indian National Congress has, with unprecedented honesty, embraced its Hindu credentials. And, on current showing, the switch has been accepted by the people of three northern states, at least.
Nehru would have been uncomfortable with a “Hindu Raj” for a variety of reasons, but the overriding reason for keeping aside “Hindu Raj” was realpolitik: what principle would then be cited to keep Kashmir? Pakistan would have claimed the Valley on the contiguity principle.
When the founding fathers charted a course of neutrality, tolerance, respect for all religions without privileging any one of them, they had probably not taken into account the crucial reality — a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multilingual, society frozen for centuries in a caste system, suddenly exposed to notions of democracy, upward mobility and egalitarianism, would create upheavals. A society that was inherently unequal was being set on a path of equality. The way ahead had to be unspeakably turbulent.
Add to this the following — the world’s largest minority and third largest Muslim population found itself unable to produce that certificate of nationalism which is not available without a compulsive hatred for Pakistan. This hatred, tied with the televised image of Kashmiris as terrorists and Indian Muslims as a potential fifth column, is a lethal mix, custom made for a societal wreck, which is what we are today.
So then, let us give Rahul’s Hinduism a chance....