To Avoid Leadership Issue, Opposition Could Aim To “Contain” BJP

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EDITORIAL: By Saeed Naqvi, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India Observer, TIO, NJ: Time was when even the Congress was divided in its perception of an admittedly milder BJP during the days of, say, P.V. Narasimha Rao. Rao’s ace adviser, Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran had an understanding with the RSS, BJP. Since the difference between the vote share of the CPM led Left Front and the Congress led United Front was marginal, Karunakaran often fall back on the RSS cadres helping him against the “Godless” communists.  

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In distinct opposition to Karunakaran’s practical approach, was Arjun Singh’s direct conflict with the BJP in Madhya Pradesh.

Karunakaran’s was a tactical understanding with the Hindu Right. Arjun Singh on the other hand stood by a firm Nehruvian secularism. This encouraged

to elevate him (but only briefly) as the executive Vice President of the Congress.

Events which accelerated the consolidation of Hindutva as the force it is today should be touched briefly lest perspective is lost. In simple words, V.P. Singh’s implementation of the Mandal commission report, opened up reservations in government jobs for Other Backward Castes.

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This boost to the “avarna” or the lower caste was resented by the “savarna” or the upper caste oligarchy of which L.K. Advani as the BJP leader took charge. To neutralize Mandal the Ram Janmbhoomi or the Ram Mandir issue was raised to fever pitch.

By embarking on the rath yatra in 1990, the BJP was only catching-up. Rajiv Gandhi had already opened the Ram Mandir/Babri Masjid locks in 1985 and announced Ram Rajya (Government based on Ram’s laws). Rajiv did not even know that Ram Rajya was fanciful and presumably incompatible with the Constitution. The Hindutva urge to have Sanatana Dharma as a frame of reference for the Constitution is only an audacious real step towards Ram Rajya.

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Around this time, V.N. Gadgil, one of the more sensible General Secretaries of the Congress took me into confidence on an astonishing assessment by the Congress insiders that “a feeling was growing among the Hindu masses that Muslims were being appeased.” How “appeased” the Muslims were became clear when the Sachar commission report of 2005 established without the shadow of a doubt that since independence Muslims had been reduced to the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

The Congress party’s internal assessment of the 1984 election results which brought Rajiv Gandhi to power with three-fourth majority set the party on a communal slope. Many naively thought it was a massive sympathy wave because of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

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But the Congress divined the 1984 electoral windfall was actually Hindu consolidation against “minority” communalism. Even though the immediate focus was Punjab, what resonated in the pan Indian frame as a minority were Muslims. That was the official though unstated othering of Muslims by the Congress. To make up with Muslim, it bungled into Shah Bano, reversing a Supreme Court judgment, the Muslim clergy was unhappy with.

The reality, ofcourse, was never so straight forward. To oppose the BJP, the Congress found it expedient to wear the badge of “secularism”. But, ironically, to keep the Hindu vote it decided not to be seen in the company of Muslims. I have been witness to this policy. During the Gujarat election of 2017, Rahul Gandhi exerted every muscle in the campaign. He did not fare badly –– 77 seats as against BJP’s 99.

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To come this far he avoided Muslim areas during the campaign. To be seen in the vicinity of Muslims would give the BJP a handle to “polarize” the vote. In fact he went one better: during a crucial press conference at the Radisson Blue hotel, senior Congress leader, Ahmad Patel, was asked to hide himself in a room in one of the hotel’s lower floors. Rahul had Ashok Gehlot by his side. I could spot Rajiv Shukla too, who makes a cheerful guest appearance everywhere rather like Hitchcock in his own movies. Later, in the 2022 elections the Congress did much worse because AAP walked away with 12% of the vote, leaving Congress with 27%. The BJP surged with 52%. Congressmen have not stopped cursing AAP for its spanner in the works. In Delhi the picture changes. Congress leaders grin from ear to ear every time the BJP at the centre blocks reasonable AAP initiatives or throws its senior leader into jail without any proven case.

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This being the equation between Congress and AAP, what does one make of AAP leaping to its feet in anger when the Modi establishment crossed red lines in suspending Rahul Gandhi from Parliament?

Mamata Banerjee’s anger in this instance must be seen in a similar frame. Congress and the CPM are in a three legged hobble in the state. The duet want their Bengal jagir back. Last month there was some joy for them when they wrested the Sagardigha assembly seat from the TMC. Not only did the Congress candidate Bayron Biswas win, he was feted by the BJP locally. With such enemies who needs friends?

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The BJP has set the bar of communalism so high, armed with Hindutva that all political parties (the Congress is only one of them) must keep a steady gaze on the Hindu vote and cajole it, lest the party become an electoral invalid. By way of tactics, all parties must wear spectacles with varying shades of communalism. Will the parties dilute their communal content as and when the BJP power wilts?

There is no sign of that happening. A strategy the opposition may consider is to curb the desire to defeat the BJP because that raises an insoluble issue: that of agreeing on an opposition leader. Supposing they lower their sights and think of “containing” the force on a roll by weaving coalitions in the regions, or in any turf of their strength.

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They could jointly transform the runaway-force into a manageable one. The halo Rahul has been gifted with can give him a head start in the West to East Bharat Jodo Yatra to be launched on October 2 –– all geared towards containing the BJP. The results may be surprising.

Also, Read more from this Author: Rahul’s Yatra Changing National Mood; Don’t Chase Electoral Rewards In Hurry

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Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer. He has interviewed world leaders and personalities in India and abroad, which appear in newspapers, magazines and on national television, remained editor of the World Report, a syndication service on foreign affairs, and has written for several publications, both global and Indian, including the BBC News, The Sunday Observer, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Indian Express, The Citizen and Outlook magazine. At the Indian Express, he started in 1977 as a Special Correspondent and eventually becoming, editor, Indian Express, Madras, (1979–1984), and Foreign Editor, The Indian Express, Delhi in 1984, and continues to writes columns and features for the paper.

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