Vibha Sharma in New Delhi
Is there a competition between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi on who is a better Hindu? As a party, the BJP is well entrenched in the concept of Hindutva, nurtured through years of hard work by ideological fountainhead RSS and the uniquely crafted Ayodhya movement led by stalwarts LK Advani and late Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 1990s.
Soothing the frayed feelings of majority Hindu community, that was feeling sidelined by the Congress party’s ‘secular’ attempts to appease the minority community, the BJP reaped its benefits in 1999 and 2000. However, in 2004 when Vajpayee tried to return on the basis of development and the ‘India Shining’ card, the BJP sidelined its long-standing emotive ‘Hindutva’ plank, the party paid a heavy price for it. It remained out of power at the Centre for the next 10 years.
Realising the perils of ignoring the majority community, the party rebooted its core agenda sometimes in 2007. Subsequently every move that Modi made was aimed at re-focusing and channelising Hindus’ grievance over the “Congress’ Muslim appeasement” into a Hindu resurgence. Whether it was a stoic no to wearing a skull cap or doing away with the tradition of Iftar parties at PM’s residence, not fielding many Muslim candidates in elections, or anointment of Hindutva’s poster boy Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Modi used every trick to woo the majority community.
There was not even a single Muslim candidate in the BJP’s poll list for the elections to the 403-member UP Assembly in 2017. The same year also saw the saffron politics peak first time after 1989, as the party registered a massive 325-seat victory in the state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Having done so much to keep Hindus with the party, many BJP leaders wonder why would then the people opt for a naqli Hindu like Rahul Gandhi when they have sau pratishat asli (100 per cent real) party that promotes and protects the Hindu interest.
There are many reasons why many BJP leaders believe that the Congress’ idea of showcasing Rahul as a good “Hindu” leader may not work. According to them, despite janeyu and Dattatreya gotra, his act is not convincing, and real Dattatreyas are angry, too. They think the move seems too ‘politically convenient’. “It would be as if Modi now suddenly starts wearing a skull cap and hosts Iftar. How odd that would look?”
They also feel, “The BJP has well established credentials. It is under no pressure or compulsion to prove its credentials. Everyone knows what it is about.”
A senior leader of the party, Om Prakash Sharma, MLA from Vishwas Nagar, New Delhi, argues in his party’s defence, “ The Congress and Rahul Gandhi are trying to get the party back to its centrist liberal position but are not doing a good job at that. Rahul preaching to the BJP about Hinduism, giving us lessons from Bhagavad Gita is hilarious. Why would people opt for naqli leaders when they have asli Hindu leaders.”
Political observers offer a different take, referring to suggestions floated by the BJP that many Muslims, particularly women, voted for it in UP when it swept the state. In reality the anti-BJP votes were divided among the SP, the BSP and the Congress. The BJP lost Gorakhpur, Kairana and Phoolpur bypolls because Hindu voters from the middle class and the Backward Classes as well as voters from the Scheduled Castes also voted against it.
The current situation in UP is that not just fence sitters among the Hindu community, but even Left-leaning voters would rather opt for a Kalyan Singh rather than an Adityanath, feel observers.
Officially, the BJP may have dismissed Rahul’s soft ‘Hindutva’ build-up. However, as a political party aware of the ground reality, it would be foolish for it not to take note of the possible impact the Congress’ attempt to usurp its USP and its social media updates on the Nehru-Gandhi family’s “Muslim incline” may have on fence sitters.
There is another danger. Rahul’s attempts at course correction, of turning the grand old party to its original form, may actually strike a chord with upper caste Hindus, who are upset with the BJP’s empowerment or over indulgence of the Dalits.
Tracing the Hindutva plank in the Congress forms an interesting study as a backdrop to its new narrative. During the Freedom Movement and after India became independent, the grand old party had stalwarts who were right wingers and also socialists like Nehru, a situation which changed after the division in the party in 1969. PV Narsimha Rao tried to bring it back to its old strength, a party with which Hindus could also identify, but the BJP’s emotional pitch about Ram Mandir overthwarted the Congress attempt.
Observers say that instead of letting Rahul flaunt his janeyu and a gotra, the Congress should have fielded Janardan Dwivedi or Manish Tewari or even Randeep Surjewala to carry the Hindutva flag. This may have looked more convincing. Unwillingness to share the power or promote someone other than a Gandhi may be the undoing of what could have been a successful plan.
Meanwhile, the BJP is portraying it as its political strategy to woo Hindu voters and that is the way it intends to take it forward, making light of Rahul’s attempts. “I pray to God that the day never comes when we have to learn from Rahul what it means to be a Hindu,” says BJP leader Sushma Swaraj.
Adds Ravi Shankar Prasad that Rahul seems “confused”. “His Hindu faith changes with political expediency. For years, the Congress presented him as a secular leader, but with the polls round the corner, they realised that the Hindus are in majority, so they created this image.”
Will it succeed? Only time and poll results will tell.