During a speech at the India Today Conclave in March this year, Sonia Gandhi said, “The BJP has managed to—I don’t say brainwash because that is a rude word, but it has managed to convince people, to persuade people that the Congress party is a Muslim party.” The speech was an attempt to defend the Congress’s need to project Rahul Gandhi’s new-found love for temples.
Two months earlier, an India Today story, in a cover package titled, “Hindu vs Hindutva,” noted, “While the appropriation of Hindu identity by the ‘Hindutva’ politics of the Sangh Parivar has … helped propel the NDA government to power … recent months have seen an unprecedented attempt by ‘liberal’ political forces to reclaim the lost ground. From Rahul Gandhi’s temple tour on the Gujarat campaign trail to Rajinikanth’s manifesto of ‘spiritual politics’ and Siddaramaiah’s war of words with Yogi Adityanath or the latest posters depicting the PM as Ravana in Amethi—the battle of ‘Hindu versus Hindutva’ has been joined.” Other commentators have carried forward the argument—in a March story in The Print, its chairman and editor-in-chief, Shekhar Gupta, claimed that the BJP’s hold over the country “cannot change until those with claims to secularism and minority votes reset their politics.” He further wrote, “They have zero hope if they can’t bring a critical mass of the majority back.”
This argument is wrong on many levels, and it ends up concealing its real implications.
To begin with, the argument commits the sin of endorsing the very disease it claims to fight. It relegates over 220 million people—including Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, who would on their own constitute the fifth-most populous country on earth—to the role of mere onlookers in a tussle between Hindus over Hindutva. Such a formulation of the present-day politics implicitly concedes the core argument of Hindutva—that those who are not part of the Hindu majority are lesser citizens—and foregoes the equality granted under the Constitution. It implies that they live here only through the forbearance of the Hindus, not because they have the same rights as any Hindu in India.
Though it begins with a claim that seems reasonable—the need to persuade Hindus they are well represented irrespective of whether the BJP or the Congress is in power—the argument ends in absurdity. Why should any such argument stop at Hindus—should not all Indians should feel that they are well represented irrespective of whether the BJP or the Congress is in power? But we already know this is not the case. Muslims, and most Indian minorities in general, are not represented at all when the BJP is in power. The logical inference in this seems to be that the cure for the BJP’s marginalisation of the Muslims is to make the Congress more Hindu—apparently the only way to make Hindus feel secure is to ensure that neither the Congress nor the BJP is seen as representing Muslims.