Congress Bankruptcy Is Fodder for the BJP

The Uma Bharati episode is yet another example of the historical bankruptcy of the Congress in facing the communal offensive of the RSS and its ilk. Advani is not wrong when he repeatedly reminds us how the Congress had delivered a whole range of issues and opportunities on a platter to the BJP in the 1980s. While it may be too early for the BJP to gleefully bracket the Hubli case with earlier Congress-sponsored blessings like the Shah Bano controversy and the unlocking of the Babri Masjid, there is little doubt that once again the Congress has ceded a major political advantage to the BJP. 

In 1993 when the BJP and Uma Bharti first tried to whip up communal frenzy over the issue of hoisting the tricolour on the Hubli Idgah maidan, there were Congress governments both in Karnataka and at the Centre. That was when the BJP had been rendered thoroughly discredited in the wake of the barbaric demolition of the Babri Masjid. The Hubli episode had left a trail of blood with several lives being lost in police firing and communal riots. Yet Uma Bharti was let off most lightly and for the next ten years she was left scot-free even as the Congress continued to rule in Karnataka.

In fact, in July 2002 when the entire country was yet to come to terms with the shock of the state-sponsored genocide in Narendra Modi's Gujarat , the SM Krishna government of Karnataka went to court seeking a blanket withdrawal of all the cases arising from the Hubli incident. The present government of Karnataka was also following the same course till suddenly the Congress leadership decided to tighten the screw following the ‘tainted ministers' controversy and the resignation and arrest of Shibu Soren. And now just a few days after Uma Bharati had been lodged in a ‘jail' of her choice, the court has granted the original Congress plea of withdrawal of all the cases concerning Bharati. So much for the Congress record of combating communalism!

Uma Bharati has thus been allowed to emerge from this incident both a martyr and a victor. And the BJP, which was lying low following the recent poll debacle, has got a fresh lease of life. As chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharati was proving to be a liability for the BJP, but now she has been freed from that slot to play the role of a key national campaigner for the BJP. Also, the BJP, whose entire ideological, political and organizational heritage remains inimical to the legacy of the freedom movement, has now been ironically given a chance to launch a ‘tricolour march'.

The Congress has played a similar flip-flop with regard to the Savarkar issue. And this too has a long history. Among the eight accused in the Gandhi assassination trial only Savarkar was let off by the lower court because of purported lack of sufficient evidence of his role in the conspiracy. This acquittal was however never challenged by the Congress government of that time. The Congress continues to defend the memory of Savarkar even in death: when PM Manmohan Singh was asked to comment on Savarkar's role in the Gandhi murder, he said it was “not good to speak ill of the dead”! Meanwhile, new evidence damningly points to Savarkar's unmistakable role as ‘guru', inspiration and guide for Gandhi's killer Godse.

Today, to make up for one Mani Shankar Aiyar comment, Congress leaders at all levels are now busy singing the Savarkar-was-a-great-patriot-and-freedom-fighter tune. Even Aiyer has softened his position – saying, “Savarkar was a patriot of the Hindu nation and I am a patriot of the composite nation.” This is typical of the Congress practice of accommodating communal ‘nationalism' as an ‘equal but different' version of nationalism. Recall that even before Independence , the Congress accommodated several prominent Hindu Rashtra ideologues within itself.

Savarkar may command some respect among those who know him only for his early daring exploits against the British, and there is also no doubt that he had started off as a militant patriot. But by the time he turned into a full-fledged advocate of political Hindutva and even of militarization of Hinduism, he had made an abject surrender before British colonialism. The two phases are clearly demarcated in Savarkar's evolution as an individual, the latter phase developing at the cost of the former, but the BJP would like to present him simultaneously as a great advocate of Hindutva and a great fighter for the country's freedom from the yoke of British colonialism. It is on the basis of this imagined continuity that the BJP now seeks an ideological passport to the history of India 's freedom movement. And on the eve of the elections to Maharashtra Assembly, the Congress is only facilitating the BJP's game plan.

It is not possible for the Congress to rewrite its long history of prevarication on the issue of communalism with a few sensational ‘secular' statements or acts. As the Savarkar and Uma Bharati episodes amply demonstrate, the Congress still remains a prisoner of its history of prevarication. A consistently secular Congress is as much a historical impossibility as a pro-swadeshi BJP.

-- DB