Is it really undergoing a radical
metamorphosis or is this yet another clever, little trick out of
its ancient bag? When was the last time you had senior Congress
leaders hold forth on Hindu extremism being a grave threat to
India's security and integrity? That too in the presence of the
high and mighty of government and party, including Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi!
Digvijay Singh is one of those few Congress leaders who wear their
liberal credentials on their sleeve. Yet watching him take on the
saffron brotherhood at the party's plenary was breathtaking, even
if simplistic. "In the 1930s, Hitler's Nazi party attacked the
Jews. Similarly, the RSS ideology wants to capture power by
targeting Muslims under the garb of nationalism," thundered the
former Madhya Pradesh chief minister. Accusing the RSS-VHP-BJP
combine of sowing the seeds of terror in the country with the
destruction of Babri Masjid, Singh warned the nation of the
Hindutva forces infiltrating all organs of the state, including
the bureaucracy, police, and the army.
What makes Digvijay Singh's assertions interesting is the fact
that they were not projected as his own views but as a clear
ideological line of the party. Earlier, in her opening address,
Sonia Gandhi, the party’s president, warned the country against
both majoritarian and minority extremism. "They are all dangerous
and must be defeated. We cannot ignore such elements who provoke
people to violent means by using religion" said the Italian-born
This theme of Hindutva specter was emphasized further in the final
political resolutions, without the usual spin and hedging.
Secularism, said the Congress' resolution, the lifeline of Indian
democracy "is threatened by the ideology of the BJP and its
affiliate organizations like the RSS. The RSS and the VHP are
insidious in their efforts to break India."
Launching a full frontal attack on you know who, the resolution
said: "The role of fundamentalist organizations in challenging the
security of the nation can no longer be ignored. The Indian
National Congress calls upon the government to tackle this menace
in the strongest possible manner and investigate the links between
terrorists and the RSS and its sister organizations that have been
uncovered in some recent cases. Terrorism, wherever it comes from
and whatever form it takes, must be dealt with firmly and
Of course, nothing of this sanctimonious stuff comes as news to
anyone familiar with the rough and tumble of Indian politics.
Hindutva's history and shenanigans are not exactly state secrets.
Everyone knows how the BJP grew from a two-member party in
Parliament to the "natural party of governance" that calls itself
today in no time. From the hundreds of riots and pogroms targeting
the Muslims to the Ayodhya outrage to the constant demonization
and witch-hunt of the minority community, Muslims have got a great
deal to thank the saffron friends for.
And as Congress so wisely warns us, these forces aren't just a
threat to religious minorities but a clear and present danger to
India and everything it stands for — tolerance, pluralism and
religious and cultural diversity.
The question is why the Congress has woken up to the dangerous
designs of Hindutva forces now? And what's with its sudden love
for the Muslims? Is it a real concern for the well being of the
nation or is this inspired by something more mundane like power?
Is the party, with its back to the wall over all these corruption
scams, resorting to what it does best, vote bank politics, using
Muslims as the cannon fodder all over again?
The Muslims have enough reasons to be wary of Congress. While they
have over the past couple of elections begun voting for the party
once again, it's not out of love for the Gandhis. It was not a
mandate for the Congress but more of a protest against the RSS-BJP
worldview. Even if the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)
experiment with some secular, regional parties falling for the
amiable mask of the BJP, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had persuaded some
Muslims briefly to vote for the alliance, Gujarat served as a
stark warning of the shape of things to come.
It was this fear that has made Muslims vote for the Congress, and
other secular parties. However, their deep sense of distrust and
betrayal of the grand old party remains.
While they have come to respect Sonia Gandhi, they cannot get over
the Babri Masjid demolition and the carnage that followed on
Narasimha Rao's watch. It's not just that particular phase under
India's answer to Nero though. Talk to any member of the community
and there's a long history of treachery, exploitation and repeated
betrayals that is revisited.
And it's not just the loss of lives, businesses and property that
the Muslims suffered in hundreds of riots for decades after India
won independence in 1947. If today they find themselves
educationally and economically in conditions worse than the Dalits,
lowest of the low in the social hierarchy, the party that has
ruled India for nearly half a century must share the
Despite their large numbers — at least 150 million, twice the
population of Egypt — the community remains dangerously
dispossessed and on the margins of the amazing economic revolution
that India has lately witnessed. They have no voice in the
decision making process either at the centre or in the states.
Their representation in the government, bureaucracy, police and
the army is next to nothing.
Little has been done even under the present dispensation, except
form commissions and committees. Justice Sachar Committee's
recommendations are waiting for their implementation five years
after their submission. Even government schemes and funds to help
the minority community remain underutilized or not utilized at
Even when some governments did try to do their bit, their efforts
have been defeated by a systemic indifference and, let's say it,
deep-seated prejudice at all levels. A disturbing state of
affairs, indeed! And this won't change overnight or in a year or
decade. But someone has to start somewhere.
If the Congress is sincere and really means what it says about the
need to fight the dark forces of fascism and communalism, the
Muslims and other minorities must support its efforts. In fact,
what's urgently needed is a national movement against the scourge
of communalism and extremism, a threat far bigger than corruption.
This is perhaps the first time since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the
first prime minister, that the Congress has given the call to
fight the ideology of hatred and fascism in such unequivocal
terms. Rahul Gandhi may still be a babe in the woods but he got it
right when he argued, according to WikiLeaks, that the threat to
India from the Hindu extremists is greater than that posed by
groups like Lashkar. A sentiment echoed long before him by his
great-grandfather Nehru who had argued that majoritarian extremism
was more dangerous than a minority's militant mindset because it
always dresses itself in nationalism. Just as it did in Germany.
And Nehru hadn't even seen the latter-day avatars of the RSS and
But fighting the scourge of communalism isn't the responsibility
of one party or community. It's not just in the interest of the
Muslims and other minorities that India's secular and plural
character is protected. India's unique selling proposition (USP)
is its breathtaking diversity and fabled tolerance. All of us —
Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs — have a stake in a secular,
progressive and pluralistic India. If India fails, none of us will
For their part, Muslims cannot fight their battles alone. If India
is what it is, it's because of its silent majority that is
reasonable, peace-loving and believes in justice and fair play. We
must enlist their support and involvement. Inclusion, not
isolation, is the way forward.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based commentator.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org