Indian National Congress and Communalism
On the occasion of completion of 125 years of the Indian National Congress its President Sonia Gandhi criticized the Communal forces. She pointed out that there is a pernicious impact of individuals, institutions and ideologies that distort our history, that thrive on spreading religious prejudice and that incite people to violence using the religion as a cover. (December 19, 2010). She went on to say that Congress has always fought against communalism of all forms irrespective of their source and that there was no distinction between majority and minority communalism as both are equally dangerous to the country. While one can understand the spirit of the statement there are lot of problems with this formulation.
To begin with the Congress President needs to be reminded as to what her grand father-in-law, the architect of modern India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, had to say on the issue. He had said that while both majority and minority communalisms are bad, the majority communalism is more dangerous as it presents itself under the garb of the nationalism. The minority communalism at the worst comes through as the separatist tendency, it also keeps giving provocations to the majority communalism; it keeps providing them pretexts to undertake what they want to do anyway. For Congress to equate majority and minority communalism is a big climb down from the secular foundations on which Nehru wanted this party to be based. And practically if we see in the arena of communal politics and communal violence both, it is the majority communalism which creates situations for the same. And then this majoritarian communalism has a vast network which affects the thinking of the society, it shifts the focus of social concerns from the basic needs of society to the identity issues like the Ram Temple agitation launched by it.
While Shah Bano issue was taken up by the minority communalists, it surely did a great damage to the nation, still its damage is no where close to what the Ram Temple did by dividing the society along religious lines and later on going to demolish the Masjid and launching the ‘celebratory violence’ all over the country. Surely both communalisms are a modern presentation of feudal interests and feudal values added up by the interests of sections of middle class who want to preserve their privileges and desire status quo for continuation of their privileged position in the society.
Sonia Gandhi’s claim that Congress has always fought communalism does not reflect the whole truth. There have been times when Congress has been looking the other way around when the communal marauders are on the rampage. Be it the anti-Sikh pogrom, the Babri demolition and in many such situations Congress has either been looking the other way around or taking an afternoon siesta, when the fire of communal violence is raging. It is for this reason that many a critics blame Congress being communal and some go to the extent of blaming Congress more than BJP, as lot of communal violence has taken place when Congress has been in power. This criticism, though incorrect, is a sign of extreme frustration on the part of the victims of the violence and they can see that some action on the part of Congress could have saved the situation. But that, intervention of Congress to stop the violence, generally does not take place. There are two deeper reasons of this Congress inaction. One, the communal forces have infiltrated various wings of our state apparatus, police, bureaucracy, even army and judiciary as pointed out by Digvijay Singh. And second, as Nehru had correctly warned that many a power seekers who are communal have entered Congress without any conviction for secular values.
One must say on this score that the party has been very lax, and has kept short term electoral compulsions above the ones of principled politics. Its stand on the highly biased Ayodhya judgment has again reminded us that this party is not bold enough to call the spade a spade. The Congress kept quiet on Ayodhya verdict while as a matter of fact this judgment has been far away from the values of Indian Constitution, from the secular and democratic ethos of our freedom movement of which Congress under Gandhi and Nehru was the moving force.
Still one will welcome the statement of Congress President if Congress really adopts a principled secular stand. In that case will it ensure that Ayodhya judgment is evaluated as per the secular ethos, as per the justice to the minority community? If Congress is principled in its secularism it must take up the affirmative action for minorities in full gear. The implementation of Sachar Committee report, that of Rangnath Mishra Committee recommendation can’t be kept in the cold freeze and at the same time claim the secular tag?
Will Congress take up the battle against the distortion of history, the word of mouth propaganda against minorities, spreading of religious prejudices against minorities? Is it equipped to take on the multiple tasks which are needed to preserve and promote secular values? Does it train its cadres in the values of secularism and democracy? While the recruitment drive for membership of Congress is in full swing, what are the efforts to ensure that the new recruits are not carrying the baggage of communal biases prevalent in the society? There is an in-depth need to train the existing and new members of political parties owning allegiance to secular democratic nationalism to take up the awareness and training programs which are able to oppose the religious hatred prevalent in the society. Short of these the claims of Congress President will just be declaration of the intent lacking in any substance.
And what about the statement of Digaviyay Singh in which he warned about the infiltration of communal elements in the state apparatus? Will a strategy be devised to ensure that all the state officials are really committed to secular democratic values and are not acting on the ground of communal bias. True, communalists have sowed their seeds all over, so what is the strategy of a secular party to counter this? Mr. Singh also said that communal forces are targeting minorities a la Nazis in Germany. A correct observation, but what is being done to counter that is the real question and a challenge which needs to be taken up.