An illustration with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi
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Congress has paid for its unrelenting minorityism. It’s seeking to move to the secular centre, and that’s the message from Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits.

Sonia Gandhi spoke a line at the recent India Today Conclave—that the Congress paid for being seen as a Muslim party—and sparked a larger debate on the status of India’s Muslims, their culture and politics and how popular minds now responded to it. Influential voices took this forward, notably Harsh Mander and Ramachandra Guha in response in The Indian Express. We need to also explore the political meaning.

It is inadequate to keep the argument confined to culture, lifestyle, symbols, in short “Muslimness”. Muslims, or any other faith for that matter, can choose what symbols they prefer. Will it get them political empowerment, is the question.

Shekhar Gupta, chairman and editor-in-chief of ThePrint

Sonia’s is a regret that her party’s actions as well as the BJP’s campaign played into the Hindu majority’s fears of appeasement, disempowerment and most of all, terrorism. Real or misplaced, it was a reality by 2014.

Since the 1989 Mandal-mandir phase, India has seen the rising paradox of the vast majority acquiring a minority complex. You can again protest that the RSS and BJP fuelled it, but then you protest too much. This is politics. If one side can exploit the minorities’ insecurities, the other can respond by persuading the majority to feel that way. The Congress played one side of this game brilliantly until, let’s say, 1985, when the Shah Bano blunder broke its momentum.

That gave the RSS/BJP an opening into vast sections of the Hindus who voted by default for the Congress. As a result, the Congress has never won a majority again. More importantly, it has also struggled to win back power in states with a significant Muslim vote (10 per cent or above) since then.

Sonia Gandhi knows what she is talking about. Her party paid severely for what was seen as unrelenting minorityism. The sad truth is, it didn’t do very much for Muslims. They saw through the hypocrisy.

See it like a Muslim. A Congress government carries out the Batla House encounter, gives a posthumous Ashok Chakra to the officer who led it. Then its most audible general secretary calls it fake and claims it brought tears to Sonia Gandhi’s eyes. When UPA-1 came to power, it repealed POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) because it was rightly seen to victimise Muslims. Then, it quietly brought other provisions that made this repeal a sham. It appointed the Sachar Committee, but failed to act on its recommendations.

On top of all of this came that Manmohan Singh statement, that minorities had the first right to national resources. It was probably idealistic, but a political misstep. Politicians cannot act and speak like activists. Again, even that was followed by no action. The Muslim obviously saw this as fake.

And the Hindu? What a dangerously cynical gang of minority appeasers is this, they kill terrorists and then hail them as victims in the same voice. All for votes. So I’ve had enough. The Congress ended up losing both, the Muslims who moved decisively to strong state-level leaders and the Hindus because, as Sonia Gandhi rightly put it, hers was seen as a Muslim party.

Devastation of the Congress apart, the more significant fallout of this flawed politics is a disempowerment of Muslims bordering on disenfranchisement. There’s never been a moment in India’s political history like this: no Muslim MP in the majority party in the Lok Sabha, no key central ministry (the only Muslim in cabinet is minister for minority affairs), no secretary-level officer in a key ministry, no heads in top defence and intelligence organisations and no chief minister, except in Jammu and Kashmir’s tricky coalition. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won nearly 80 per cent seats without fielding a Muslim, never mind that 20 per cent of the voters are Muslim.

The Muslims didn’t vote for this. Their paranoia now shows in the rising appeal of Muslim leaders such as Asaduddin Owaisi and Badruddin Ajmal. It is in contrast with the trend since Partition. We had noted in an earlier National Interest how, after the departure of Jinnah, Indian Muslims had never trusted a fellow Muslim as their leader, preferring a Hindu instead.

Post-2014 politics has exposed the limitations of the minority vote and the cynical imprudence of treating this as synonymous with the secular vote. Congress stalwarts of the past knew that the Muslim vote by itself can’t win them elections, and built larger coalitions with key caste and social groups. These were impregnable until the flip-flops began, alienating both. These coalitions broke. The BJP took away the upper castes in the heartland and the western states, Muslims shifted to OBC leaders with caste vote banks large enough to keep the BJP out.

In the past, BJP leaders used to bitterly complain that Muslims have a veto on who rules India because of their bloc votes. The Modi-Shah BJP has reversed that. If they can consolidate enough Hindus, they can ignore the Muslims. This cannot change until those with claims to secularism and minority votes reset their politics. They have zero hope if they can’t bring a critical mass of the majority back.

This debate, therefore, isn’t about burqa, hijab, skull cap, beards, triple talaq or haj subsidy. It will serve no substantive purpose. It may enhance the Muslim sense of persecution and further deepen the “secular” parties’ confusion and self-pity. Unless they bring about a fundamental shift in their own politics, they will not survive.

A few liberal campuses, the seminar circuit and the opinion industry may hold out. But when it comes to national politics, the Modi-Shah BJP has successfully redefined secularism. Liberal intellectuals and those representing the so-called Left-secular forces either do not understand this change or won’t accept it. They set the bar for the test of secularism so high that nobody can pass it and survive in today’s politics.

If a party like the Congress has to have a future, it has to move closer to the secular centre from the far Left, where its Left infatuation during the UPA years dragged it. Like it or not, that is the message in Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits. That’s what Sonia meant when she lamented that Congress was seen as a Muslim party.

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22 Comments Share Your Views

22 COMMENTS

  1. Poor SG, reduced to the status of chronicler of laments…feeling overwhelmed and hopeless like a political orphan of Congress Party.

  2. Why so much sanghis are rushing to comment boxes …?? Has internet penetration in North grown to such a huge margin??

  3. Problem is Congress gave. high profile to stupid people like Digvijay Singh and expect Hindus to believe it works for Hindus. Only way Congress can regain Hindu vote is by supporting Ram Mandir. For Muslim it is time to decide whether they want to live in India or not. If they do they should generously offer Babri Mosque land to Hindus to build ram temple. Few les Mosques are not going to wipe out Islam.

  4. Good article. But Muslims must produce leaders like AsifAli, Muhammad Creme Chhagla ,Hamid Dalwai, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk Pasha. Also they must study Ali Sina book Understanding Muhammad and Muslims.

  5. Not a word for Sonia’s commitment to Christianity and conversions. From now on only a genuine pro Hindu party can survive in Indian politics

  6. Muslim appeasement to the core by the congress has lead to the present state of affairs. Unfortunate none of neither it’s advisers normal so called lutyns followers were fair enough to indulge in fair analysis.
    Muslim appeasement in India by politicians is to the extent the pray enmasse on railway tracks, on a bus stand, get time off their duties for namaz and indulge in performing namaz in a hospital by playing azaan on a mobile. How much of these a Hindu get to perform in public place. Of is police action against a religious procession, stoppage of Hindu procession in Muslim area…It is unimaginable accommodation to them. Better these types of pampering of Muslims is stopped by any political outfit for good before like Congress they are rooted out of existence. The likes of Sekar Gupta understand ir better

  7. Would Mr Gupta kindly explain exactly what is the “secular centre” that he advises the Congress to move to? Has the Congress ever been secular? Has he counted the number of riots under the Congress governments in the past?

  8. They are skillfully hiding the fact that Sonia Congress was Christian and not Muslim. They co opted Muslims since both have common enemy Hindus. Their true Christians Muslim brother hood comes out only when Hindus are finished

  9. Congress minority appeasement is not about symbolism, UPA gave minorities many special “legal rights” that the majority does not have

    1) They exempted minority education institutions from RTE via the 93rd constitutional amendment- result RTE shutting down hindu schools with it’s onerous infra req while minority schools gaining monopoly in many districts which they use to project religion/evangelism.

    2) Passsed NCMEI bill , created a body NCMEI whose membership is restricted to “minorities” only (jinnah’s philosophy & unconstitutional by the way)- which has the ability to give “minority tag”/NOC for minority schools. This helps in further distorting the school market & expanding minority schools capacity & reach while hindu schools can neither have the autonomy that “minority tag” gives or a body to fast track NOC by bypassing the govt (have to go to central & state govt)

    3) Established Minority affairs minority with a budget of few thousand crores – that runs many schemes exclusively for minorities Under Prime Minister 15-point programme exclusively for minorities like

    – minority only scholarships,
    – Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madarsas (SPQEM)
    – Scheme for Infrastructure Development of MinorityInstitutions (IDMI) – funding minority “unaided” institutions- again unconstituional y should govt fund a “private” un-aided institution just bcoz they r run by minorities ?

    these are just a few – for those interested

    http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/List%20of%20schemes%20under%20PM%27s%20New%2015-PP_0.pdf

    This is actual minority appeasement, silly symbolism.

    Sadly Modi govt is continuing & expanding these- a disappointing result for those of us who voted for equality & equal treatment under the law.

    So if congress supports reversal of these then yes centre of politics has shifted as of now only rhetoric has shifted.

  10. Unless you are on regular chatting terms with Rahul Gandhi, why should anyone believe your interpretation of his temple visits?

  11. An excellent analysis …. but too little too late ? Has Congress changed ? Look at the ‘ Coterie ‘ around Sonia Gandhi to this day and for the last twenty years and above ? Same strategy and same results ?

  12. They ignored heritage
    Identify a civilization.
    If there is no strong roots no tree will be reality.when Desi fertilizer is giving good results, why people opt this chemical fertilizer which is having dealers but no takers

  13. It is not only about Hindu or Muslim votes. The misgovernance of Congress Governments for decades beginning with Indira Gandhi is also a solid contributor to disenchantment among voters. The BJP combined polarisation with promise of good governance, but………

  14. A party that ruled a country that is 80% Hindu for most of its history as an independent nation could not possibly be mistaken for being. ” Muslim ” party. It afforded them a sense of physical safety and emotional security that any constitutional government should. Dr. Singh’s statement that the minorities have the first claim over the nation’s resources put as few boots on the ground as his assertion that Bombay would become Shanghai. For Rahul Gandhi to visit temples, also churches and mosques, on his election yatras is unexceptionable, serves to correct wrong impressions that may have been created. Ideally – and that lies some distance in our future – no public figure should indulge in any overtly religious act as part of his official routine and duties. 2. For Indian Muslims, their indices of social and economic development are something other Indians should not feel happy or proud of. Diminishing their visibility in the higher reaches of politics and governance moves us completely in the wrong direction.

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