Monday, 23 May, 2022
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Why the Congress needs to pick a fight with the Queen of England to win Indian elections

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The grand old party doesn’t tell us who its enemy is, who it is fighting, leave alone what the enemy looks like.

Since the rise of the BJP in the early 1990s, a common complaint about the Congress has been that it doesn’t have the narrative. We don’t know what the Congress party is offering, pundits and politicians complain.

The question is asked in many forms. If the Congress is doing soft Hindutva, how is it any different from the BJP? What does Rahul Gandhi stand for? The Congress and the BJP both agree on reforms, but the Congress is apologetic about them, disowning Narasimha Rao, and so on.

This is strange, because the differences between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are clear as daylight. The Congress may or may not make a noise about secularism, it may or may not practice soft Hindutva, but unlike the BJP, it gives ticket to Muslims. It complains about Hindu-Muslim riots, instead of justifying them. It establishes a Sachar Committee to look into the economic status of Muslims, something you can’t imagine the BJP doing.

There is little doubt that the BJP tries to exclude Muslims from power, whereas the Congress does not.

Similarly, the Congress is very much into centre-left economics. The Congress creates a law to guarantee work to the rural poor, the Modi government derides it. The Congress raises minimum support prices to give farmers more money, the BJP worries about the food inflation it causes.

The BJP, from Vajpayee to Modi, tries not to do welfarism, and even when it does, is apologetic about it. The BJP makes it clear its first focus is urban India and urbanisation. The Congress talks more village than city. The Congress brings in a food security law, the BJP champions ‘empowerment over entitlement’.

The Congress is markedly centre-left both on social and economic issues. As much is clear from Rahul Gandhi’s speeches, the party’s interventions in Parliament and the media, and indeed, the party’s actions.

Why, then, do so many people insist the Congress has no narrative?

When you don’t have an enemy

It’s because the Congress party doesn’t tell us who its enemy is, who it is fighting, leave alone what the enemy looks like.

A successful political narrative needs a clear enemy. Being clear about who you are fighting gives you and your followers a defined cause to fight for, makes you look like a worthy challenger fighting for good over evil, makes you look like a doer rather than a laggard mouthing clichés about development. Declaring who your enemy is also helps highlight, by contrast, who you are batting for, who you stand for, and what you’re offering.

The BJP and the RSS clearly identify their enemies: Muslims, Congress, secularism, and liberalism.

Anna Hazare’s movement asking for a Lokpal Bill was successful because it had a clear enemy: corruption.

Mahatma Gandhi knew who his enemies were: the British, untouchability, even modern science.

B.R. Ambedkar was fighting the enemy of caste-based discrimination against Dalits, but he went much further in identifying the enemy. He came to the conclusion that caste was integral to Hinduism, and thus the Hindu religion was the enemy. He converted to Buddhism.

The BJP, especially under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, excels at identifying and defining the enemy. The clarion call of Congress-mukt Bharat, the party’s motto, is all about identifying the enemy.

Not having an enemy is such a problem for it that the BJP has raised Rahul Gandhi’s stature by attacking him in the last few months! In the Haryana elections, it polarised against Jats, in UP against Yadavs and Muslims, and so on.

The Congress stands for secularism, but doesn’t want to attack Hindutva because it rightly believes that will only strengthen Hindutva. The Congress stands for centre-left economics of welfare, but doesn’t want to attack capitalism per se because it is also committed to reforms.

The Congress party’s noises against the BJP are barely heard. It doesn’t want to turn Narendra Modi into an enemy (“no personal attacks”), because it rightly thinks that would only help him.

But the Congress party needs an enemy.

But who could it be?

Here’s a disruptive idea. The Congress could make Her Majesty’s government its enemy, adopting its leader Shashi Tharoor’s demand for reparations as its official position.

The Congress could officially demand to compensate India for the economic loot of the East India Company and later, the Raj. Rahul Gandhi could write a letter to Her Majesty demanding she remove the Koh-i-Noor diamond from her crown and send it to the National Museum in Delhi. It could demand compensation for the heirs of those butchered in Jallianwala Bagh, along with an unconditional apology. Calculations of the amount of reparations should include the destruction of parts of the Red Fort, the deaths caused in the Bengal famine, the people hanged after the 1857 mutiny, and so on.

This would have many benefits.

First, it would damage the BJP’s idea of Muslims as enemy, which begins with the Muslim invasion to the creation of Pakistan.

Second, making British colonialism the enemy could help the Congress own the nationalism narrative once again.

Third, it could help the Congress make people remember the party’s contribution to the freedom struggle, and thus rescue Nehru from the mud-slinging Hindutva has subjected him to.

Fourth, by shifting the debate to how poor the British left India, the Congress could remind people of how far India has come from there, and thus counter the BJP’s narrative that the Congress did nothing despite ruling India for 60 years.

Fifth, by creating a new enemy in the British, the Congress could finally do something to set the agenda.

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  1. I have never read a more infantile piece about Congress revival. The write bristles with sweeping statements, bizarre premises and half truths, presented in bad English. You should think twice before promoting such immature reporters.

  2. Nowadays monkeys r performing less in circus and more in such left hypocritical publications like print, quint etc…useless and idiotic article…just wondering whether the print has paid the writer or the writer has paid the print for publishing this article…

  3. What nonsense? Congress can comeback if it stops promoting Rahul Gandhi as PM. It is as simple as that. They need to show that they can look beyond Gandhi family. Possibly bring up a Dalit face for PM. Though personally I prefer that such divisive methods are not used but these unholy ways could only save the Congress. The opposition unity is all farce. Post election they will never allow Rahul to be pm under some pretext or the other.

  4. I thought this was a satirical piece, but he turns serious. Are you serious?
    Rahul Gandhi is the straw clutched by a drowning Lutyen’s elite. Lutyen’s people hv elevated him, and are working hard to reverse everything that Modi govt has done, even if it means appearing anti-national merely to reverse Modi (pro-terrorist, anti-army, pro-Tukde gang) doing fake news and so on

  5. Congress has to coin a single catchy word that clearly demarcates in popular imagination ‘HINDUTVA -A POLITICAL IDEOLOGY’ against ‘HINDUISM’ and then weave it’s narrative of secularism, liberalism, leftism and nationalism around it.

  6. Shivam Vij’s prescription is sure recipe for disaster, ultimately resulting in “congress mukt Bharat”! Nobody will believe congress if it blames British for leaving us in poverty, because even a child in India knows that congress party looted the treasury left and right through umpteen scams like CWG, 2G, Coal scam etc. , during UPAII. Congress party cannot also live down the record of 65 years of minority appeasement.

  7. The enemy is RSS.
    Everything they stand for.
    Their idea of India. Their values. Their exclusionary vision. Ideology. Everything.
    RaGa has taken that on. He is fighting a court case accusing them of killing Gandhi.
    But that’s looking in the past.
    Look forward.
    And explain why a 21st century aspiring nation can’t be dragged back to 15th century values.
    And avoid personalising the issue with Modi. Fight their ideology

  8. A very poor writing.Per author,Congress ‘s secularism can sustain only it is against Hindus(hindutva).All parties including BJP & Congress are playing Ambedkar card to woo dalits where as he was not a dalit when he died.Only a hindu is a dalit where as Buddhist is not.Ambedkar was only Chairman of Constitutional formulating committee.Demanding compensation from British will finish off Congress ‘s very existence.Congress was created by a britishman as platform to creat understanding bw masses & Raj Admins & it was always supportive of their policies.Such writing hv no taker.

  9. Seriously …I mean seriously Shivam ? And you guys get published!

    No words. Liberal Ecosystem is indeed powerful.

  10. The British left is 1947. No one with an IQ above 70 would hold them responsible for our present failings. In fact, after three generations, a certain nostalgia sets in. They left many fine monuments, institutions, the English language, which is helping us in a globalised world. 2. The idea of identifying an enemy is deeply problematic. It is an admission that for a formation to be attractive, electorally successful, it must divide the country into at least two hostile camps, create negativity and strife, perhaps even a little violence. In a country like India, with so many existing faultlines, in some ways with nationhood still a work in progress, that can ignite a million mutinies. It precludes the possibility of cooperative endeavour, including between centre and states. Beyond a point, the national agenda itself, more than harmony and rapid, broadly inclusive development, can become like a 9 pm debate on Times Now or Republic TV. 3. Although the Congress doesn’t talk much about it, one hopes senior people are working on a solid economic blueprint. The jobs India needs, apart from a lot else from the economy, do not come from election rallies and speeches.

  11. British has left and its effects had given leverage to congress for nearly two Decades after independence..Now the only enemy that congress has is BJP/RSS which is against a multi cultural lingual society which Congress stood for ..How can Rahul Gandhi subsume British in the equation,his grand father made many bogeys by joining commonwealth to command economy to Kashmir issue..It would do no good in bringing back what they have done..Vision is to give liberal nationalism with freedom to Practice,promote all faiths n language that can automatically blunt assimilative hindutva narrative..

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