Senior Congress leader and former Union Minister for Law, Salman Khurshid’s recent confessional remark at the Aligarh Muslim University regarding his party’s track record on failing to control communal bloodshed has stirred a hornet’s nest both in and outside the AMU campus. Charges and counter-charges have been flying across thick and fast between leaders of the AMU Students’ Union and some senior BJP leaders.

Strangely enough, within the AMU campus, no member of the AMU community has either challenged or supported Salman Khurshid’s candid admission during an interactive session with students in which he admitted that his party's record when it was in power was not without blemishes as far as fair play towards the Muslim community was Concerned.

In fact when a heckler questioned the Congress government's role in suppressing the truth in the aftermath of the massacre of Muslims at Hashimpura and Maliana in Meerut district in 1987 he was bold enough to accept that the Congress party had "blood on its hands" (More than 50 Muslim youth were picked up by the police from their homes, shot dead in cold blood and their bodies dumped in a canal. The Congress party was in power at the Centre and in the state and despite tremendous pressure from all, justice was not meted out to the perpetrators of this crime. In fact, successive governments went out their way to shield the guilty policemen.).

Ever since the electoral debacle suffered by the Congress against the Modi led Hindutva forces in 2014 the Congress has adopted an almost apologetic stance on secularism and its pluralistic ethos. The same ostrich like approach which the Congress adopted in Gujarat after religious polarisation swept across the state's political landscape in the post Godhra era is now being replicated at the national level.

The Nehruvian era of no compromise on communalism is being diluted at the altar of political expediency, as some influential sections in the Congress still feel that adopting a soft Hindutva stance would be more fruitful for the party in the electoral arena. But, they must realise, that its posturing of soft Hindutva didn't pay any dividends in Gujarat and neither will it do so on the national level.

Interestingly, the AMU community has also chosen to maintain a discreet silence on the statement of Salman Khurshid, which lies at the heart of this episode. Speaking to a cross section of students and prominent members of the AMU community and Muslim leaders outside the AMU campus, it is apparent that while a large cross section of Muslims, including Congress supporters, strongly agree with Khursheed’s s spontaneous confession regarding his party’s failure in protecting and preserving the rights of the Muslim minority during its fifty years’ rule over the country, they would prefer not to rake upthis issue at a time when the Congress and other opposition parties are trying to create a common space for confronting the Modi-led juggernaut in the forthcoming Assembly and later the Parliamentary elections. Individuals like the former President of AMU Students union,Faizul Hasan, agree that the issues raised by Khurshid are too important to be ignored, but this was "neither the place nor the time to question him on this issue".Hasan says, “Our main thrust today should be to challenge those forces which are spreading ill will because, for India, this is going to be a make or break issue”.

Senior Congress leaders have attacked Salman Khurshid on this issue. But if the Congress leadership is interested regaining its support base within the Muslim community, it would perhaps be ill advised for them to gloss over Khurshid's self introspection.

His hold on grass root level Muslims has always been limited because he is not known for his oratorical skills in Hindustani. In fact he is considered what is termed as a "Sarkari Musalman " - a Muslim leader who prefers discretion over bitter truth. But it will be difficult to deny that in a single stroke Salman Khurshid has managed to break out from self imposed shell of a ‘Sarkari Muslim’. He has managed to touch a deep chord running across the wide canvas of the Indian Muslim community.

In the era of Jawaharlal Nehru there were tall Muslim leaders in the party who could speak bluntly even to the Prime minister. So when major communal riots broke out in some north Indian cities like Meerut, Aligarh and Jamshedpur in the early nineteen sixties, Nehru faced sharp criticism from some his own party men. Nehru, being who he was, calmy accepted such criticism from some of his oldest Muslim friends like Dr Syed Mahmoud and A.M. Khwaja. With the fading away of the Nehru era all this started changing.

Thus, when in the year 1982, Mohsina Kidwai, a close confidant of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, privately expressed her angst aftercommunal riots in Meerut, Indira Gandhi publicly snubbed her. The era of Sarkari Muslims in the Congress party was by then truly in place.

Despite recent sporadic efforts by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress has till now not fully succeeded in changing the political narrative from theHindu Muslim confrontation to bread and butter and development issues linked with the survival prospects of different marginalized communities. A change in the political discourse is palpable but whether it can be decisive change depends on the skills and determination of the opposition leadership to take this issue head on.

(Tariq Hasan is a senior Aligarh based journalist. Hasan has also authored the book Aligarh Movement and the Making of the Muslim Mind (1857-2002).)