If Congress Tumbles, It Has Bharat Yatra To Dream About
Political parties in power in the Hindi belt invoke caste to access the poor
I could swear I saw Rahul Gandhi swoon in ecstasy or aastha as he slid into a sashtang at Ujjain's great Mahakal temple. Sashtang, the highest form of supplication, is equal to a yagya where priests sit around a pit-fire, pouring ghee, chanting vedic verses for all the boons and blessings to be piled onto the devotee, in this case Rahul Gandhi.
Having walked a part of the 3,750 km Bharat Jodo Yatra for over 90 days, across 36 districts spread over 7 states, Rahul probably needed to recharge his physical and spiritual batteries, before he smeared his forehead with some more vermilion paste and resumes.
His conscience keeper, Randeep Surjewala, who first declared him a 'Janeudhari Brahmin' some years ago, a detail his parents were forgetful about, must be keeping count of all the "punya" he has accumulated by now. This will be the Brahmastra, the ultimate weapon, which will rout the BJP in 2024.
Mandiron mein jo subah o sham rahe
Aisa Rahul zaroor jeetega
(Rahul's temple hopping round the clock
will help him score in the election knock.)
It is true that the supposed religiosity of the Gandhi siblings is kept somewhat excessively in focus because of the compelling quaintness of it all. The siblings are still not persuasive enough as persons of faith or classical devotees.
They both come across as ethnic tourists, dipping in holy waters, supplicating at temples. Also, they avoid Muslim bustees like the plague. And for sound electoral reasons. Proximity with Muslims would give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a handle to polarise the vote.
After a successful campaign in Ahmedabad in 2017, a media event was arranged at the Radisson Blu. Facing a battery of TV cameras sat Rahul, flanked by Ashok Gehlot, Randeep Surjewala, Rajiv Shukla and a host of others.
"But where is Ahmed Patel?" I asked. A Congress volunteer leapt to his feet. "It's a secret but he is in the hotel." The most recognised Congress leader had been shut out of view so that the BJP does not polarise. It probably worked because the Congress put up a good fight. It is the durability of such brazen tricks that will be on test this time.
One must give it to Narendra Modi for having sprayed so much saffron in the air that it is impossible for any political party to survive without inhaling and exhaling the same air. This does not mean there was not plenty of saffron in the atmosphere prior to the advent of Modi. There was, and a lot of it.
If we put aside our amnesia, there looms the figure of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, four times President of the Congress, and concurrently founder of the Hindu Mahasabha. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, as the leading light of this group, developed Hindutva which, over a period, was adopted as the way forward by Modi. In the history of Hindutva, Modi's name will be written in bold, dark ink.
To Modi goes the credit of having made a sharp break from past confusion in his very first speech in Parliament. "We have to come out of 1200 years of subjugation." Never were India's experience with the British and Muslims placed in the same bracket. That the Congress thought differently was never made explicit; no Congress MP ever offered a ringing rebuttal in the House.
Aam Aadmi Party too has to play the electoral game under a pall of saffron but its class orientation is very different from the BJP and the Congress. The two parties represent the Hindu ruling class, one in power and the other its loyal opposition. Both hate AAP more than they do each other.
The AAP's origins are confusing, with Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev and Aamir Khan clustered on the same stage at Ramlila ground, but its record of rapid growth, ever since it won 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi in 2015, is quite exceptional.
Political parties in power in the Hindi belt invoke caste to access the poor. The AAP proceeds the other way around: it approaches the class in need of good government schools, neighbourhood clinics, free water and electricity.
In this process if it nets lower castes too, well, then the political sociology sanctifies the Lohiaite dictum that caste and class are often coterminous in India. For "people like us", accustomed to the ruling class parties, AAP's challenge is unsettling.
In its religious policy, AAP is not peddling Hinduism with a sense of dedication. Hinduism for AAP is a strategy to deny the BJP any kind of monopoly on such iconic figures as Rama. "You build the Rama temple; we shall arrange Ram Darshan, for the devotees." The latter is a continuous activity.
It is not promoting the Hindu card; it is diluting the BJP's monopoly of it.
Little wonder it makes the BJP go mad. It places all the arsenal on the Delhi Lt. Governor's shoulders and fires relentlessly to immobilise AAP.
The Gujarat and Delhi Municipal Corporation results will determine future politics to some extent. Despite the Bharat Jodo Yatra, temple hopping and holy dipping, why is there no threat from the Congress corner?
An ironic twist attends the Congress fortune in the coming days. Should the Congress come a cropper in every outing in the coming weeks, all the regional parties will come running for cheap bargains in preparation for 2024.
Hopes may be dashed because there may be no bargains to strike. The Congress may take the position that Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi Municipal elections were not what the party was preparing to showcase. Mallikarjun Kharge as party President was yet to find his feet.
Above all, the Rahul loyalists are so cock-a-hoop about the Bharat Jodo Yatra which is expected to climax in January-February when it reaches Jammu and Kashmir. What will be the mood in the Valley?
How will the Kashmiri Pandits regard a Congress led yatra? And what if the BJP stokes its variant of nationalism by screening The Kashmir Files in Jammu?