So the Congress party has made its peace with the Hindutva campaign to alter the fundamental character of the Indian state as well as its collective bad conscience about dithering long on the issue. With this decisive act, they have categorically disowned the legacy of Nehru and Gandhi and, like the Aam Aadmi Party accepted a restrictive role in the state as a party standing for good governance within parameters laid down by BJP.
How can a shrine constructed on the wreckage of an old one be claimed as a sacred space? How can violence consecrate piety? How on earth can there be reparation for sacrilege? Howsoever magnificent the proposed structure, it will be darkened by memories of lawlessness and bloodshed. And it will vindicate oppression rather than benevolence.
Congress leaders are now practically saying they have no difference with the ideology of the saffron gangs, but that they are more capable of delivering the same goods, and with greater panache. This is at best the legacy of later phase of Rajiv Gandhi’s rule when the visionary glow of young idealism that pioneered state intervention in protecting the environment and state initiative in promoting information technology lost its grip and helplessly wandered into the typical quagmire of a new Congress realpolitik complete with involvement in questionable religious machinations.
Make no mistake, this marks a decisive turn in the Congress’ journey. The delicate balance of upholding secular ideas within swirling currents, religious as well as blatantly superstitious, of age-old piety as well as ersatz fanaticism, so firmly and admirably shouldered by Nehru has
now been laid down by a tired and lost leadership. An entirely new idea of India baptized in religion and eschewing the “scientific temper” has been installed.
There is no doubt that on this issue both the so-called Old Guard and the technocratic-minded Young Turks are making a common cause. They have jointly turned their backs on policies they think are sure to lose votes. Congress will now shed its cumbersome ideological baggage and devote itself to reaching the elusive goal of power in a calmer frame of mind. The ties that will bind Congressmen will be that of patronage rather than principles. To put it bluntly, does Congress want Muslims to be citizens in the full sense of the term, or just tame beneficiaries if not objects of terror and hatred?
This, however, is a recipe for disaster for they have little experience in stirring religious passion, engineering riots and letting loose vicious propaganda of hate. During the great debacle of Narasimha Rao’s regime their role had never been one of organising pious sacrilege, only conniving at it.
There is a lesson here for all parties in opposition. It is that the fight against Hindutva is never going to be one of merely dislodging a government in power. It has got to be one of restoring brick by brick of the structure dismantled by Hindutva forces and putting democracy back on track. The campaign must unhesitatingly set before it this stupendous objective. It is no longer a tinkering job with a patch here and a patch there. It will have to be a sustained revolutionary democratic programme stretching over many governments. An alliance short of dedication to this goal will only smooth the path of fascism red in teeth and claws.
The rule of law has been chipped away. The police are combining the roles of prosecution, judge and jury. The great institutions have been packed with time-servers and hard-nosed henchmen. The very basic liberties of life and speech have been put in cold storage. Criticism of misguided or malicious state policies is now sedition, soiling the state’s honour. Superstitions once laughed at are being put on a pedestal as essential wisdom. One after another murderous assaults on lives and livelihoods of common people have been inaugurated with fanfare as magic cures to insuperable obstacles to people's aspirations.
A countrywide stir costing hard labour and untold sacrifice is the only way out of this oppressive morass mined with dangers. Parties must either totally re-orient themselves, dedicate themselves to these challenging tasks and remould themselves for an unremitting struggle, or join the Hindutva bandwagon with whatever shame-faced excuse they can muster. The middle way is disappearing and those who stray will get lost and never find their way back.
The author is a socio-political commentator and cultural critic. The views are personal.