Congress President Rahul Gandhi may be an atheist. To me, he seems like an agnostic. In any case, there is nothing in the Indian Constitution stopping him from being a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain, Scientologist or founding a religion like Emperor Akbar.
These are personal choices made by people based on their outlook, experience and upbringing. Gandhi and his Congress party have tried to project him as a practioner of rituals associated with the Hindu religion in the last few months to blunt the narrative unleashed by the RSS-BJP that the Congress was ‘anti-Hindu’.
The Congress party has taken this exercise seriously because it believes that one of the main reasons its vote share decreased in the last several years, with consequent increase in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s vote share, is because the BJP propaganda that Congress was ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘pro-Muslim’ has influenced voter preferences. Hence, to neutralise the propaganda, the Congress has adopted a strategy which seems to have clicked in Gujarat.
The BJP realises this and it has been trying to question Gandhi’s ‘Hinduness’ and make him and his party look like hypocrites interested in the Hindu religion only during the time of polls. Someone like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath even said that the priest of Kedarnath told him that Gandhi “sat for puja like one does during namaaz”. ‘Gandhi is more Muslim than Hindu’ was the message intended by that crass remark. It took an Omar Abdullah to correct Yogi that Muslims do not sit during namaaz. The ‘secular brigade of intellectuals’ with Leftist leanings, who have taken objection to Gandhi’s temple visits now, did not utter a word to counter Adityanath.
Not only that, these people have unwittingly contributed to helping the BJP by keeping alive the term ‘soft Hindutva’ for Congress’ overtures towards the majority community. There is a backgrounder to this coinage. It was done by the likes of Prakash Karat, whose school of communism has not progressed beyond Stalinism even today.
The reason why sections of the Left propagated this was to belittle the Congress as it was the main political rival in the few states where the CPM had any stake. It goes back to the years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, when the Trinamool Congress was not even formed. It helped the CPM to win votes of the Muslim community in West Bengal and Kerala against the Congress.
Narasimha Rao was called a ‘closet saffron sympathiser’ just because he trusted the solemn pledge the BJP Chief Minister of UP made to the Supreme Court of India that he would protect the Babri Masjid and because he later did not order central troops to fire on an unruly mob that brought down the masjid to prevent bloodshed.
After the formation of the UPA, which Left parties supported from outside for almost the entire first term, the term ‘soft Hindutva’ had disappeared from the lexicon of the likes of Karat. Unfortunately, Left intellectuals have started using the term again after Gandhi’s temple visits.
What they do not realise is that although Gandhi’s temple visits is a political strategy it does not violate the secular values by which he or his party stands. Some of them seem to be parroting the term without even applying their minds to find out what the term means.
To know what ‘soft Hindutva’ is, one must first understand what ‘Hindutva’ means. It is a term coined by the RSS founders to denote the ‘outlook’ of its followers. Outwardly, the organisation would say it is the synonym of ‘Indianness’. A Supreme Court judge with RSS leanings gave constitutional validity to this specious argument too. However, ‘Hindutva’ is not about ‘one language, one culture, one nation’ as the RSS may suggest.
It is about political positioning to ensure that a secular Constitution makes way for ensuring Hindu and caste supremacy. It’s about reemphasizing on the system supposedly defined by Maharishi Manu, where public order is maintained by observing caste system and where women are inferior. To suit the times, the RSS has reworked on Manusmriti to woo Backward Communities, post-Mandalisation, and has made it more inclusive but its views on women, Dalits, Tribes, Muslims and Christians remain unaltered, at least in practice.
If this defines Hindutva, ‘soft Hindutva’ must be its milder version? So, when the Hindutva brigade murder people for their eating habits, one has to assume that the Congress would not kill but harass people for eating beef? When the Hindutva brigade burn missionaries, Congress workers should at least beat them up? Would those using the term ‘soft Hindutva’ be able to say that this is what Rahul Gandhi and the Congress is doing by projecting Gandhi as a pious Hindu who visits temples? I think they would admit that the answer is no. So then, why use this term, which was coined with the devious intent of driving away minority voters away from the Congress?
If the argument is that politicians should not make a show of their religiosity, then those making the argument should realise that such arguments have got them nowhere, internationally and in India. It was the Communists efforts to deny the ‘masses their opium’ that saw the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe, notwithstanding the fact that the impractical nature of Socialism had led to economic bankruptcy.
What, however, is amusing is the hypocrisy of those who demand that ‘separation of the state and church’ could be achieved only if politicians keep away from places of worship. Fearing the growth of the BJP in Kerala, the CPM has been at the forefront of organising several functions connected to religious festivals such as Janmashtami. CPM sends his youth volunteers to help those making the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, too, every year. Majority religion is no longer the ‘opium of the masses’ at least in Kerala now.
However, given the Communists’ aversion towards religion which reflects in the constitution of different Left parties, it may not be possible for its top leaders to openly show ‘religious fervour’. The Congress has no such restrictions. It is not a party whose constitution specifies atheism. One can be a believer or a non-believer even while being a member of the Congress party. Several of its leaders have traditionally been believers. Mahatma Gandhi tried to teach Indians that the essence of all religions was the same and they all are meant to seek and find God. Hence, it would be a good idea for Left intellectuals to understand reality and what the term ‘soft Hindutva’ means before using it loosely, unless the intent is to help BJP.
( email@example.com)(Published on 08th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 02)