Like it or not, BJP president Amit Shah is right. Two years since coming to power the BJP continues to set the narrative of political discourse in the country. And, all other political parties led by the principal Opposition party Congress try to softly but slowly fall in line.
The issue of nationalism and a slogan that is being used to judge an individual's allegiance to India, 'Bharat Mata ki Jai', is now gaining acceptability. So, why blame BJP leaders for hysterical articulation of their beliefs and attempt to reset the context of debate on issues of national identity when there is no political appetite to challenge the RSS position across multiple social mediums.
On Thursday, at the end of the Himachal Pradesh assembly session, senior Congressman and chief minister Virbhadra Singh, facing CBI investigation, took everyone by surprise when he chanted 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' three times amidst cheers from BJP members. According to reports, the impression one gets is that Virbhadra Singh was trying to prove to himself as much to his Congress colleagues that by raising the slogan he felt empowered and energised.
Days before that Maharashtra Congress MLAs had joined hands with BJP and Shiv Sena to get a member suspended who refused to raise the slogan as Islam, his religion, did not allow for worshipping any deity. Within days Congress spokesman Abhishk Singhvi questioned the fuss over refusal to raise this slogan and said, “there is nothing wrong” in saying Bharat Mata ki Jai. Senior leader Digvijay Singh who had addressed Osama bin Laden as ‘Osamaji’ also fell in line.
It is a matter of time before vice president Rahul Gandhi also feels compelled to raise the chant and add strength to RSS definition of what distinguishes an Indian from a non-Indian, or more specifically, anti-national.
In Saudi Arabia’s capital prime minister Modi was greeted by ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ by TCS workers when he visited their office.
Protesting non-Kashmiri students raised the Indian flag inside NIT campus in Srinagar with the help of CRPF soldiers amidst chant of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. While Kashmiri Muslim students in a few Jammu colleges were beaten up when they refused to raise the slogan. It is a matter of time before more such incidents take place with Kashmiri Muslim students studying in colleges across different states, and with non-Kashmiri Muslims as well.
Rising membership at RSS shakhas, social media acting as an instrument of transmission of both facts and fiction to aware and unaware users, TV anchors falling in line to have more and more debates where Muslim clerics or political leaders come face to face with saffron clad sadhus and BJP sympathisers are important pointers to dramatic transformation in the spread of Rightist ideas. Even if at times it smacks of anti-Muslim taint.
Several political observers would be naïve to correlate electoral performance of BJP in coming state elections to its ideological influence. BJP has no chance of coming to power in Bengal or Kerala. But, the gains in vote share in Assam and Kerala will be significant pointers. At the end of the day unless there is a pan-national issue all voters are influenced by local issues, issues of jobs and economic well-being. On its part the BJP, by raising such issues and through projecting itself as the sole proprietors of pro-India mindset is setting stage for political mileage it seeks to gain in coming years.
Since Lok Sabha elections Rahul Gandhi has made it a point to make well publicized trips to temples, whether at Kedarnath or Varanasi’s Banke Bihari. Not that it is wrong to visit temples but when it has not followed a behaviourial pattern for years it does provoke questions.
Recall years ago how BJP managed to corner Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the issue of “taking a holy dip” at Allahabad’s Sangam, and there was a near hysterical media debate for days on whether she would, she should or should not.
Or, how the 1999-2004 term of NDA under Vajpayee saw Congress-led by Sonia Gandhi meekly accepting changes in the iconography of the Parliament House. President Pranab Mukherjee, then senior Congress leader on the Committee on Potraits and Statues, without any protest agreed to the installation of the portrait of Veer Savarkar. Having realized the political mistake Sonia Gandhi and Congress leaders later boycotted the unveiling of the portrait in Parliament’s Central Hall.
These are a few illustrations on how the Congress Party has been ideologically overwhelmed by the RSS-BJP. A process that started in 1980s when Congress began accepting and incorporating ‘soft-Hindutva’ ideas into its political message has gained greater credibility after the party was humiliated in Lok Sabha elections winning only 44 seats.
It would be foolish to compare the present lot of Congress leaders with their forefathers after Independence. Similarly it would be wrong to compare Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi with their illustrious ancestor Jawaharlal Nehru who famously refused to campaign in 1954 Phulpur by-election arguing that an election debate that had his food habits as an issue was not worth getting into. He won handsomely without ever campaigning.
Today the Congress Party has ceded space in ideological debate to RSS-BJP without even a pretence to engage in debate and discussion. BJP may lose or gain seats in elections but, its ideological march will gain greater momentum in weeks and months to come. Congress leaders lack intellectual depth and political weight to fight the ideological battle, notwithstanding Rahul Gandhi’s bold assertion that he will destroy RSS.