There is an anecdotal account of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) second sarsanghchalak (head) MS Golwalkar and his concern for the Congress. In 1967, when the Congress party lost Assembly elections in many states, Guruji, as Golwalkar was known, was a worried man.
In one of his sojourn in Gujarat, he was pacing up and down soon after the results of Congress’s decimation came in.
“What is the worry sir?” a senior RSS member asked Golwalkar.
“I am worried about the country as the Congress losing ground is an ominous sign”. Those who attended to Golwalkar those days included a young lad who is now the Prime Minister of the country.
Despite Narendra Modi’s clarion call of making India “Congress mukt (free of Congress)”, the BJP is acutely conscious of the fact that Congress’s irrelevance at the national political scene would be harmful for the country. At the same time, top BJP leaders are also aware of the fact that given its rich political history and legacy, Congress has an innate capacity to revive and regain strength.
But there is genuine fear among a section of Congress veteran leaders that the Grand Old Party is losing connect with its history and unique legacy.
This is the context in which we must place the metamorphosis of Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh — who often doubles as the party’s conscience-keeper — from addressing Osama Bin Laden as “Osama-ji” to his seemingly dramatic approval of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” chants. An astute leader, Singh is desperately trying to hold on to the sands slipping through his tightly clenched fingers.
But he isn’t the only one who realises that the Congress has been gradually losing ground by joining the wrong side of debate on nationalism/anti-nationalism. In the political space, the BJP has successfully forced Congress to cede the middle-ground and align itself with the Left and radical Left positions on critical national issues.
Historically, the Congress has always been on the side of robust nationalism without being a communal party. Unlike Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and its later incarnation Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which identified itself as a predominantly Hindu party, the Congress offered an umbrella where competing social and political forces could gather and co-exist. This is the precise reason why the Congress never lost ground to the BJP on the issue of robust “nationalism”. Be it 1962 war with China or 1965, 1971 wars with Pakistan or Operation Bluestar in 1984, the Congress won unqualified admiration from the RSS-BJP leadership.
However, old-timers in the party are quite peeved over the manner in which Congress is increasingly being seen as an ideological appendage to the Left parties.
Two instances are particularly galling for those like Singh who believe that electoral setbacks must not push the party to go astray from its original path. Congress leaders admit that Rahul Gandhi’s dalliance with JNU episode has not gone down well with the party’s support base in the Hindi heartland.
In their own estimates, the scion of Nehru-Gandhi family cavorting with those chanting full-throated slogans for destruction of India has substantially damaged the historical perception of Congress.
While Rahul’s visit to Hyderbad Central University (HCU) on Rohit Vemula was seen as good politics, his indulgence with the JNU rebels was taken as dilution of the party’s nationalist credentials.
What appears to have found the party strategists in a bind is Congress’s initial hesitation on the issue related to chanting of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai (glory to Mother India)”.
In the freedom struggle, the description of the nation as “Mother India” is a construct which has its genesis much older than the RSS. In fact, the RSS borrowed it from the Congress and adopted it as its own.
In the post-partition phase, “Mother India”, as effectively espoused by the Congress and its stalwarts, came across as an all-encompassing, liberal and caring but not permissive concept. This concept was beautifully translated into a movie “Mother India” where lead actor Nargis, playing a benevolent mother, shoots dead her own son found on the wrong side of the law. Incidentally, the Congress, not the RSS or its adjuncts, epitomized this concept.
There is little doubt that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s insistence on displaying their patriotism by chanting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” is as ridiculous as it can get. Yet there is a strong possibility of using this ploy to push the Congress further away from its historical moorings and appropriate the legacy which does not belong to the Sangh Parivar.
In fact it would be instructive for the Congress leadership to realise that much of the BJP’s organisational growth is sustained by ceding of middle-ground by the Grand Old Party of the country. Its course correction is a welcome step as further disarray would ruin the party beyond repair — a prospect that even Golwalkar dreaded.