Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for a change, was less than direct in his attack on the Congress when he said on Thursday that post-1947, the BJP was subjected to treatment far worse than what the Congress endured during British rule. “Even the Congress did not suffer during the British period as much as the BJP has suffered in the past 50-60 years since Independence,” he said at the bhoomi poojan for his party’s new office in Delhi. It could have been passed off as a generic remark but the Congress’ reaction to it revealed that it had hit home.
The party said the prime minister had denigrated the freedom struggle and belittled the sacrifice made by crores of Indians. Thus, he “must apologise to the nation”. The apology demand and the sense of outrage involved sought to highlight, in a twisted way, the Congress’ claim to the legacy of the freedom struggle. It’s ironic.
The Congress lost the claim as far back in the 1960s, post-Jawaharlal Nehru and when Indira Gandhi recast the party as an entity more geared towards political survival than anything nobler. The legacy of sacrifice for Independence was effectively buried in the period when the new Congress was taking shape around the culture of absolute loyalty to the leader and ideological opportunism.
Indeed, it is difficult for the party now to claim that it is the inheritor of the Nehruvian legacy either. Secularism and liberalism were the grand ideas that defined the legacy of Nehru. That the Congress of today would fail to launch a stout fightback when these superior human values are under severe attack from forces which thrive on being hateful reflects the pathetic state of the party. Trapped in its own hypocrisies and the politics of expedience on both ideals — secularism and liberalism, the Congress finds it difficult articulate a clear position.
A party rooted deep in true Nehruvian moorings should not find it difficult. The truth is Indira’s Congress was different from the Congress to which her father belonged. The former gave idealism a quiet burial gap to replace it with realpolitik.
At Thursday's address to party workers, Modi exhorted them to stay true to ideology. While the BJP’s core ideology is partly nebulous, partly indecipherable, on the whole it is understandable. It may not be to the liking of many in the ideologically-neutral space and higher human values may have limited respect here but its contours have started becoming clearer. Those of the Congress has become more and more unclear over time. If it wants to exhort its party workers to stay true to ideology, it won’t be able to tell them which ideology.
We have entered a phase where ideas matter more than ideology.
The latter is self-limiting; ideas address the ever changing dynamics on the ground better and allow political parties operational flexibility in a diverse country with diverse demands. Yet it is ideology that helps parties build their core support bases. The Congress’ emptiness in this regard shows clearly. It makes it a point to criticise Modi’s every statement, but fails to realise that it amounts to being churlish and that its criticism requires more intelligent ideological content.
Is there an effort from the party to find it? It does not appear so. We have yet to hear a well-articulated view from the leaders of the party on issues of secularism, liberalism, the economy or even on the recent issue of atrocities on Dalits by gau rakshaks. Leaders continue to speak in many voices — the remarks on Balochistan and Kashmir are examples. By cleverly pitting it against people on divisive issues, the BJP has managed to put the Congress in a bind.
Relentless criticism of Modi only reflects the helplessness of the Congress.
Perhaps it is time to introspect.