Congress' backing of triple talaq bill indicates it's gradually withdrawing from Muslim appeasement politics
The Gujarat elections first gave a glimpse of what the AK Antony committee of the Congress had suggested in its report on the 2014 debacle -- proactively engage the Hindus.
The triple talaq bill is ending a relationship the Congress has had with the Indian electorate for almost 50 years. With its stand in Parliament on the bill, it is set to divorce the policy of minority appeasement and ready to engage with the majority.
On Thursday, when the Congress announced it would not oppose the bill that criminalises triple talaq but only suggest modifications, it buried the political logic that kept it alive for almost 50 years. After years of taking the Hindu vote for granted and going out of its way to appease the Muslims, it indicated its willingness to practice exactly the opposite policy of reaching out to the majority and taking Muslim votes for granted.
For a party that dug its own grave with the blunder of overturning the Shah Bano verdict to appease the mullahs, the decision to support the triple talaq bill without amendments—even when it has certain flaws—is an attempt to break away from the image of being a pro-minority party. Its reluctance to discuss even valid criticism of the bill shows it would now avoid even a logical debate on issues that attract the risk of showing it pro-minority.
The Congress decision to not contest the controversial decision to criminalise triple talaq through the bill even when it has already been declared null and void by the Supreme Court is obviously part of a makeover it has been attempting for the past few months.
After the humiliation in 2014, the Congress realised it was suicidal to run after the minority vote in a country where the majority is increasingly asserting its identity. It also realised the polity had changed so much that the minority was getting fragmented and the majority was solidifying as a vote bank--a reversal of the trend earlier.
Also, the Congress realised it had gained nothing from its pro-minority tag. In states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, other parties had become the minority messiahs, with the Congress being shunned by almost everyone.
The Gujarat elections first gave a glimpse of what the AK Antony committee had suggested in its report on the 2014 debacle -- proactively engage the Hindus. Congress president Rahul Gandhi's visits to temples, public display of religious symbols—tilak, sacred thread etc.—was the first indication that the party was attempting a makeover. The other giveaway was its refusal to get drawn into a debate on the Hindutva debate, talk about Godhra and 2002 riots or publicly display its tilt towards Muslim voters and issues related to them. Its complete embrace of the triple talaq bill—a BJP ploy to reach out to Muslim women and simultaneously address the Hindutva constituency—shows the transformation is irreversible now.
Results of the Gujarat polls must have emboldened the Congress. Its results indicate it gained from the makeover. In villages and smaller towns of the state, it managed to counter the BJP's attempt to polarise the election with its soft-Hindutva. Simultaneously, it managed to keep the narrative focused on low returns on agriculture and problems faced by farmers because of demonetisation. With the minor success in Gujarat, it feels encouraged to replicate and scale up the model.
When it comes to realpolitik, the Congress can't be faulted for playing the game its rival has played successfully. But, the danger of being another me-too party in the Hindutva game is that it may end up becoming a poor clone of the BJP. As Arun Jaitley argued during the Gujarat campaign, voters would obviously prefer the original over the contender. Also, by abandoning its trademark policy of appeasing the Muslims, it runs the risk of becoming the proverbial washerman's dog across the country.
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