Congress betrays political heritage by invoking NSA for cow slaughter, risks compromising opposition to BJP

After having dispensed buckets of generosity of spirit to the prime accused in the murder of police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh in Bulandshahr, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh is dispensing the same kind of generosity to more than a hundred people accused of participating in or instigating the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 by recommending the withdrawal of 38 cases.

The recommendation was made after the government gave its sanction on 10 January, in pursuance of which note was sent to the district magistrate on 29 January. The recommendation will be presented to the relevant court soon. The government had earlier sought an opinion on the withdrawal of 119 first information reports. It is believed that the advocacy of BJP MP Sanjiv Balyan, also accused of instigating the riots and who had met Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in this connection last year, played a significant role in shaping this initiative.

Congress betrays political heritage by invoking NSA for cow slaughter, risks compromising opposition to BJP

File image of Rahul Gandhi and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath. PTI

The rhetoric Balyan has used to push this initiative is sanctimonious and the rationale disingenuous. He says that he has sought no exemption for himself, but has been motivated by the fact that rich people have been given a clean bill of health, while poor people have been slapped with cases. It is not his fault that the accused are Hindus. Be that as it may, the solution in such circumstances would have been reopening cases against the 'rich and affluent', not exonerating the poor.

The Muzaffarnagar riots were some of the worst in recent memory and BJP leaders played a major role in fanning the flames to polarise an area not known for being communally sensitive, with purely political and electoral gains in mind. Balyan, as mentioned, was one of the accused as was Uttar Pradesh BJP MLA Sangeet Som. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are guilty as charged, but it does not mean that riot cases should be withdrawn before being brought to some kind of judicial conclusion either.

At present, there is, as in so many other instances, the question of timing. The present government in Uttar Pradesh came into being in May 2017 — over a year and a half ago. If it really thought that many of the cases relating to the Muzaffarnagar riots were not of a really serious character and could be withdrawn — which would at any point of time have been a travesty of justice, let us emphasise — it could have done so soon after coming to power. And Balyan surely did not have some kind of epiphany about class injustices in 2018; he met Adityanath with his plea for clemency in February 2018.

The Adityanath government, in turn, is acting on this humanitarian plea to exonerate accused persons who happen to be Hindus with the Lok Sabha elections a couple of months or so in the offing. The Uttar Pradesh government’s initiative can thus be seen only as another attempt at majoritarian consolidation, faced with the near certainty of a massive erosion of its 2014 tally and perhaps even a rout contending with the combined efforts of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party. There is every indication that ploys such as these may not work, just as the alarums and excursions over the Ayodhya may, in fact, backfire.

But over the decades one has come to expect the BJP to engage in sectarian politics. But what of the Congress? On Tuesday, the administration in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, charged three men with provisions of the National Security Act (NSA) for the crime of cow slaughter. It is inconceivable that this could have been done without reference to some political authority in the state recently wrested from the BJP by the Congress. Even if the Khandwa administration acted on its own, it was incumbent on the Kamal Nath government to countermand the Khandwa administration’s decision immediately on receipt of the information. Till last reports, it has not done so.

This is preposterous and unconscionable. The NSA is a draconian piece of legislation which provides for preventive detention of people whose actions may be in one way or another prejudicial to the security of the state. Slaughtering a cow may be against the law in Madhya Pradesh, but it is hardly a threat to ‘national security’.

The Congress government in Madhya Pradesh is, thus, guilty of indulging in is competitive communalism. You can, if you really stretch, explain away party president Rahul Gandhi’s pre-election and much-publicised temple visits as a matter of personal choice. If you are good at callisthenics, you can even explain away the part of the Madhya Pradesh election manifesto promising a large number of shelters for cows. But it is somewhat more difficult to explain away the bizarre ‘Ram Van Gaman Path’ tour to trace Rama’s footprints in Madhya Pradesh and the setting up of a ‘religious and spiritual department’ that will organise the production of cow urine and cow-dung cakes in gaushalas.

And now there is this invocation of the NSA for cow slaughter. There are several problems with the path the Congress, or at least a section of it, seems to be embarking on. First, in pragmatic terms, the Congress will fail if it tries to engage in competitive communalism or majoritarianism. The politics of majoritarian mobilisation is central to the BJP’s political philosophy and is genetically embedded in the party. It has been doing this for decades. The Congress has historically been a broad church. It will never be able to compete on this terrain with anything approaching conviction.

But there is the matter of principle, for want of a better word, as well. The Congress is betraying its political heritage by engaging in this kind of cynical, manipulative political action. More to the point, from the current standpoint, it is compromising its opposition to its principal adversary. Prospective voters will find it difficult to take the Congress seriously now when it attacks the BJP’s communal, majoritarian and obscurantist agenda if it continues in this vein. The Congress must step back and match its actions to its rhetoric. In other words, it must strive at all times to protect the Nehruvian vision of an India that is truly pluralist multiverse, where diversity and dissent can flourish, not just be tolerated. If it doesn’t stand by this vision, it might win an election against the BJP, but the BJP will have won because it will have altered forever the political terrain and the terms of the debates about India.

From Uttar Pradesh to Madhya Pradesh, from the BJP to the Congress, the nation seems to be under siege. Obviously, the BJP won’t undergo some kind of Damascene conversion, but the Congress can surely return to its roots.

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Updated Date: Feb 06, 2019 21:12:14 IST

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