Congress' leaked 'Muslim appeasement' draft manifesto for Telangana polls exposes confused, bipolar party

In December 2006, Manmohan Singh was prime minister, heading the UPA government. At a meeting of the National Development Council in New Delhi, he sought to redefine secularism and outlined how his government liked to prioritise welfare of one community over everyone else in the country. He famously announced, "Muslims must have first claim over resources".

Over a decade later, the Congress, struggling to counter the "Muslim party" tag, has gone a step further by proposing a series of benefits meant exclusively for the Muslim community in Telangana, if its government comes to power after the 7 December election in the state. The party is also proposing to offer some sops to the Christian Church, which has in various parts of the country often been at loggerheads with the Narendra Modi regime and the BJP.

The manifesto is yet to be released. The leaked contents of a draft manifesto have been in circulation since Monday evening, but the Congress party has not denied the veracity of its contents.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Some of the promises that the Congress outlined in its draft manifesto are as follows: Free supply of electricity to mosques and churches, some government contracts to be marked exclusively for Muslim youths, Rs 20 lakh in aid for impoverished Muslim students, residential schools for Muslim boys and girls, hospitals meant only for Muslim patients, strict governmental action against those private entities that refuse to hire Muslims and a selection panel to be constituted for recruitment of Urdu teachers.

Jawaharlal Nehru's concept of secularism has clearly been twisted by the Congress under the dispensation of his great grandson Rahul Gandhi. From "Muslims have first right to resources" under the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh regime to free power supply for Muslims, in addition to hospitals, schools, monetary aid and so on, the Congress has taken long strides to seek the votes of one particular community.

The question is why distinguish between citizens X and Y? Those needing medical care are entitled to an equal measure of attention by hospitals without distinguishing whether a patient was a Hindu or a Muslim. Why distinguish between places of worship of various religion in terms of government aid and support? What makes a mosque and church entitled to a free electricity supply in their premises and why should a temple or gurudwara be deprived of free electricity supply? The list of questions goes on. The Congress will need to respond to its new found governance model.

By doing so, the Congress is trying to outwit the TRS and AIMIM in Telangana in a race to garner a larger portion of Muslim votes. The Congress lost its support base in the Muslim community in the 1980s and early 1990s, mainly because of the way the party conducted the Ayodhya issue and the way emerging regional parties in various parts of the country proved to be a better counter to the RSS-BJP's Hindutva mobilisation. The Congress could get Muslim support only in areas where the BJP and Congress were pitted head-to-head, where no strong regional force was present.

The party suffered from a trust deficit from both the majority Hindu community and minority Hindu community.

Telangana does not have a substantial BJP presence. The ruling TRS and challenger Congress, along with its allies, are thus engaged in a competitive Muslim appeasement formula.

Ironically, in the places where the Congress is in direct contest with the BJP, it is making an overt Hindutva posture and where the BJP is a marginal force and the Congress is engaged in a fight with a regional force, the latter is taking a pro-minority tilt. That shows the kind of confusion from which the Congress currently suffers.

In the Gujarat election, Rahul Gandhi became a "Janeudhari Hindu" (Brahmin) and for the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha elections, he would become an "ananay Shiv bhakt". His party promised to create a new spiritual/religious department in Madhya Pradesh, construct a Ram vangaman path, build gaushalas (cow sheds) in every district, find a great deal of virtue in gaumutra (cow urine) and make lofty promises to commercialise it. Digvijaya Singh would tweet a recorded entry of Motilal Nehru in a register kept by a priest in Pushkar to claim that Rahul Gandhi is in fact a Kashmiri Brahmin.

The issue here is not what Motilal Nehru or Jawaharlal Nehru's caste or gotra was. The issue here is Rahul's attempt to claim his grandmother’s father's Kashmiri Brahmin lineage (not his grandfather's Parsi lineage) in north India to suggest that he is a better Hindu than those in the BJP leadership, and the electoral benefits he is aiming in north Indian states. A few days ago, Congress leader CP Joshi had overtly pronounced that only Brahmins could speak of Hindus and Hinduism and in the same vein, had questioned Modi’s caste and religion.

In the south Indian state of Telangana, the party is taking a completely different Muslim appeasement turn. The party perhaps is compelled to do so in Telangana because it does not have a Kamal Nath-like leader there, who in a closed-door meeting attempted to convince Muslims that at least 90 percent of the members of the community must come out and vote for the Congress.

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Updated Date: Nov 27, 2018 17:09:52 IST

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