Rahul Gandhi tries to debunk 'BJP-for-Hindus' narrative: But jury's still out on Congress' soft-Hindutva approach
What's on Rahul Gandhi's plate these days? Or on his mind? To be a better Hindu.
What's on Rahul Gandhi's plate these days? Or on his mind? To be a better Hindu. This, it would seem, the Congress vice-president has figured out is the only way — or perhaps the best way — to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi, described by his admirers as Hindu Hriday Samrat, in 2019.
So, while BJP president Amit Shah tours different states, focussing on setting up booth committees to enlarge the BJP's footprint, Rahul Gandhi is reading the Bhagwad Gita and the Upanishads.
"Nowadays, I study the Upanishads and the Gita since I am fighting the RSS and the BJP,'' Rahul disclosed to party leaders and workers of the Tamil Nadu unit in Chennai on Sunday. And to prove it wasn't mere cursory reading, Rahul delved into details.
"I ask them (Sangh activists), my friend you are doing this, you are oppressing people but it is written in the Upanishads that all people are the same. How come you are contradicting what your own religion says?" he said.
Rahul did not stop there. Moving to Guntur in Andhra Pradesh where he addressed a public meeting, he criticised the BJP government at the Centre for not keeping its word about granting special category status to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh after bifurcation. The promise to accord special category status for five years was made by former prime minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament and BJP leaders Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley in the run-up to the 2014 elections, promised to increase it to ten years if they came to power.
But Rahul's direct target was Modi, who he slammed for making the promise at the temple town of Tirupati during the 2014 election campaign, only to go back on his word. But the tone and tenor of the political attack significantly was wrapped in the cloak of Hinduism.
"Modi ji talks of Hindu dharma. He says, 'I am the protector of Hindu dharma'. I want to ask what kind of Hindu he is to break promises made in Tirupati and say lies to people," said Rahul.
Last week, activists of the Youth Congress in Kannur in north Kerala slaughtered a cow in public, sparking an outrage both from the right wing and animal rights activists. Rahul Gandhi was quick to respond, realising that this had the potential to deeply hurt Hindu sentiment across India. The activists were suspended within hours as the Congress distanced itself from the grotesque incident in which their men had attempted to protest the gazette notification on cattle slaughter.
To dismiss the two comments and Kannur as stray episodes would be to miss the point. The Congress maybe realises that the BJP has cleverly pushed the grand old party and its allies, like the Samajwadi Party, to a Muslim corner, labelling them only as the party of the minorities. This has enabled the BJP to corner a significant part of the Hindu vote, cutting across caste lines, at least in the cow belt. The high decibel support from the right-wingers on social media has further isolated the Congress in the public eye, its garb of secularism dismissed as a pseudo secular position, intended only to treat the minorities as a votebank.
Rahul is attempting to change the narrative. By taking on the BJP on the Gita and Upanishads, Rahul is challenging the 'BJP for all Hindus' positioning. He is trying to communicate that the right-wing with its extreme views is a distortion of what the Hindu holy books have said. That hate is not inbuilt into the Hindu religion and that Hinduism is a more tolerant religion that what it has been made out to be. The problem with the desire to master the Upanishads is that it assumes the BJP draws all its oxygen from them.
The Congress is positioning itself as a counterpoint to the right wing that wears hardcore Hindutva on its sleeve. What is being served is soft Hindutva, in the hope that the Indian electorate not comfortable with the rabble rouser, gau rakshak image of the BJP will embrace a more inclusive version of Hindutva. And in Rahul, the Congress is presenting a Gita and Upanishad scholar so that Krishna gaatha will be served as an answer to BJP's Ram Rajya.
The scriptures aren't the only curriculum on Rahul's academic radar. He has reportedly also decided to start watching Tamil movies and read about the culture of the people of Tamil Nadu. However, he did not elaborate if he would prefer movies from the MGR-Sivaji Ganesan era or the Rajini-Kamal movies or the more recent fare of Mani Ratnam.
The barbs on social media came in quick time. A tweeple responded by saying the "RSS is watching Doremon to take on Rahul Gandhi'. Political commentator Srinivas Prasad tweeted : "Reading is good. How about starting with 'How Not To Put Both Feet In The Mouth' and 'Learn Politics in 3000 days'?
The Congress should be worried about Rahul embracing the Gita motto of "Do your work, do not bother about the results''. This rather Olympian motto may not work against the go-for-the-kill template of an aggressive BJP.
And with just two years to go to take on the BJP at the hustings, the Congress can hardly afford to be in classroom mode. Rahul Gandhi would do well to remember that his job is to win the election, not to win the Student of the Year award.
Both Shah and Rahul will campaign in constituencies that are going to polls in the third and final phase on 6 April
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