Parties are busy negotiating the saffron tide, be it brainstorming Indian National Congress, its regional offspring or ruling partner in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena
Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi with party leaders Rahul Gandhi, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and other dignitaries during the party’s Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir, in Udaipur. Pic/ANI
The Congress’s frontline leadership, including rebels who had invited the high command’s ire by asking for a radical change in the party’s organisation structure, have brainstormed at a chintan shivir in Udaipur to give an alternative to the BJP ahead of the 2024 general polls and state polls scheduled to be held later this year and the next. The 400-odd leaders strategised the way and means of making the party stronger, for enhancing its outreach and adopting certain policies that may help it retain the vote base which has shifted to the BJP and regional parties, most of which are the Congress’s own products. However, a critical issue that the Congress faced in Udaipur seemed to be the BJP’s agenda of Hindutva that has taken principal parties by storm.
Should the Congress adorn the BJP’s saffron, and how, if it were to do so? Some leaders demanded clarity on the ideology when the party is seen adopting soft Hindutva whenever the BJP lays trap for it and others that call themselves secular or some like the Shiv Sena who differentiates between their Hindutva and BJP’s Hindutva, knowing that they cannot displease the biggest vote bank of Hindus, which is split between the parties and has increasingly supported the BJP in the states, barring down south where the regional parties have come up at the cost of Congress’s depletion. The BJP may have the last laugh when the Congress deliberates at the shivir whether it should celebrate the Hindu festivals. The ruling BJP has set the priorities for the Opposition in the past eight years, notwithstanding their allegations of communal polarisation.
The BJP is ready with a series of mandir-masjid scenarios to be presented aggressively to the voters in the future. Done with Ayodhya which is now being frequented by non-BJP parties like the MNS and Shiv Sena, the BJP supporters and pracharaks have Kashi, Mathura and the Taj Mahal bag-packed for their countrywide sojourns. A stand, either in favour or against ‘made-for-Hindus’ issues, will have its consequences for the parties that have branded themselves secular or those like Shiv Sena trying to be one among the neo-seculars despite keeping Hindutva close to their heart and vote bank politics.
Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s Saturday’s public rally, the first ever after taking over as the Maharashtra CM, revolved around the very subject of BJP’s and his party’s Hindutva. Thackeray can afford to reclaim Hindutva by officially proclaiming his party’s past, but his partner in the MVA, the Congress cannot do so. Thackeray said the Sena’s Hindutva was developmental while BJP’s was ‘perverted’. He dug into the past to convince his dedicated party audience and those not aligned with the BJP but watching him keenly as the head of the state. On the other side, the Congress does not seem to be learning from its past, but was seen at the shivir focusing only on the future, that too by replicating the BJP’s formula of success. Does the Congress expect leverage from the BJP making blunders similar to the ones the Congress’s prolonged regime had committed in the phases, giving rise to the BJP? If so, then the Congress must have to be a watchdog, not just the barking type but the biting type.
The Congress doesn’t have to be worried about being politically relevant. The BJP itself works relentlessly to keep the Congress relevant by leaving no opportunity to attack the party’s top leadership, Rahul Gandhi being its most favourite. The BJP treats the Congress as its principal opposition because it knows of the Congress that appears to be unaware of its own strength, still untapped, ignored or simply taken for granted. The Congress is as fresh as the BJP in the people’s memory cells. The BJP knows that the Congress may not have the spirited leaders and workers, but its prime opponent’s ideology still has a sizable number of people backing it. But what works well for the BJP is that these people are split between the Gandhi-helmed Indian National Congress and its estranged and smart regional offspring and offshoots. It has to be seen how the Congress travels into the future.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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