The ongoing drama in the Congress is a reflection of the identity crisis faced by India’s opposition in the face of the BJP ‘juggernaut’. Of course, the BJP is by no means in an unassailable position because much of its popularity is due to one person – Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As seen in West Bengal, even that has its limitations. But the crisis has also to do with ideological positioning. The opposition’s failure to position itself against the BJP is because of an inability to understand the reasons for the latter’s dominance. The BJP, itself, describes it as ‘Hindutva’, but rather than accept its definition, academic ideologues prefer to view it from the western perspective of fascism and ‘communalism’. Politicians, on the other hand, are busy trying their hand at ‘soft Hindutva’ to gain acceptability among the masses.
The thing is that there were followers of ‘Hindutva’ even before Modi, such as Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani. Vajpayee, while being grounded in the Indian civilisational ethos, was much too accommodative of Nehruvian Socialism. That saw his graceful stint as Prime Minister being rejected by the voters, as it was neither here nor there. Lal Krishna Advani took a much harder line, but was almost entirely devoid of administrative ability. Modi, on the other hand, brought the right mix of ideology and Gujarati pragmatism, which has found acceptance because development needs to go hand in hand with social and cultural changes.
The traditional leadership of the Congress, as exemplified by the Group of 23, is too honest (relatively speaking) to mindlessly oppose the good being done by the present dispensation. They wish to use this period for internal party reform to be well-situated in the post-Modi period. However, that inevitably would lead to the diminishing, if not the entire elimination, of the Gandhi Family’s political role. As such, the Gandhi siblings favour a more radical, naturally leftist ideology that brooks no compromise – even if it hurts India’s progress and strategic interests. This is why immature but clamorous elements are being inducted and promoted. Even as one such, Navjot Singh Sidhu, was busy discrediting this approach, the Congress was bringing in the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani. Nothing was more ironic than to hear communist Kumar extol the virtues of Guru Nanak, Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi on the occasion. What the new Congress wants from him, however, is the Marxist’s skill at exploiting social fault-lines and stoking grievances. With the assistance of casteist politicians like Hardik Patel and Mevani, a counter-narrative is being shaped as a challenge for Hindutva. Is that something the voters will like on the menu in future elections? Rahul Gandhi’s fate depends almost entirely on that.