The entire discussion on this issue started with the statement by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi last year when she said that the BJP had managed to ‘convince’ people that the Congress was a ‘Muslim party’ and indicated that Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s visits to temples were an attempt to shed that perception.
It’s not just Sonia Gandhi, earlier in 2014, Senior Congress Leader and Former Defence Minister A.K. Antony had also raised this issue by acknowledging that the electorate’s faith in the party’s commitment to secularism had ‘eroded slightly’ because of a perception that it favoured the minorities.
Congress is trying to create a perception that their version of Hinduism is about love, respect, communal harmony and acceptance for all – whereas BJP’s politics of Hindutva is divisive, communal and polarising. This can be substantiated from Rahul Gandhi’s statement in parliament last year when he said: “The BJP, the RSS, and the PM Modi helped me understand what it means to be with the Congress, what it means to be an Indian, what it means to be a Hindu and a Shiv bhakt.”
Clearly, Congress doesn’t want a monopoly of BJP over ‘Hinduism’ to the extent that questioning BJP and RSS becomes questioning the religion. That’s why Congress is trying to build a counter-narrative of an ‘Inclusive Hinduism’ Vs. ‘Divisive Hindutva’ to attack the BJP and Sangh Parivaar. Rahul Gandhi saying to PM in Parliament that “Aapne Mujhe Hindu Hone Ka Matlab Samjhaaya” is a part of the strategy where Congress is trying to beat BJP in its own game.
Well, at least the results seem to suggest so. In MP, in its 112-page manifesto titled ‘Vachan Patra’, the party promised to build gaushalas (cowshed) in every Gram Panchayat, set up new adhyatmik vibhag (department for spirituality) and opening new Sanskrit schools across the state. Besides, also having a reference to Lord Ram and Narmada river.
Even in Rajasthan, the party’s manifesto talked about setting up of a go-char (cattle grazing) land development board and the upgrading of existing gaushalas, the revival of Sanskrit schools and the development of an education board for the propagation of Vedic cultural values.
All this indicates that Congress doesn’t want BJP and RSS to become ‘sole-caretaker’, ‘representative’ and ‘symbol’ of Hinduism. Therefore, Congress is pushing itself hard as a party which respects and acknowledges the religion as much as any other party.
One can clearly observe BJP’s unease and their inability to digest the revamping of Congress as a ‘Soft-Hindu’ party.
The signs of anxiousness are evident in the statements from the top leaders who are constantly attacking Congress for playing the ‘Soft-Hindu’ Card. Earlier in 2017, Union Minister Arun Jaitley had said in reference to Congress that “BJP has always been seen as a pro-Hindutva party so if an original is available why one would prefer a clone?”
Even PM Modi in July 2018 attacked Congress over Triple Talaq bill by indirectly branding it as a Muslim party and asking, “I have read in newspaper that Congress President has said that Congress is a party of Muslims, I am not surprised by this. All I want to ask is, is their party only for Muslim men or for women too?”
Not just this, but the constant attack by BJP ministers, leaders and spokesperson on Rahul Gandhi by claiming that he is exhibiting ‘fancy dress Hinduism’ indicates that BJP is not comfortable and rather irritated with the Congress’ posturing.
Rahul Gandhi visiting temples and Mathhs, talking about ‘Janeu’, ‘Gotra’, ‘Shiv-Bhakti,’ is all part of acknowledging the ‘Hindu Asmita,’ giving it an identity, and respect to the culture and religion. Congress party today is trying to present a picture of its version of Hinduism Vs. BJP’s Hindutva, which makes us wonder whether 2019 will be Congress’ Soft Hinduism Vs BJP’s Hindutva and how much will this ‘Soft-Hinduism’ tilt work for Congress is to be seen shortly.