By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Congress in Kerala has scored a self-goal, to put it in the prevailing mood of football fever. The reference is to the move by Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee’s (KPCC) ‘Vichar Vibhag’ to celebrate the ‘Ramayana month’ to ‘liberate Ramayana from the clutches of Hindu nationalists’.
The month-long celebrations were supposed to begin on July 17, the first day of Malayalam month Karkadakam. Congress MP) Shashi Tharoor was to deliver the keynote address; and Leader of the opposition Ramesh Chennithala supposed to inaugurate the celebrations.
Wiser counsels have prevailed and the party has directed the Vichar Vibhag, an outfit originally constituted to provide intellectual outputs to the Congress and its feeder organizations, not to observe the Ramayana month.
The U-turn was occasioned by the strong criticism voiced by senior Congress leaders themselves. Leading the chorus of criticism was former KPCC president and Congress MLA, K. Muraleedharan. “It is not something the Congress party needs to do. Ours is a secular party where members of different beliefs co-exist. It is the duty of communal organizations to organize religious programmes, not that of a political party,” Muraleedharan observed, adding that the Congress should not resort to such negative tactics. It is unfair to use religion to get four or five votes. Another former KPCC chief V M Sudheeran, too, associated himself with the opinion expressed by Muraleedharan.
The Vichar Vibhag tried to defend the move, saying that their intention was only to promote the concept of “Rama Rajyam” as suggested by Mahatma Gandhi as a model form of governance.
True, the move has been abandoned. But that the idea was mooted in the first place has inflicted incalculable damage to the credibility of Congress. Such self-defeating decisions will only further weaken the Congress’s oft-claimed commitment to upholding the values of secularism and democracy.
In hindsight, it can be said that the Vichar Vibhag declared its intent not on its own. Evidently, the move had the support of the top KCC leadership, which is clear from Ramesh Chennithala’s consent to inaugurate it.
Stung by the vehement criticism the ill-advised move has evoked, the KPCC beat a hasty retreat. But in the process, the Congress has reinforced the widely prevalent perception that the party has only betrayed its anxiety to defeat the BJP at its own game.
The Congress must realize that the soft-Hindutva line simply won’t help the party. The earlier it understands this, the better.
Significantly, the Vichar Vibhag’s decision has come against the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s criticism that the Congress has now become a party of the Muslims. The Congress, obviously, has been rattled by the Prime Ministerial outburst. The move to celebrate the Ramayana month to mollify the ‘hurt sentiments’ of Hindus has to be situated in the context of the PM’s vitriolic critique.
In reality, however, such tactics can only hurt the Congress. The party runs the risk of creating doubts in the minds of the minorities with such negative exercises. Nor will the party succeed in its attempt to dent into the solid Hindu vote bank of the BJP. The Congress, if it is serious about its commitment to secularism, must get back to the basics: its original belief in the values of secularism and democracy and its resolve not to use religion for political gains.
But the very fact that the party contemplated celebrating the Ramayana month has severely dented the party’s credibility and questioned its commitment to upholding the values of secularism and democracy.
What lends further credence to the perception that Congress is not serious about its proclaimed resolve to fight the forces of communalism – a criticism frequently voiced by the CPI(M) – is its initial response to party MP Shashi Tharoor’s statement that, if re-elected, the Modi-led BJP Government would turn India into a “Hindu Pakistan’.
That the BJP strongly criticized the statement was predictable and understandable. But the initial attempt by the Congress leadership to distance itself from the Tharoor remark was, to say the least, shocking.
True, the Congress leadership in Kerala has initiated damage-control moves by extending full support to Tharoor albeit a bit late. But the fact that the Congress is finding it hard to resist the temptation to toe the soft Hindutva line must cause grave concern to the secular camp. Such political blunders will further weaken the party’s efforts to lead the broad anti-BJP front the opposition is trying to cobble together.
It is serious introspection time for the Congress. (IPA Service)