Once an acolyte of the Congress
party’s enfant terrible, Sanjay Gandhi, the new Madhya Pradesh chief minister,
Kamal Nath, has had a chequered, if fairly successful, career.
His latest achievement has been to
deftly traverse the minefield of his party’s internal feuds in the state to
emerge on top as head of the government. In the process, he sidelined a former
chief minister and a redoubtable “loose cannon” Digvijay Singh (in his own
words) and bundled off a chief ministerial aspirant, Jyotiraditya Scindia, to
U.P. where he may well be eclipsed by the rising star of Congress politics,
For the moment, therefore, Kamal Nath
can breathe easy and regard Madhya Pradesh as virtually his exclusive fiefdom.
It is probably this perception of being the master of all he surveys which made
him decide to emulate his U.P. counterpart, Yogi Adityanath, in embracing the
Kamal Nath (and Scindia) had already
decided to pursue their own version of Hindutva when they decided on projecting
the construction of a Ram gaman path as a mark of veneration for the route
which the Hindu god took during his exile in the region.
Now, this path is expected to be both
a tourist attraction and a sign of the Congress’s transformation from a
follower of “hard” secularism (which made it look like a Muslim party, as Sonia
Gandhi once said) to “soft” Hindutva which is expected to reassure the majority
community that the BJP is not their only well-wisher and protector.
Towards this end, the Congress
manifesto for the state promised a gaushala (shelter for cows) in every village
and the commercial sale of gau mutra (cow’s urine), the saffron brotherhood’s
cherished beverage. It is not known if these promises would have outraged
Jawaharlal Nehru, but it is obvious that the Congress has come a long way in
his great grandson’s time, at least in Madhya Pradesh.
Now, the state government has given
another indication of its ideological slant by using the National Security Act
(NSA) against three people for cow slaughter. Although the decision to use
the draconian law has been condemned
by senior Congress leader, P. Chidambaram, and Digvijay Singh, the state
government has taken only a mild corrective measure by announcing that the home
department will monitor the use of the NSA.
The party’s central leadership,
however, has decided to stand by the chief minister because they believe that
he is “competent enough” to know which law to use against which offence.
How far the Kamal Nath government will
go down the Hindutva path is not known, but it appears that the Congress as a
party is trying to atone for Rajiv Gandhi’s error of judgment as prime minister
when he, apparently at the behest of Muslim fundamentalists, negated the
Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgment on alimony for Muslim women.
After years of having been seen as
being more sensitive to minority sentiments than to the majority ones, the faux
pas on Shah Bano was the culmination of the Congress’s acquisition of a “Muslim
party” image, which was identified by veteran leader A.K. Antony as one of the
reasons for the party’s electoral setbacks.
Since then, the Congress has been
trying to retrace its steps as could be seen from Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits.
But it is a giant leap backwards from revering the country’s Hindu heritage to
accepting its antediluvian trends as the Madhya Pradesh Congress is doing.
Such revivalism is but one step away
from starting to sing the praises of gau mutra and to claiming, as the BJP
leaders do, that Hindu India had everything in the ancient times from
aeroplanes to plastic surgery to internet.
If Kamal Nath and Co wanted to glorify
Hinduism, the emphasis should have been on the really memorable achievements of
Aryabhata, the mathematician and astronomer, Baudhayana, who first calculated
the value of “pi”, Charak, whose book on medicine describes various diseases
and the methods of identifying and treating them, Susruta, a pioneer in the
field of surgery, Varahamihira, who said that the moon and the planets were not
shining because of their own light but by reflecting sunlight, and many other
sagas. It is worth noting that the BJP leaders do not mention any of them, but
indulge in fantasy which makes India a laughing stock in the world.
In the years before Independence and
for a decade or so afterwards, the Congress was seen as the natural party of governance not only
because it represented the multicultural idea of India, but also because it
stood for a modern, liberal, forward-looking society which had nothing to do
with irrational, unscientific, obscurantist beliefs. Where some of the other
parties are obsessed with religious sectarianism or a caste-based polity where
patriarchal elders rooted in orthodoxy rule the roost, the Congress is expected
to foster conditions for the present times where robots serve guests at
restaurants and Artificial Intelligence opens vistas for a world resembling
science fiction. Gau mutra cannot be a part of such a scene. (IPA Service)