The turmoil over Salman Khurshid’s book doesn’t seem to be ending. It has brought out the differences within the Congress once again. In a statement, Ghulam Nabi Azad has disagreed with Khurshid’s purported comparison of Hindutva and ISIS. “We may not agree with Hindutva as a political ideology distinct from composite culture of Hinduism, but comparing Hindutva with ISIS and jihadist Islam is factually wrong and an exaggeration,” he said.
While the Congress has desisted from commenting on Khurshid’s book, dismissing the issue as an author’s freedom of expression, the discomfort with his lines became evident when the party said that the former union minister’s view is not its official line.
Interestingly, Azad was the party’s Uttar Pradesh incharge at one point and understands that caste and religion play important roles in the politics of the poll-bound state. In an assembly election when Ram Mandir and Ayodhya are set to become electoral issues, the Gandhis, particularly state incharge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, has tried to steer clear of any controversy that may cause polarisation, which would benefit the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. This is why her Sankalp Patra (poll promises) and campaign have been focussed on peoples’ issues, like rights for women, health infrastructure and education. But, obviously, she cannot ignore the emotive and powerful religious factor. Hence, visiting Kashi Mandir and reciting Durga Stuti have been her attempts to showcase the Congress as a party that is Hindu and does not just indulge in minority appeasement.
Khurshid’s book has become damaging because it fits into the polarisation frame and the BJP has been quick to latch on to it and do an extensive press conference. BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia accused the Congress of being anti-Hindu and demanded an apology from Sonia Gandhi. It also makes the position of Priyanka awkward as she clearly knows that the game has to be played well so as to be back in the reckoning.
Khurshid is part of the strategy committee of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, so his views cannot be merely dismissed. This is bound to come back to haunt the Congress as the BJP will hit the campaign trail soon. Azad was a carefully chosen voice as he comes from the same minority community as Salman Khurshid.
Azad’s comments can assuage some of the damage and also help the Gandhis tide over this crisis. And Azad as a member of the so-called group of 23 (G23) dissenters may endear himself to the Gandhis once again. But in the process, the Congress once again looks confused. And some in the party’s UP unit have been left wondering why couldn’t the book release have been deferred for a while: at least until the elections early next year had ended?
With inputs from News18