By Sushil Kutty
The AK Antony panel constituted by Sonia Gandhi to look into the 2014 Congress debacle blamed BJP’s Hindu communalism for the Congress defeat and concluded that Hindu votes mattered to win elections. Regardless, the Congress lost in 2019. Now, after eight and a half years, AK Antony has come out of semi-retirement and reiterated that along with Muslim votes, Hindu votes also mattered if the Congress wanted to “defeat Modi”.
Then, in 2014, the ‘Antony Report’ was consigned to the cold storage and not heard of again. Now, perhaps, the Gandhi family will listen for several reasons. One, Hindu consolidation should not favour the BJP alone. Two, the Congress should stop looking at Hindu votes consolidation as communal. Three, if Muslim votes can consolidate and not be communal, why should not the same apply to Hindu votes?
Four, bigotry should not have different meanings for different sets of people. Five, this is a new India with a large proportion of the electorate who are Hindus, who look at appeasement as discriminatory. The Congress has to correct its skewed perception on the majority and minority. All traces of blatant appeasement should go out the window.
Last, Modi’s concept of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ has to be countered with an equally all-encompassing, effective and inclusive slogan. The Congress cannot look at Muslim votes in isolation and continue to profit electorally. The Congress is not Bollywood, which makes films keeping in mind the Muslim majority of Pakistan, and which worked for “I’m Khan and Bhajrangi Bhaijaan” for as long as there weren’t the streaks of nationalism, and jingoism.
Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has changed perceptions to some extent, but the dividends from the yatra cannot be squandered. Samajwadi Akhilesh Yadav’s refusal to join the BJY is proof that the yatra has rattled not just the BJP, but has also upset the other political adversaries of the Congress.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra appears to be on the right path. But the reality is as long as there are other minority-appeasement parties, the Congress will be reduced to scrounging for shavings of the minority votes. As the party approaches 2024, there’s a need for another period of soul-searching.
The party should look at the Antony panacea with a fresh pair of eyes. The Hindutva-wielding BJP should be wounded where it hurts it most…its Hindu vote-bank. The semi-retired but still powerful voice of AK Antony makes sense to a lot of Hindus, who do not want to waste their votes on ineffective regional parties.
The Antony panel report should be pulled out and circulated. It must become essential reading for all Congress units. Apparently, it is hard to find a copy of the report. The majority of Congress leaders had to be reminded of it after Antony spoke again that Hindu votes mattered. And that includes the current lot of Congress spokespersons.
Which brings us to Rahul Gandhi’s diatribe at the Red Fort that the media was bought and paid for after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. The fact is, the Congress decision to boycott news television channels for their open BJP bias gave to the BJP open sesame footage to air its views at the cost of the Congress.
That lacunae worked for the benefit of the BJP, which took full advantage of the absence of authorized Congress spokespersons. The plethora of YouTube channels that came to the rescue just could not outshout the combined noise of the so-called ‘Godi media’.
This self-created void has now made it difficult for the Congress to take forward AK Antony’s ‘Hindu votes matter’ strategy. Even before the words were out of Antony’s mouth, a storm of criticism was let loose on the media questioning the Congress for taking “Muslim votes for granted” for decades, and now deciding to play “vote-bank politics with Hindu votes”.
Examples of the numerous times the Congress “mistreated Hindus” for electoral purposes are being paraded on TV screens; instances of which Congress leader invented ‘Hindu terror’, and which one spoke of ‘Hindu Pakistan’? And, didn’t a top Congress leader equate “Hindutva” with Boko Haram and ISIS? Also, did not Dr. Manmohan Singh say that Muslims had the first right on the nation’s resources?
The question is, should the Congress be deterred, discouraged or should the Congress go ahead and start a dialogue with the Hindu electorate, even at the expense of the Muslim minority? The Congress cites its victory in Himachal Pradesh, where 95 percent of the population is Hindu, and 65 percent of that upper caste Hindus, to refute the argument that the Hindus will not ever again align behind the Congress.
The fact is, Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ after it left behind Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana had taken on an increasingly ‘Hindu aura’ about it, and pictures of Rahul Gandhi prostrating before Hindu gods and goddesses were all over the media. And with his well-advertised beard, Rahul Gandhi did look like the “tapasvi” he had become over 2800 kilometres and 100-odd days on the road.
Today, after nearly 10 years in the woods, the Congress cannot fight on the plank of “communalism versus secularism”. It is not being “pro-minority” that has hurt the Congress as much as the perception that the Congress is openly “anti-majority”. (IPA Service)