By Amulya Ganguli
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, Priyanka Gandhi.
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 Hindutva weltanschauung.
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)