Ever since its gradual decimation after the 2014 general election, the ageing Congress party has been wriggling to come out of ignominy. It is in this direction that the party’s Mumbai president Sanjay Nirupam’s proposal to set up a cell for Hindu saints and priests is being perceived.
Nirupam had in June organised a meeting with Hindu monks and sages in order to address the problems faced by the clergy and to dispel the notion that the party has lost connect with the majority Hindu community.
“The BJP, RSS and VHP are misguiding the Hindu clergy. There are many monks who still believe in the secular tradition of the country. We will counter the BJP’s strategy to indoctrinate them,” Nirupam had said while addressing journalists. “The BJP, RSS and VHP are all set to vitiate the spiritual ambience of temples and monasteries through their hate-ideology. There must be some formidable force to halt their juggernaut. This move is directed to detoxify them,” he had added.
While he considers the move as the only strategy to bolster Congress’ image among the majority community, there are many in the party who have elicited their displeasure over Nirupam’s proposal that was greeted with acerbic comments from the party’s rank and file. Many Congress stalwarts have questioned Nirupam’s unilaterally chalked out blueprint aimed at resuscitating India’s oldest political party, with a few leaders’ opinion even bordering on cynicism.
Sanjay Nirupam joined the Congress after falling out with the Shiv Sena in 2005.
While some party leaders close to Nirupam say that he has received the green signal for the project from the party high command, this is vehemently contested by other party leaders who have expressed their dismay over Nirupam’s move which they think would rob the Congress of its secular identity.
Senior Congress leader and former minister Arif Naseem Khan, outrightly rejecting the contention that Nirupam was following the Congress high command’s dictates, said, “Congress is a secular party and there is no provision to establish ‘Sadhu-Sant Samaj Cell’ within its ambit. How could the secular Congress allow a resolution pertaining to Sri Ram Mandir’s construction at the disputed land (in Ayodhya) when the matter is still pending in the court? Even the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has not made any such commitment”.
When asked about Nirupam’s proposed move, Congress General Secretary and Maharashtra in-charge Mohan Prakash said that it was Nirupam’s personal opinion and the Congress party has nothing to do with it. “I had detailed talks with Nirupam. He said that it was his personal initiative and the Congress party is not involved in this. There is no need to rake up this issue,” he said, adding that Nirupam has made the forum to resolve the problems faced by the Hindu clergies.
However, politicians on the other end of spectrum differ. Prem Shukla, a BJP spokesperson ridiculed Nirupam saying, “Earlier he was associated with Panchjaniya — the RSS mouthpiece, then Saamana — the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece. As Shiv Sena MP he was loyal to Hindutva and had leaning towards the hard Hindutva philosophy. He has a streak of Hinduism in his blood. He could not change himself in course of time even after joining the Congress, but ridiculously is all set to saffronise the secular Congress… Ultimately, it dawned upon the Gandhian party that it can’t move an inch without the support of the majority Hindu community. At least, he made the Congress realise the fact that without Hindu votes it can’t survive.”
Dr Bharatkumar Raut, former Rajya Sabha MP from Shiv Sena, said that is high time the Congress adjusts to the shifts in Indian politics and develops a strategy other than that of secularism. “It’s a question of life and death for the party. The Congress today is stuck in the secular groove and is wriggling from quite sometime to come out of it. It has literally got an escape route through Nirupam’s move. The secular card has virtually failed to resuscitate the ailing party. They (Congressmen) were earlier pampering the minorities for electoral benefits, which failed to bear fruit. The party is left with no option other than to devise a soft Hindutva course to clutch Hindu vote bank.”
Raut, who has been a journalist for four decades, further said, “Even Mahatma Gandhi had said ‘Hey Ram’ before he left for his heavenly abode. This doesn’t pose questions over his secular credentials. Even Indira Gandhi used to visit temples to pay her obeisance; she had frequently visited Rameshwaram, Kashi and other Hindu shrines. They had neither trumpeted their association with Hinduism nor denied being part of the tradition. I think this is a workable line. In today’s political ambiance, soft Hindutva remains the only tool to dilute the hard Hindutva pursued by right wing political parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena. If they resort to their old secular strategy that would further consolidate Hindu votes benefitting right wing parties”.
As for those in the Congress who are airing their displeasure over Nirupam’s stand, Raut claimed that they were not against this move but their anger was directed against Nirupam due to political differences with him. “Nirupam will definitely benefit from this. This is the sole reason why his adversaries within the Congress party are trying to topple his ‘Sant-Samaj’ move,” he said.
The move, if ratified by the Congress high command, would definitely go on to make a dent in the Hindutva vote bank of the opponent BJP. According to political grapevine, this is not a strategy solely by Nirupam, rather a tacit approval by the party high command which does not want to be draped in the saffron shawl.
With inputs from Jawed Khurshid