One must not forget that the Congress party had introduced an era of impunity for mass murders in the Indian politics
The recent defeat of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in three important assembly elections in India has refreshed hopes for the ouster of Hindu supremacists from power next year.
The ruling BJP suffered humiliating defeat in the provincial elections held in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The party was in power in these states, which are part of the Hindi heartland, and also performed poorly in Telangana and Mizoram. But its stakes were high in those three states where the electorate clearly rejected their agenda to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. Their anti-Muslim and anti-secular rhetoric had no takers in the states. This comes as a big jolt to the BJP, which has been pinning its hopes for a second term in the general election scheduled for next year.
The attacks on religious minorities have grown ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. In order to polarize the Hindu majority, the BJP had intensified its campaign on controversial issues, aimed at creating the fear of Muslims, and othering Christians, Adivasis or the indigenous peoples of India and Dalits or so-called Untouchables.
The opposition Congress party, which claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP, won more seats in these three states and is going to form governments with or without allies. So much so, Modi had to accept the defeat. While it is encouraging to see Hindi heartland (which has a strong support base for the BJP) rejecting sectarian politics, the fight isn’t over yet. The BJP is down, but not out. The general election is still far as the politics of hate continues to simmer. A minor spark can turn into a ball of fire if the civil society or liberal democrats do not pay attention.
Jubilation apart, it is time to take the Congress to account. The party has been trying to outscore the BJP by soft-peddling Hindu nationalism in these states to win the elections. Party leader Rahul Gandhi left no opportunity to project himself as a practicing Hindu. Though there is no harm visiting the Hindu temples or practicing Hinduism, the Congress failed to give any commitment to contain Hindu extremism if ever it came to power. They focussed purely on other issues, such as development and employment, which is absolutely fine, but the Congress party’s weakness to assure minorities that they will take to task the Hindu extremists involved in violence is certainly problematic.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Congress patronized controversial leader Kamal Nath from Madhya Pradesh. The entire election campaign in the state was run by Nath, and he is being credited for the defeat of BJP.
Nath is a former Union Minister who was involved in the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. Thousands of Sikhs were killed across India following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Members of the slain leader’s Congress party were seen instigating the mobs that were involved in the massacre. Nath was one of them. He was witnessed instigating a violent crowd outside a gurdwara in New Delhi. Though he was never charged, he was greeted by angry Sikh protestors during his visit to Toronto in 2010. The New Democratic leader at that time, Jack Layton, boycotted his events.
It is hypocritical on part of the Congress to denounce BJP as “divisive”, while at the same time it continues to shield political figures such as Nath. One must not forget that the Congress party had introduced an era of impunity for mass murders in the Indian politics and the BJP only took advantage of that in the years to come.
In 2002, Gujarat witnessed one of the worst massacres directed against the Muslims. The testimonies of the survivours prove that the methods applied on the Muslims were similar to those used against Sikhs in 1984. Had justice been provided to the Sikhs, 2002 wouldn’t have been repeated. Modi, who was Chief Minister of the state back then, is widely seen as complicit in the anti-Muslim massacre. Much like Nath, he wasn’t charged, but that’s how the system works in India and unfortunately, Congress is not going to change it. The refusal on part of the Congress to accept its responsibility in the 1984 massacre and shamelessly projecting Nath as a leader in Madhya Pradesh only reflects that.
Those who are celebrating the defeat of BJP must also press upon the Congress to prove its secular credentials by removing Nath from the party, and holding a fresh inquiry into his involvement in the 1984 carnage. Congress should also take stringent action against Hindu extremists active in these three states, and ban those outfits that promote hatred. A beginning has to be made if Congress really wants to provide a real alternative to the BJP before the 2019 election. Otherwise, these results will end up becoming another illusion.[Gurpreet Singh is a Canada- based journalist who publishes Radical Desi- a monthly magazine that covers alternative politics.]
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