Religion played the biggest role in the creation of two independent states, India and Pakistan, former around the ethos of ‘secular’ nationalism while later advocating the idea of ‘religious’ nationalism.
Secularism has only a binary – “neutral” versus “religious.” Congress took the position of “neutrality” and successfully positioned Jinnah’s Muslim League as “religious” thereby claiming the majority support of the Hindus, who by default are, the most-secular people in the world; having never despised anyone’s alternative religion or God.
Sanjay Gandhi had run the most blatant anti-Muslim political and administrative agenda during the internal emergency era of 1975-77. This had alienated the Muslims from the Congress completely. To, Congress started adopting the process of minority appeasement as a way to woo them back and convert them into a captive vote-bank of the party. Thus Congress tried to position its biggest political rival, BJP, as “religious (Hindu)” nationalist party taking for itself the position of “secular” nationalist party.
Wearing the mask of ‘secular’ nationalism, Congress perpetuated a narrative of ‘religious’ nationalism as the ethos of the BJP (erstwhile “Jansangh”). This was an exact replay of its pre-independence strategy wherein Congress had tried to position, albeit successfully, itself as a “secular” nationalist party leading to Muslim League, then its biggest political rival, getting positioned as “religious (Muslim)” nationalist party.
Their strategy fired back this time.
In trying to attribute “non-secular” credentials to Hindu majority, whose support, Congress had earlier gathered successfully, during the pre-independence era by attributing “secular” credentials to them, was a letdown for the Hindus, who rightly felt cheated by the Congress.
Hindus saw through the game of Congress for whom, Jinnah’s Muslim minority was ‘religious’ and Gandhi-Nehru’s Hindu Majority was ‘secular’ until independence. But after independence, the same Hindu Majority became ‘non-secular’ and the left-over Muslim Minority became ‘secular.’ Playing this game, Congress has ended up creating problems and setbacks to the very existence of Muslims within an ever ‘secular’ India.
Notwithstanding the massive grass-root and ground-level effort put in by them, quite a lot of support came to BJP as rejection to Congress. Because people hated the new strategy of minority-appeasement of Congress, the party started accusing BJP of ‘politics of hate.’ Such accusations alienated the secular Hindus still more from the Congress.
Through its own folly, Congress has ended up taking the positioning of “religious (Muslim)” party, in the mind of the citizens, a positioning that was vacated by the Muslim-League after independence. In this transition of Congress from “secular” to “religious” the yawning void which was left behind is now occupied by the BJP.
History is repeating. Congress had evicted Muslim-League from the Indian political arena, using its majority support, the collateral damage being in the form of partition of India.
Congress may be well-advised to rethink its strategy before the BJP evicts it from the bazaar of politics, using its majority-support. BJP and its supporters must be cautious of any similar collateral damages and ensure that no division of India happens ever again.
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