November 08, 2015

India: ". . .create a platform to jointly fight the Sangh" . . . news report of 7 nov 2015 conference on conference on Jawaharlal Nehru

The Telegraph, November 8, 2015

Restive 'Congress member' speaks up - Rahul raises pitch on RSS
by Sanjay K. Jha

New Delhi, Nov. 7: A member of the audience got restive listening to academic after academic accuse the Congress of compromising on secularism at critical junctures of Indian history. He stood up and said: "It is unfair...."

Rahul Gandhi's sudden intervention took the panellists and his party members by surprise on the second day of a conference on Jawaharlal Nehru. But the Congress vice-president was visibly agitated.

"I am a member of the Congress party. To say that the Congress is not fighting the RSS is slightly unfair. The biggest force that has fought the RSS is the Congress," he said.

"I agree that more could have been done.... True, we have been defeated in the election. But saying that the Congress is not fighting for the idea of India is not fair."

Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was moderating the panel discussion, almost blushed. The participants - some of the finest brains from Delhi's civil society and academia - looked on amused.

Congress veterans A.K. Antony, Mohsina Kidwai, P. Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid appeared to be chuckling as Rahul declared: "I will explain when I speak from there... but (this is) not fair."

Minutes later, Rahul climbed on to the podium, finished his prepared speech quickly, and turned to the panellists on the dais.

"Now I want to talk about what you have said. I have been working in the Congress for 10 years and I have been brought up on the idea of secularism and (that of) respecting everyone's views," he said.

"There is a false barrier between us - we think alike. This is the time to re-establish the relationship between you and the Congress."

He underlined the difference between individuals committed to secularism, like the panellists, and an institution like the Congress.

"The Congress deals with the equations of power. We think alike but the Congress deals with the idea of power," Rahul said.

He seemed to be hinting at the compulsions of mass politics: of dealing with voters of varying intelligence, education and conviction and of processing the views of many politicians before a collective stand can be taken.

"Secularism is in the blood of the Congress. Respect for everybody in the country is in our DNA - we have to just reinvigorate the organisation," Rahul said.

"The RSS and the government can't even imagine what they are going to face in the coming months and years. The Congress will not only defeat them but smash the idea that the RSS represents."

During his speech, Rahul had cited the recent incidents of violence, accused Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat of "hateful mediocrity", and alleged that state power was being used to inflict grievous wounds on India's culture.

Earlier, the panel discussion had revolved round the Congress's failures that purportedly allowed the Sangh-BJP to take over.

Apoorvanand, who teaches Hindi at Delhi University, had chided the Congress for its nervousness about the charge of "Muslim appeasement" and asked it to return to Nehru to cure itself of "reluctant secularism".

Recalling that Nehru had suspected the Congress was not the ideal apparatus to implement the Gandhian vision, Apoorvanand asked the leadership to impart rigorous training in secularism to party workers and launch a campaign to secularise society.

Political scientist Zoya Hasan accused the Congress of handing concessions to Hindutva groups and of repeatedly compromising on secularism.

Arguing that secularism was not an option but an absolute necessity, she recalled instances of state discrimination against the minorities under Congress rule and the "meagre implementation" of the Sachar Committee recommendations for Muslims' welfare.

She said the Congress was giving an impression that it had placed too much emphasis on secularism and was instead talking of pluralism and tolerance, which was a self-defeating strategy.

Warning against the politics of convenience, she advised the Congress to try and unite all the secular parties and pursue secularism, democracy, equality and justice as a constellation of commitments.

Activist Shabnam Hashmi accused the Congress of failing to take the idea of secularism to the masses.

"The engagement of the political parties has been very superfluous while the RSS has been injecting poison in every nerve," she said.

"Beef makes the Congress defensive as if it were a Muslim issue. Terror makes it defensive. No party has forcefully taken up the issue of Sangh terror, even when Rohini Salian says she was asked to go slow."

Salian, a key prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blast case in which the suspects are said to share the Sangh ideology, had alleged in June that the National Investigation Agency had asked her to "go soft" after the NDA government assumed charge.

Hashmi added: "Manmohan Singh said, 'We will not be vindictive' when the need was to cleanse the system. This fight cannot be left to civil society as the political parties' outreach is much bigger. We should forget all differences and join hands to fight fascism."

Academic and poet Badri Raina said while the BJP practised "problematic communalism", the Congress practised "pragmatic secularism".

Ayesha Kidwai, a JNU professor, pointed to the State's failure to protect citizens' constitutional rights. Former professor Ram Puniyani said the political parties' inability to explain secularism to the people had allowed the Sangh to step in.

All the speakers appealed to the Congress to create a platform to jointly fight the Sangh.