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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 32, August 5, 2023

Rise of Hindutva Politics and Crisis of Congress Party: Search for an Alternative Politics | Badre Alam khan and Sanjay Kumar

Saturday 5 August 2023, by Badre Alam Khan



Ideology and Organization in Indian Politics
Growing Polarization and the Decline of the Congress Party (2009-19)

by Zoya Hasan

Oxford University Press

23 August 2022 | 216 Pages

ISBN: 9780192863416

The Grand Old Congress Party has for some time now been going through an existential crisis at the ideological and organizational level in current Indian politics. However, the Karnataka Election verdict (2023) has given a new lease of life to the Party. In this election, the Party has managed to get a landslide victory by securing 135 seats out of 224 whereas BJP managed to get only a meagre 66 seats. The Party has had glorious records in history and played a critical role in the anti-colonial movements and the freedom struggle. Post-independence, the Congress Party and their leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru who, as the first Prime Minister of India played a significant role in shaping India as a modern nation-state based on the secular and pluralistic ideology. Barring a few exceptions, the Bharat JodoYatra (India unity march) launched by the Congress party under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi has tried to revive the Nehruvian legacy and hope in Secular and democratic politics. The success of the Yatra remains yet to be seen in the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, the Karnataka election verdict has been seen by many as the success of Yatra. However, the critiques argued that the Yatra has not taken caste and communal based discriminations seriously that is widely seen in the public domain.

Since the 2014, the RSS-BJP led Hindu majoritarian politics has posed a serious threat to the very ‘Idea of India’, conceptualised during the course of the freedom movement. The Hindutva majoritarian politics, dominated by politics of polarisation, adopted the agenda of communal mobilisation (targeting minority communities especially Muslims) to get electoral mileage. Now neo-liberal Hindutva, aggressive nationalism, and anti-minorities politics have pushed secular politics to the backseat. The Congress party in 2014 and 2019 faced a humiliating electoral defeat in general elections, when the Modi led BJP got the majority of seats in both the Centre and most of the states’ assembly elections.

In this backdrop, an outstanding scholar in the field of Indian politics and society, Prof. Zoya Hasan’s new book, “Ideology and Organization in Indian Politics: Polarization and the Growing crisis of the Congress Party (2009-19),” tries to decode and meticulously analyse the Congress party’s decline/ crisis during the last decade, at the ideological and organizational level and She also talked about the external and internal factors, leading to a crisis of the party. The book under review has been divided into six chapters.
In the first chapter, Prof. Hasan has mapped and underlined the ideological and organizational trajectory of the Congress party and its decline. She has traced out a long history of crisis from 1967, when Congress lost several state assembly elections to the split in the party during 1969. Out of the split, emerged a decisive leader, Indira Gandhi, who centralized the party structure. As a result, the Party faced a huge ideological threat from diverse political and opposition groups.

Since then, socio-political changes have been taking place nationwide. Other social groups have also emerged in the form of identity politics, demanding recognition, redistribution and representation under the Bahujan leadership. As a result, political and ideological discourse has shifted towards identity politics. This was also the time when Indian politics witnessed the emergence of regional parties that weakened the Congress party’s reach, particularly in the Hindi belt. Traditionally, Dalits, Muslims and upper-caste voters belonged to the Congress party. However, after the 1990s, the minorities moved towards the regional parties, while the upper caste voters from the Cow belt shifted towards the BJP. More importantly, the Babri Mosque demolition, Mandal agitation (after the 1990s), Gujarat pogrom-2002, etc., deeply impacted the Congress party and its political fortunes. All these significant changes have challenged the secular and pluralistic idea of the Congress party. Apart from that the over-centralization of leadership in the party, sidelined by state leadership, lack of robust organizational structure and cadres building, etc. are still hunting down Congress party.

In the second chapter, Prof. Hasan tries to explain why the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) collapsed. Despite great socio-economic achievements during UPA-1, especially when the party implemented 27 percent OBCs reservation in the higher educational institutions. Unfortunately, the upper caste voters were not happy with the UPA and Congress party’s decision. Additionally, the UPA government had continued to implement several rights-based welfare policies like MGNREGA, RTI, Mid-day meal programs in schools, and National Food Security Act (NFSA) to address economic deprivation of masses and try to counterbalance the possible ill-effects of neo-liberal economic policy to a large extent if not entirely.

In UPA-II, the party faced mega scams allegations, which made Congress defensive. The allegations around the 2G scam, the commonwealth game and Coalgate scam, etc., has provided opportunities to counter the Congress party in the realm of electoral politics. As a result, the Congress party witnessed a huge electoral defeat in the general election of 2014. These scams provided opportunities to the BJP-RSS-led organizations to launch campaigns against the UPA-II government under the anti-corruption campaign “India Against Corruption” (IAC). A nationwide protest under the leadership of Anna Hazare along with national media which ran corruption news 24/7 coverage got more support across all castes and classes. The right-wing propaganda led by BJP-RSS and their affiliated organizations made UPA-II give an image as a corrupt government, despite the achievement of economic and social development. These instances have shown that the Left and Congress failed to understand the communal and anti-social justice agenda of the BJP-RSS combined.

In the third chapter, Prof. Hasan has discussed the Gujarat model and its impact on national politics. The discourse around Gujarat model (right-wing and media creation, not based on empirical studies) has significantly shaped electoral politics in favor of the BJP under the leadership of PM Modi. This discourse has further construed the politics of Congress as defensive. During elections, the BJP-RSS campaign constructed Modi’s image as a ‘man of development’ (VikasPurush) who could provide a vision for ‘New India’. In short, the propaganda around Gujarat model (through media controlled by corporate houses) electorally benefited BJP in the 2014 general election. However, the Congress party failed to show economic and social achievements of the last 10 years especially during UPA-II. As empirical studies done by academics on the Gujarat model rightly demonstrated that, the state did not achieve any standard of human development in their index. On this topic, well-known social scientist Christophe Jaffrelot underlined that the so-called Gujarat model is actually based on ‘jobless growth’ or ‘growth with minimal development’. (See, the Financial Express, dated 25 Nov 2017). The book under review has successfully dismantled the myth around the Gujarat model of development.

The next chapter focuses on secular politics. The author examines how historical mistakes of the Congress party weakened the party and nature of the secular state which is rooted in the freedom struggle. The BJP-RSS has been working for a majoritarian nation-state against the Constitutional idea of pluralistic and multicultural state. Hindutva brigades often criticise secularism and pluralism, enshrined in our Constitution of India. Hasan explains Congress party and its leaders’ role in the Shah Bano case and the response of the then Rajiv Gandhi and P. V. Narasimha Rao, in the case of Babri Masjid. These cases allowed the RSS-BJP combined to blame the party for its pseudo-secularism or minority appeasement to get votes of Indian Muslims. These communal issues have further created fear among Muslims minorities. Besides, communal violence against Muslims has made the Congress party electorally weak. Hasan correctly observes that the Congress party compromises with the secular and democratic values, inherited from the legacy of freedom struggle.

In chapter five, Hasan has expressed that the project of Hindu nationalism created challenges before the Congress Party along with the ‘pluralist idea of India’. While explaining how the BJP-RSS has created the idea of Hindu nationalism, Hasan underlined that the rise of right-wing populists’ government is a worldwide phenomenon. For example, in countries like Russia, Turkey, USA, UK, Sri Lanka, the right-wing nationalist politics created enemies in the name of race and religion. The idea of pluralism and secularism is under serious threat amidst the rise of Hindutva nationalism. Any powerful idea needs equal representation which should be reflected in the nation building process. The Congress party after 60 years of rule has failed to recognize and accommodate the Dalit, Adivasi and minorities in institutions and into the party structure. The BJP is now trying to reshape Indian politics with a long term cultural and political agenda by building the grand Ram temple, the repeal of Article 370, CAA-NRC and now foregrounding discourse around the UCC (Uniform Civil Code) in the public domain.

The last chapter in this book argues that after the landslide victory of BJP in 2019, political discourse has now shifted towards the Right with the help of corporate houses-controlled media who have also redefined and shaped political narratives in their favor. Now, the BJP after the 2019 Lok Sabha election established itself as the leading party in Indian politics. The BJP’s successes to divide Indian society on religious and communal lines have created a permanent majoritarian communal regime, according to the author. The rise of a majoritarian right-wing populist government has discredited the oppositions including the Congress party.

To sum up the main themes of the book, it would not be exaggeration to say that Prof. Zoya Hasan has brought out sharp critical works on ideology and organization in Indian politics to understand major shift of Indian political discourses under the BJP and its external and internal impact on ideology and organization of Congress party. It is now understood that secular and liberal ideological discourses around the Congress party and its decline have only benefited the upper-caste and class. The socio-political issues and question of representation of subaltern classes (especially Muslim minority) has not been taken seriously by the Congress which has been also reflected in the ideology of the party. As a result, the Soft-Hindutva orientations of the Congress and its new leadership during 2019 general elections compromised with the secular and democratic values of our Constitution and has proven useless in countering the Hindutva juggernaut so far. To create alternative political options amidst the rise in majoritarianism and hyper-nationalism, regional, social justice parties and Congress need to focus more on democratic and inclusive approach that include activism and advocacy for the marginalized communities rather than adhering strictly to electoral gains.

Therefore, we argued that the Congress and the opposition parties should consider the Phule-Ambedkarite path of the egalitarian perspective rather than following the Soft-Hindutva approach or so-called secular vs. communal discourse to counter the BJP-RSS in the larger electoral politics.
The Karnataka election verdict is proof that people are now more concerned about their everyday livelihoods rather than religious and communal issues. By conceptualising election strategies toward the upliftment of subaltern masses, Congress could very well create a wider voter base and overtake the BJP in the main elections. However, this volume, although well researched and argued, has not talked about the Phule- Ambedkarian perspective to counter the Hindutva juggernaut in the long run. A mere electoral defeat of the Hindutva majoritarian (ostensibly based on Brahmanical politics) is not going to alter the political discourse in favor of the subaltern masses.
Instead, adopting an egalitarian perspective would serve to be much more efficient and just for everyone (for instance, rights and privileges should be equally distributed to all, especially to the least advantage in the Rawlsian sense). It has to be noted that the recent Bharat Jodo Yatra has given energy to Congress party electorally (victory in Karnataka election 2023 can be cited as an example) and energised the Congress party workers in particular and public in general; however, the Yatra has not so far provided ideologically sharp critique of Hindutva majoritarian politics, a necessary step to create space for an alternative politics. In a given political context, this imagined just, and fair society can only be possible provided the Congress including opposition parties seriously consider carrying forward the egalitarian perspective as championed by Bahujan icons like Joytiba Phule, Periyar, and Babasaheb Ambedkar rather than confine to merely electoral utility.

Given the limitations of this volume, we recommend that if anyone is interested in understanding the crisis and challenges witnessed by the Congress party, they must read this book. It is a timely intervention and a useful contribution to understanding the changing contours of Indian politics. This book is worthwhile for students of social science, research scholars of political science, as well as the interested general reader.

(Dr. Badre Alam Khan has a PhD from University of Delhi and is currently associated with the Centre for Equity Studies, Delhi and Dr. Sanjay Kumar has completed ICSSR Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Centre for African Studies, School of International Studies, JNU)

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