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It seems to me that Rahul Gandhi’s Congress is showing itself incapable of doing the right thing. The right thing, in my opinion, by Indians, but also by itself. In Maharashtra, it has ganged up with the Hindutvawadis to bully Muslims over the Bharat Mata Ki Jai debate. It was on the Congress party’s insistence that a Muslim legislator was suspended from the Maharashtra assembly. It is instructive to know what happened in that instance. The Hindu reported the sequence:

“In his speech, the Governor had cited the government’s initiatives to build memorials for Chhatrapati Shivaji, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Bal Thackeray, Gopinath Munde and others.

“‘Is this how the government uses taxpayers’ money? Instead, it can build hospitals,’ said Mr (Imtiyaz) Jaleel, a former television journalist and first-time MLA (from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or AIMIM).

“BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) MLA Ram Kadam asked him how he could oppose a memorial for Chhatrapati Shivaji. He asked both MLAs to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Mr (Waris) Pathan stood up and said he would not do so, even at the cost of his life.

“This led to an uproar, not only from members of the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine but also from the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The Speaker had to adjourn the House for 10 minutes. After the proceedings resumed, BJP Mumbai chief Ashish Shelar rushed to the two AIMIM MLAs, and he and other BJP MLAs surrounded both and shouted Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Shiv Sena MLAs, too, shouted slogans like Iss desh mein agar rehna hoga, Vande Mataram kehna hoga (If you want to live in India, you have to say Vande Mataram)."

There we have it. In this atmosphere, everything may be reduced to the perfidy of Muslims, and purified through slogan-chanting.

The Hindu added that “reacting to his suspension, Mr Pathan later said: ‘I love my country. I was born here and I will die here. I can never dream of insulting my country. Don’t judge anyone’s love for the country by just one slogan. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat, Jai Maharashtra.’"

I find it quite pathetic that any Indian should have to say this, and shame on all of us.

The latest episode in Hindutva’s competitive, bogus nationalism has Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis demanding that those not wanting to utter the slogan should leave India (i.e., go to Pakistan).

However, we must not forget the Congress role in this. It was the Congress leader of the opposition, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who would not relent on this till Pathan was suspended, denying his voters representation.

The second instance from recent times that leads me to say what I do is the Congress opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative, a brave one, to allow Pakistanis to join the investigation into the attack in Pathankot. What was wrong in Modi doing this? Nothing. I think it was a terrific move, and even if the Pakistanis act in churlish fashion, it will reward Modi and India in time. It should have been supported rather than spat on, as the Congress did, in concert with those other unreliables, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party.

For a decade, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance practised restraint and cooperation in its Pakistan policy. Even in the face of the most monstrous provocation—the attacks in Mumbai—it chose to engage Pakistan. Now that it is out of power, it is doing the opportunistic thing.

The party seems a different creature from Sonia Gandhi’s Congress, or, to put it differently, Manmohan Singh’s Congress.

That is not to say that on matters of communalism it was not opportunistic before. Whatever else my old friend M.J. Akbar may have said about the BJP over the decades, for at least 20 years I have heard him saying that the “Congress speaks with a forked tongue". Who can say he is wrong?

We have seen Congress opportunism passing off as pragmatism before. After 2002, the Gandhis decided that all Gujaratis were lost permanently to Hindutva. And so the Congress has backed off on first principles.

Today, the choice before my parents in Surat is between voting for a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) woman (Anandi Patel of the BJP) or an RSS man (Shankersinh Vaghela of the Congress).

And what has been the great result of this shameless surrender of principle? That the Congress vote share has declined. It is not even winning, so what is the point of such erosion of brand value?

Seen as softly secular when in power, it wishes to be hard and nationalistic when out of it. Can it do to Modi—show him as weak on Pakistan and Muslims—what Modi did to it? Of course not. That is laughable.

The Congress and the Gandhis cannot really own Hindu nationalism and anti-Pakistan sentiment, no matter how hard they try. Such things are owned by the BJP and Hindutva.

In Pakistan, they say that when a Punjabi speaks Urdu it sounds as if he’s lying. That is how it is with Rahul Gandhi’s Congress. When they insist national honour is tied to legislators shouting Bharat Mata Ki Jai, they are lying. Certainly, they sound as though they are.

That is why it seems to me that the Congress cannot be trusted to do the right thing by Indians, or by itself.

Aakar Patel is executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at aakar_amnesty.

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