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Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Why the Congress represents Indian values best

We are a Congress-minded nation.

In saying this, I don’t mean we’re a nation of Congress voters, though that also is not inaccurate. Other than in one election, 1977, Indians have always voted for the Congress more than for any other party.

What I mean is that Indian values are best, and I would even say, only represented by the Congress. These values are religious accommodation, comfort with racial and linguistic diversity, acceptance of caste in politics, comfort in dynasty and a preference for compromise over principle. This flexibility has kept India democratic, and it is a Congress trait. The party also represents the middle-class consensus which views India as a great civilizing force, and seeks a nurturing of India’s cultural aesthetic.

In Pakistan’s The Express Tribune, Khaled Ahmed wrote on 8 April: “The Indian Constitution informs the attitude of the Indian middle class, which is tolerant of secularism." This is true, and as an idea it is owned by the Congress.

Unlike the Tories and Labour in the UK or Republicans and Democrats in the US, we don’t have division by ideology in Hindu middle-class society.

Woman power: BSP chief Mayawati is a terrific orator. Keshav Singh/Hindustan Times

The BJP thinks it is an ideological party but it doesn’t have any real ideology. The party’s three ideological thrusts are all negative: Muslims shouldn’t keep their family law, Muslims shouldn’t keep Ram Janmabhoomi, Muslims shouldn’t keep separate status through Article 370 in Kashmir.

Ideology is something you stand for, not against. The CPM is an ideological party. The BJP is a party of resentful Hindus (symbolized by the face of a permanently sour Arun Jaitley).

We can observe a demonstration of this in the collapse of the Ayodhya movement. Its supporters were not in favour of the temple, but against the usurping mosque. Once the mosque disappeared, so did the movement of which we now hear little. This flaw is in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) gene and was passed on.

Muslim concession always deflates the BJP, and this explains the party’s decline, which will continue. The middle-class Hindu’s bigotry against the Muslim is reactive. His hatred is not ideological or dogmatic, such as the Muslim’s for the Jew. His bigotry responds to offences against him real and imagined—Somnath temple or Partition.

Because the bigotry is reactive and not ideological, the Congress has been able to accommodate it where required almost as efficiently as the BJP.

An irreligious Congress such as Jawaharlal Nehru’s does not put off Hindus, but it thinks it cannot afford to take the chance. This opportunism also aligns the Congress morally with Indians.

Many hate Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi now but historically, the Congress has never been above using a little slaughter to appease Hindus, like in Ahmedabad in 1969 under Hitendrabhai Desai. During the 1992-93 riots, when Surat burned, Gujarat was ruled not by the BJP but by Chimanbhai Patel. When Delhi’s Hindus turned against Sikhs in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi looked away.

Sonia Gandhi is one of the Congress’ finest leaders. Subhav Shukla/PTI

Pakistan’s Ahmed separates Congress voters from BJP voters in this fashion: “Many factors are common between the city-dwelling middle classes of India and Pakistan. The middle class lives in the city and votes rightwing. The Bharatiya Janata Party gets its vote in the city; the Congress party gets it from the rural areas."

This is how many people see it. There are two problems with this formulation. The first is that the Congress, in its various forms, is currently dominant in four out of six metros. The BJP has only Bangalore.

Secondly, the BJP’s appeal for its voters lies in caste rather than ideology. For example, it is a Lingayat party in Karnataka. Its problems there have come because the RSS does not accept this fact and denies Lingayat champion B.S. Yeddyurappa his due. Ahmed’s observation that the middle class aligns with the BJP is valid only so far as middle class can be conflated with upper castes, seen as BJP voters. Middle-class expansion is today happening in India because of the rapid entry of lower castes. This is actually lethal for the BJP and good for the Congress. Unlike in Pakistan, India’s middle-class expansion will make it more moderate.

There is a reason why the Congress continually attracts young and urbane talent, but the BJP doesn’t. The reason is the alignment of the Congress with the broad Indian sentiment, which makes it naturally attractive and competitive. The open-minded BJP leader like Manohar Parrikar senses this and must often distance himself from the RSS position. In the Congress, Nitin Gadkari would have made even district president with difficulty.

I predict the decline of the BJP and the fragmentation of its state units into regional parties based on caste. This breaking away will paradoxically make these units more acceptable in coalitions and more coherent. The signs are visible in Rajasthan and Karnataka, where Hindutva has become irrelevant. In Gujarat, the party will collapse after the autocrat exits.

The Congress under the Gandhis, and later the Vadra-Gandhis, will remain our one great national party.

I nailed my colours to the mast in my column of 17 May 2009, but it is appropriate in a piece such as this that I again disclose my allegiance.

I am a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) voter. I was persuaded by a newspaper article. In 1996, writer Meenal Baghel reported a BSP rally in Uttar Pradesh for TheIndian Express. She described rain, a large crowd, wet, and the bamboo barricades it was straining.

Mayawati mounted the stage and said: “Chamari hoon, kunwari hoon, tumhari hoon" (I’m low-caste, single, yours). What a terrific line. I was seduced immediately.

The BSP is corrupt, true. But it has not butchered Sikhs or set Muslim children on fire. It has more legitimate grievance with India than any other group (Gandhi said of B.R. Ambedkar: “That he does not break our heads is an act of self-restraint on his part"). But it doesn’t extract justice through collective punishment. It is pragmatic with its social tormentors, a quality I admire.

It doesn’t share the Hindu middle-class fantasy that India will become a world power tomorrow, though most of us are illiterate and hungry and will remain so in our generation, and the next and the next.

I have sometimes wondered if I do right in voting BSP, for I am greatly attracted to Manmohan Singh, and because I have lived in states where BSP candidates usually forfeit their deposits.

But I have never felt guilt.

Aakar Patel is a writer and columnist.

Send your feedback to replytoall@livemint.com

Also Read | Aakar’s previous columns

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