Identity politics is not dead: What Congress can do to beat BJP at its own game

Commoners understand no loaded statements. They act on fears. You just need the saffron party to tap them.

 |  3-minute read |   04-08-2017
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Around two years before Manmohan Singh's government fell apart, "policy paralysis" emerged as an economic term with wider currency - from New Delhi, Mumbai, Hong Kong, London, Washington to New York.

No news report on India's financial health looked complete without a "policy paralysis" inserted into it. Most media outlets, national and international alike, copy-pasted the narrative to build a story around a supposedly failing India.

Over the past three years though, that "paralysis" has miraculously evaporated from public conscience.

This, when no MRI scan of the country's economic nervous system has been able to detect a miracle cure.

Indians, rather, reconciled themselves to the shocks of an abrupt note ban and to the rigmarole of a GST.

So, I wonder whether it was wrong to assume many Indians voted the BJP to power because they were anxious about their economic future. Probably, it was.

rstvv_080417074154.jpgIn 2006, Manmohan Singh, India's first non-Hindu prime minister, committed what perhaps was the biggest mistake of his political life. Photo: RSTV

Many of us are now aware it's too far-fetched to expect a bumper output from factories and farms, a massive job creation and eradication of poverty under the BJP.

Many of us are fairly aware that the so-called Gujarat model was as much exaggerated as the alleged policy paralysis under the UPA.

The Congress, as it stands today, is beaten down electorally. The BJP's surge has been phenomenal.

Rahul Gandhi, once glamorised by global press as a future prime minister, is now hounded by an army of trolls. They are working 24x7 to turn his every public appearance into a joke encapsulated in WhatsApp-friendly video clips.

Today's Congress is a phantom of its "grandest, oldest" past. Yet, a lot many people seem to be drawing sadistic pleasure from raids on its politicians.


The answer to this intriguing question originates in the 1990s.

Under then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, a suave Sikh in a powder-blue turban becomes the architect of a new India. As finance minister from 1991-1996, Manmohan Singh restructured the Indian economy after four decades of quasi-socialism.

Fast-forward to 2004, Sonia Gandhi, raised a Roman Catholic, made way for him to lead the country.

But two years later, Singh, India's first non-Hindu prime minister, committed what perhaps was the biggest mistake of his political life.

"We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. These must have the first claim on resources," he told a meeting of the National Development Council in December 2006.

Singh represented a minority, reported to a leader from another minority and spoke about gifting natural resources to a third minority, the country's largest.

For Hindutva forces, the statement came like manna from heaven. They pressed the button for the Congress' countdown.

Given the size of our country, it took them almost five to six years - into the UPA's second term - to convert mounting resentment into full-blown fears of an identity crisis.

Reports of the national auditor about alleged scams helped them stimulate mass mobilisation.

Forget natural resources, Muslims found themselves stuck at the bottom of the ladder. Many of them deserted the Congress for other non-BJP parties.

Voters sank Gandhis' UPA nationally and in state elections, one after another.

But what remains entrenched in the psyche of a large majority is the existential threat that Singh and his bosses sowed.

That explains why social media feeds erupt into celebrations every time the remains of the Congress are kicked and punched.

But will the INC's Phoenix ever rise from its ashes?

It can if it beats the BJP at its own game. It has to mobilise minorities - ethnic, religious, tribal and the Dalits.

Sound bites and panel debates by its gentlemanly clique are good TV but terrible politics.

Now that Nitish Kumar has jumped ship, minorities of all hues must be convinced aggressively that their existence depends on the survival of the Congress.

Minorities have legitimate fears that can't be addressed by television statements alone. The Congress has to launch an offensive from the ground every time it sees a lynching, God forbid, happening.

Commoners understand no loaded statements. They act on fears. You just need a BJP to tap them.

Also read: It's a shame Arvind Panagariya quit Niti Aayog over politics


Harmeet Shah Singh Harmeet Shah Singh @harmeetss

The writer is Editor with India Today TV.

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