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Why Congress, and Rahul Gandhi, must take a clear stand on religion now

In trying to counter the BJP's narrative, Congress is offering soft Hindutva. But it could fall between the Mahatma and Nehru on secularism, and get nowhere.

 |  4-minute read |   28-09-2018
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The Congress, under Rahul Gandhi, should spend time discussing the religious and sentimental stand the party wants to take with regard to politics at its Wardha meet on October 2, ahead of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

kam-690_092718071753.jpgThe Congress needs to spell out where it stands on the question of religion in politics. (Source: Twitter)

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) will meet on Gandhi Jayanti to launch its year-long door-to-door campaign — Lok Sampark Abhiyan. As per the plan, Rahul will lead a peace march and prayers in Sevagram.

Wardha held great significance in Mahatma Gandhi’s life. Gandhi had set up the Sevagram ashram in 1936 where many important decisions related to the freedom movement were taken. Wardha had hosted a CWC meet way back in 1942. The Congress adopted the Quit India resolution in Wardha against the British Raj.

Senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot said there was an urgent need to revisit Wardha as the party was launching a door-to-door campaign for “fear, hatred and violence” to quit the country.

The Congress’ mission of effectively countering the Sangh Parivar narrative needs a clear and well-defined ideological road map.

Historically, the Congress has had two shades of opinion on the issue.

Gandhi was a traditionalist whose political perspective had a strong dose of faith, Hinduism, to be precise. Jawaharlal Nehru, on the other hand, was a rationalist, a product of western liberal tradition. For him, reason was key to understanding and action. He was opposed to the idea of mixing religion with politics. Gandhi, throughout his political life, relied on instinct, intuition and mystical insight to reach his conclusions.

kailash.jpeg-690_092718071858.jpgRahul Gandhi taking a pilgrimage to Kedarnath in 2015. (Photo: PTI)

When Gandhi announced his “fast unto death” in September 1932 over the issue of communal awards, Nehru recorded it in his memoir, An Autobiography (page 370), “I felt angry with him at his frequent references to God in connection with it. He even seemed to suggest that God had indicated the very date of the fast. What a terrible example to set.”

There was more to follow.

When Gandhi began his 21-day fast in Yerawada Jail in May 1933, Nehru observed, “For me the fast was an incomprehensible thing… I wondered more and more if this was the right method in politics. It seemed to be sheer revivalism and clear thinking that had not a ghost of a chance against it” (An Autobiography, page 372-73).

In the Gandhian scheme of things, no man could live without religion. Gandhi wrote in his book An Autobiography – The Story of My Experiments With Truth (page 69), “There are some who in the egotism of their reason declare that they have nothing to do with religion… My devotion to truth has drawn me into the field of politics… Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.” 

On the other hand, Nehru went on to argue, “Often in history we see that religion, which was meant to raise us and make us better and nobler, has made people behave like beasts. Instead of bringing enlightenment to them, it has often tried to keep them in the dark; instead of broadening their minds, it has frequently made them narrow-minded and intolerant to others.” (page 37, Selected Writings of Jawaharlal Nehru, 1916-1950, Ed. JS Bright, Indian Printing Works, New Delhi)

rahul-gandhi-ram-bha_092818023054.jpgRahul was recently in Madhya Pradesh offering prayers at the Kamta Nath temple in Chitrakoot, associated with Lord Ram. (Photo: Twitter)

Nehru had even questioned Gandhi’s emphasis on Ram Rajya, terming it as “neither a good thing in the past, nor do I want to go back to it.”

He had however told visiting French journalist Tibor Mende with a sneaking admiration for Gandhi, “He [Gandhi] always referred to Ram Rajya. To a person like me this sounded like going back to some primitive state, but that was a phrase which was understood by every villager… the point is that Gandhi was always thinking of the masses and the mind of India and he was trying to lift in the right direction.” (page 36, Conversations with Mr Nehru, Secker and Warburg 1956)   

A section of present-day Congress leaders feel Rahul needs to carefully choose between the Gandhian and Nehruvian narrative as a flip-flop between the two has left them neither here, nor there. Off the record, these leaders wonder if Rahul is in agreement with Gandhi that religion was an important factor and that issues of personal faith and form of worshipping need to be flaunted in the public sphere.

On his part, Rahul seems to be making conscious efforts. His “spiritual journey” to Kailash Mansarovar undertaken recently has earned him the tag of being a 'Shiv Bhakt' that was visible during his Sankalp Yatra in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.

Rahul was recently in eastern Madhya Pradesh, offering prayers at the famous Kamta Nath temple in Chitrakoot, associated with Lord Ram.

gandhi-690_092718072013.jpgCongress president Rahul Gandhi at Kamta Nath temple in Satna, Madhya Pradesh. (Congress/Twitter)

Indira Gandhi had visited the temple on April 5, 1980, soon after returning to the Prime Minister’s chair.

Shockingly, on a day the Supreme Court said that a mosque is not essential to Islam, Congress leaders were missing from television debates.

The party clearly needs courage of conviction in spelling out what its leadership believes in.

Also read: Forget 'achhe din', Supreme Court's Ayodhya case verdict could pave the way for Modi's return in 2019

Assembly Elections 2018
Assembly Elections 2018

Writer

Rasheed Kidwai Rasheed Kidwai @rasheedkidwai

Journalist-author Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting fellow of ORF]

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