The Congress and Hindutva
Rahul Gandhi appears to have taken a conscious call to challenge the BJP on Hindutva. Reconciling its ideological vision with electoral imperatives will be a key challenge for the Congress if it stays the course
Since 2014, when the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a majority in Parliament, and even more so since 2019, when the BJP won a decisive mandate for the second time, the Opposition has grappled with a fundamental question — how do you take on the BJP’s ideological worldview? This question became more urgent when a Supreme Court order enabled the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, and the BJP-led government effectively abrogated Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir — two issues central to Hindutva, which appeared to have widespread popular support.
Some smaller outfits, such as the Aam Aadmi Party, decided to confront the BJP by highlighting their own local governance achievements while staying silent (even sometimes aligning) on the larger ideological battle. Others, such as the Congress, went through a churn — vacillating between silence to assertion of the Hindu religiosity of its own leaders. In recent weeks, however, Rahul Gandhi appears to have taken a conscious call to challenge the BJP on Hindutva. This was apparent in Mr Gandhi’s recent address at a training programme for party workers.
This approach has both merits and risks. On the plus side, it is healthy for democracy — a political vision rooted in viewing India as a pluralist democracy must challenge a vision where the preferences of a religious majority have a greater say in determining the political character of the State. Transparent ideological battles are positive, for voters can then make an informed choice. The risk for the Congress, of course, is that its approach can alienate Hindu voters who may not share its vision of secularism; it is also prone to easy misinterpretation. Reconciling its ideological vision with electoral imperatives will be a key challenge for the Congress if it stays the course.