Speaking the truth, fighting for my ideology
There is no better example for students of journalism, as indeed for keen observers of politics, of a distinguished scribe voluntarily showing his confusion or unwillingness to commit himself to a moral position as in Rajdeep Sardesai’s piece Limits of the Gandhi-Khurshid strategy on November 19 in this newspaper. Since journalists have a field day telling us politicians how wrong we generally are, might I be impertinent and show how terribly wrong that can be?
But a caveat first: Sardesai ends by giving me a Hobson’s choice; I must choose between scholarship and pragmatic politics. My grave error, that according to him has done damage already, is to do the two together. My leader, Rahul Gandhi, too is faulted for wading into the Hinduism versus Hindutva debate without a clear ideology and leadership.
Sadly we are not told, as we never are, what mythical leadership the honourable fourth pillar of democracy seeks from the Congress and what further clarity will suffice to persuade him that Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is to be embraced for its humanism, but its protection cannot be illegitimately sought for political homicides.
Fortunately, to be fair to Sardesai, he does not endorse what passes as Hindutva, but he seems to have a problem with our leadership periodically accentuating participation in visible rituals of Hinduism. But is that not a matter of personal choice and political style? It is neither prohibited by law nor necessarily objected to by the workers and voters, inclusive of all religions. How this is inconsistent with taking on Hindutva and an indication of inconsistent conduct, we are not told. Surely one can be a good Hindu, faithful to Sanatana Dharma, and equally repulsed by the cynical, criminal distortion labelled Hindutva.
That indeed is the ideological clarity that Sardesai misses or indeed does not want to admit because it is an inconvenient truth. He thinks that we might have lost ground to the saffron surge for the reason of being seen (frankly, projected by the Bharatiya Janata Party) as being anti-Hindu. But then it could well have been because we were seen as not being clearly anti-Hindutva.
Is there is only one kind of voter, the one who prefers the BJP to the Congress? But the 70% who do not vote for that party should matter, or not? Should the minority voters matter or not? How then am I to be mocked as an elitist Muslim leader, with some influence over Muslims, but no more? Be that as it may, why are parties such as the Peace Party and leaders such as Asaduddin Owaisi gaining a foothold and the Samajwadi Party claiming the Muslim vote? How then is my leader to be dismissed as a Lutyens’ Hinduophobe?
Are we forgetting that a large number of Hindus in this country seem to think that the party they have supported over the decades to preserve the idea of India is mired in self doubt? The subtext of the critique directed at us seems to be — this is a Hindu country dominated by the BJP, which is gradually working to establish a Hindu rashtra and there is nothing you can do about it, so curl up and go to sleep.
Other journalists too have questioned my pointing to a similarity between Hindutva and Islamist Boko Haram and Islamic State (IS). The latter are heavily armed, terrorist organisations that capture territory by force, I am told. Sure, that is why I have not called Hindutva a terrorist outfit, although it has been so called by others.
At the end of the day, I wonder if the expectation is that contemporary politicians should not emulate Jawaharlal Nehru and attempt any further discovery of India. Or indeed that Mahatma Gandhi should have stayed away from the debate about untouchability and Hinduism? Martin Luther King should not have let loose his dream or written the letter from Birmingham Jail.
In recent history, Nelson Mandela should have thought many times before writing the Long March to Freedom and Barak Obama should certainly not have had the Audacity of Hope. A Black man taking on apartheid and the Klu Klux Klan helped courageously by the likes of John and Robert Kennedy must not inspire us in contemporary India?
We are working on survival of our ideology. The day we give up on ideology, it will no longer matter that we survive. What worries me is that there are already signs that the advice about choosing between scholarship and politics might not work after all. There are people who burn your house down if they disagree with a book that they have not read, but told about by journalists who too have not read the book. Selling a few more copies is a small recompense for putting your political faith on sale. My book is about reconciliation but that comes after truth. I am surprised that people have a problem with the truth.
Salman Khurshid is a senior Congress leader and former Union minister
The views expressed are personal