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Rise of Owaisi in Bihar – What it means for the Congress party and Indian politics

A weaker Congress ceding ground to regional caste-based outfits such as the RJD, ideologically empty parties such as Shiv Sena and blatantly separatist (at least in mindset) parties such as the AIMIM clarifies the political chessboard.

When PM Modi talked about a Congress-mukt-Bharat, many took it to mean the literal dissolution of the Indian National Congress. That day may or may not be far away but the Bihar 2020 election marks a key milestone in Bharat ridding itself of what the Congress stands for, or to put simply, ridding itself of Congressism. That milestone, ironically, is the establishment of the AIMIM as the apparent voice of Indian Muslims.

There has been much hand wringing about the rise of the AIMIM outside their Hyderabad stronghold, including many opinions on social media on why this is an ominous sign for India. However, there is more to this than what meets the eye.

One should first understand what the Congress is supposed to stand for. Since it is devoid of an ideology today, we can look to history to guide us. There were three general principles Congress claimed it stood for. While the first two have been quite demolished, they are still worth revisiting.

Welfare for all / pseudo socialism

The Congress shouted the ‘garibi hatao‘ slogans even back in 1971 but it was the NDA governments that have looked past the empty promises to deliver key benefits into the hands of intended beneficiaries. As a bonus, the Modi government has dried up the trough of state funds that political parties fattened themselves on for generations. This blatant corruption has been so engrained in the Congress DNA and modus operandi that it sees corruption in any large government spending, e.g. the Rafale purchase. The Bihar election was another vote of confidence and trust of the common man in both Modi’s intent and capability to deliver state benefits with no discrimination or dilution. 

Pride in the nation

The Congress had successfully weaved a tale of the party taking pride in the nation as a civilizational state. It positioned itself as India’s liberator from the British Raj, and the nationalist image got a big boost through the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. It’s a different matter that today’s Congress would be unrecognizable to the freedom fighters and even to Indira Gandhi. From being a party of the Mahatma who advocated for a complete ban on cow slaughter to youth congress workers slaughtering a cow in full public view, it has been quite a fall for India’s Grand Old Party. No one in their right mind sees even a speck of nationalism / pride in the country within the Congress.

Secularism

The above two can be thought of as pillars of Congressism but secularism is truly the foundation. To understand how the Congress took ownership of this word and horribly disfigured it, it helps, as always, to go back in time. During the Indian independence movement, the Congress was generally seen as a party of upper caste Hindus, while the Muslim League represented the Muslims (read creating a new Medina for a comprehensive view of the happenings leading up to Independence).

The Congress tried hard to rid itself of this ‘stigma’ of being a Hindu party by bending over backward so much that Gandhi even extended support for the Khilafat movement. However, the Muslims did not see themselves as a single nation with Hindus and got their wish of Pakistan.

The Congress interpreted this failure to mean after independence, Congress would not just have to bend but also crawl. This applied for both the Muslims in India as well as the party’s dealings with Pakistan. This gave birth to countless peace conferences between two countries while Pakistan-backed terrorists attacked Indian cities at their pleasure.

Congress never had the intellectual clarity to understand that the root cause for Pakistan was not a threat of Hindu rule but Muslims viewing themselves as a separate nation and people from Hindus. Unfortunately for Indians, the Congress party had itself as the party of ‘secularism’ when it practiced blatant minorityism in the form of prejudiced laws and views against the majority community.

It is this sham of secularism that the AIMIM has demolished Congress by taking a foothold in several Muslim majority areas of the country, including Bihar. They have rightly pointed out that the Muslim community continues to vote for soft-minorityism in the form of the Congress, while the AIMIM promises blatant minorityism (after all, it’s in their name). The counter to this Muslim consolidation towards Islamist parties like the AIMIM is the lifting of the fog over the eyes of nationalist Indians of all religions and types. It is easy to fool yourself into thinking you are voting for the party of Mahatma, Nehru, Indira, Sardar Patel and many other stalwarts when you are instead voting for the continuation of blatant discrimination against the majority community and fundamentalism among the Muslim community. 

A weaker Congress ceding ground to regional caste-based outfits such as the RJD, ideologically empty parties such as Shiv Sena and blatantly separatist (at least in mindset) parties such as the AIMIM clarifies the political chessboard. A voter can vote for any of these alternates but can no longer lie to himself on who and what exactly he’s voting for. To put it simply, the Congress practiced Islamism behind a veil, the AIMIM throws off the cover to reveal the true nature. Assuming the AIMIM corners the ‘Muslim’ vote, there are two outcomes, both positive.

The first is that the party in some future flavor can be partnered with to bring about a genuine reformation within the Muslim community, and help with national integration efforts. That is least likely to occur. Instead, as it gains power, the AIMIM and those of its ilk will try to create additional fissures and separatism within India.

And to that end, is it not better for that kind of politics to be tackled head-on, and earlier, versus waiting until it has metastasized and grown in power under the patronage of the Congress?

As a practical example, we saw this in a different context during the anti-CAA riots in Delhi where the opposition such as Yogendra Yadav tried to paint a picture of a rainbow of opposition representing all forms of society. That mirage quickly faded as the Islamist movement that was the true driving force behind the protests and subsequent riots took center stage. Those riots have clarified the CAA position in the eyes of many nationalists and you can bet that any subsequent agitations will only attract the hardcore Marxists and Islamists, along with a few ‘useful idiots’ Hindus.

The problem is not the AIMIM or any other political party – the problem is the feeling of separatism that exists among a certain set of people. Wishing it away or having it be hidden under the umbrella of the Congress party is a ticking time bomb. 

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