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Kejriwal, Rahul, Mamata’s silence on Muslims’ flogging shows deeper crisis in Opposition camp

Is neutral politics a sustainable political strategy in the long term for the Opposition? Rahul Gandhi and Kejriwal should've listened to Mohan Bhagwat more attentively.

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In July 2016, when seven people were tied to a car and flogged by cow vigilantes in Gujarat’s Una, politicians made a beeline for Mota Samadhiyala village and hospitals to meet the victims and their families. The Gujarat assembly election was just 17 months away. Congress’ Rahul Gandhi was the first to visit the village, followed by Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal. Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati met the victims in an Ahmedabad hospital later. Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee called it an “organised crime”. “Yes, we are doing politics but only to get justice,” Kejriwal reportedly said.

Cut to October 2022. Ten people are flogged by policemen in plain clothes in full public view for allegedly throwing stones at a garba event in Gujarat’s Undhela village. Video clips of the incident go viral, just as those of Una had. It has been six days since the incident happened. Most politicians remain unmoved. Rahul Gandhi hasn’t found it worth reacting, let alone visiting the village. Kejriwal landed in Ahmedabad Saturday en route to Dahod, about 200 km away, to address tribals. He promised all Gujaratis “free visits” to Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir. AAP convenor seemed to be blissfully ignorant of the Undhela flogging incident. Undhela is around 45 km from Ahmedabad. Mamata Banerjee has also been silent, although her party has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Gujarat is slated to go to polls in the next two months.

So, what explains the difference in our politicians’ reactions to the Una and Undhela incidents? Simple. The victims in Una were Dalits, and those flogged in Undhela were Muslims.

Remember the Lakhimpur Kheri gang rape incident in which two Dalit girls were found hanging from a tree? All that opposition leaders did was tweet their condolences and condemn the Yogi Adityanath government for its failure to protect women and the deteriorating law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh. Contrast it with their reaction to the Hathras gang rape incident two years ago. Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Jayant Chaudhary, TMC MPs, senior Samajwadi Party leaders — all made a beeline for Hathras after the rape victim, a Dalit, died. In that case, the accused were ‘upper caste’ Hindu men; in Lakhimpur Kheri, the accused are Muslims.

Muslims ‘know’ what Opposition is doing

Opposition leaders’ reaction to the release of Bilkis Bano rape convicts has been almost perfunctory — a tweet, a statement, or a press conference here and there, condemning the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leaders and then forgetting all about it. Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP colleagues didn’t even bother to react. How do you explain opposition leaders making no issue of the release of gang rape and multiple murders’ convicts in Gujarat that will vote in two months? Don’t they care about the 2.14 crore women voters in Gujarat?

Of course, opposition leaders care. Just that they would prefer to maintain a politically safe distance from Muslims, whether they are the victims like in Undhel or the accused like in Lakhimpur Kheri. Look at the silence of the political class about Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) patron Mohan Bhagwat’s much-publicised demand for a comprehensive population control policy to address religion-based imbalance. Except for Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi, the tallest leaders have maintained studied silence. Justifying Kejriwal’s silence on anything concerning Muslims, an AAP leader told me: “You have to play differently on synthetic and dirt tracks. BJP wants us to play on its synthetic track (Hindutva), but we will bring it down to our dirt track (development issues).”

“But aren’t you factoring in the possibility of Muslims getting alienated from the AAP?” I asked.

“Absolutely not. They understand what we are doing and why,” came the reply. The AAP leader may not be wrong. In the run-up to the 2020 Delhi assembly election, Kejriwal was criticised for his silence on the Shaheen Bagh protests. The AAP went on to win Muslim-dominated seats like Okhla, Matia Mahal, Ballimaran among others.

Opposition leaders’ assessment is simple: The more attempts there are to polarise Hindu voters, the more it counter-polarises Muslims who would vote for any party that’s seen as the BJP’s principle challenger. Opposition leaders can, therefore, leave Muslims to fend for themselves and focus instead on cultivating their own Hindu identity. As an electoral strategy, it has its merits. The last Delhi election outcome also re-validated it. BJP leaders concede in private that the Congress gave them a tough time in the 2017 Gujarat election because it didn’t fall into their ‘trap’ (Hindu vs. Muslim debate). To that extent, opposition parties may feel vindicated.

Also read: Prashant Kishor has a ‘4M’ plan for Congress to take on BJP in 2024. But it needs a Nadda

Listen to Bhagwat carefully

But is that a sustainable political strategy in the long term? Gandhi and Kejriwal should have listened to Mohan Bhagwat’s Dussehra speech more attentively. “The propaganda which circulated against the Sangh due to ignorance, falsehoods, malice, fear and selfishness, has now lost its impact. This is because the geographical and social reach of Sangh has considerably increased. It has increased in strength. It is a strange reality that to be heard in this world, truth also needs strength,” Bhagwat said. His message can be summed up in four words: RSS has finally arrived. Ninety-seven years since its founding, the Sangh isn’t shy of showing off its power and reach. “Now when Sangh is receiving the affection and confidence of people and also has become strong, the concept of Hindu Rashtra is being taken seriously,” the RSS chief added.

He wasn’t boasting. Hindu, Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra are the dominant themes in India’s political discourse. The RSS is getting a lot of traction. So much so that Muslim intellectuals and leaders have started engaging with the RSS chief, whatever may be the outcome. It’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders who are talking about the welfare of Pasmandas, triple talaq, etc. while so-called ‘secular’ leaders are running away from anything and everything to do with Muslims. Their politics and ideology of evasion have only strengthened the Sangh and the BJP. That’s why Gandhis and Kejriwals in the opposition camp needed to listen to Bhagwat carefully.

Muslim-neutral politics and ideology is no counter to Hindutva. The opposition, as the AAP leader said above, may do well playing on the ‘dirt track’, but it’s only good for cross country running. If they intend to take on an Olympian — read the BJP in today’s context — they must start getting used to the ‘synthetic’ track. Else, Kejriwal would have to sacrifice many Rajendra Pal Gautams. The Delhi minister had to resign, ostensibly because of his participation in a Buddhist conversion event where one of the vows that the people took was not to have faith in or pray to Hindu gods. But that’s one of the 22 pledges B.R. Ambedkar took while converting to Buddhism. There were posters in Gujarat calling Kejriwal ‘anti-Hindu’ and showing him in a skull cap. So, Gautam had to go. Imagine what Kejriwal would do if he has to campaign in a Dalit-dominated constituency and his adversaries put up posters calling him anti-Ambedkar!

Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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