Dear Rahul Gandhi, if Hindutva is a ‘violent ideology’, what stops you from calling out radical Islamism and militant Sikhism?

Dear Rahul Gandhi, if Hindutva is a ‘violent ideology’, what stops you from calling out radical Islamism and militant Sikhism?

Dear Rahul Gandhi, if Hindutva is a ‘violent ideology’, what stops you from calling out radical Islamism and militant Sikhism?

Rahul Gandhi is doubling down of late on an ideological battle, seeking to differentiate between Hinduism and Hindutva. This, of course, isn’t new. Senior Congress leaders such as Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh and Salman Khurshid have tried to initiate this debate and build a counter-narrative to stop BJP from owning the Hindutva political space. Though this narrative had existed in a subterranean form in Congress’s ideological circles, the Gandhi scion is publicising and owning it with unusual vigour.

Rahul claimed in November at an online party workshop that “Hinduism” is different from the “Hindutva ideology of the RSS”, which he said teaches people to “hate and kill” and urged party workers to discuss these issues aggressively to eclipse “the hateful ideology of the RSS and BJP.”

At a rally on December 12 in Jaipur, Rahul said he is a “Hindu, not a Hindutva-vadi” and added: “those in power are false Hindus... India is experiencing a Hindutva-vadi raj, not Hindu raj. We want to remove these Hindutva-vadis and bring in a Hindu raj.” He went on to claim that “Narendra Modi ji has stabbed the soul of farmers, not from the front but from the back. Why? Because he is a Hindutvawadi.”

A few days later at a rally in Amethi, a family bastion that he has lost to the BJP, the Gandhi dynast said: “A 'Hindutvavadi' bathes alone in Ganga, while a Hindu bathes with crores of people.”

It can get a little confusing, but the sum and substance of Rahul’s argument are that Hindutva isn’t Hinduism, rather it’s a pejorative term that signifies violence and hatred. Rahul is on thin ice here. Hindutva, the essence or tattva, is historically and ontologically linked to Hinduism and as I had argued in a recent piece, Hindutva is the political consciousness of being a Hindu, that seeks to give Hindus a collective, vocal and political identity.

It is also not difficult to understand the motivations behind Rahul’s harping on this theme, starved as Congress is of an ideological plank to moor itself and being cast as an anti-Hindu party. Congress’s discourse springs from the necessity to shift its position from Nehruvian secularism to a space from where it may take on the political dominance of BJP.

But this is a precarious exercise because in seeking to create political space for itself by attacking “Hindutva”, Rahul has, in effect, attacked Hindus because political consciousness is inextricably linked to the religious consciousness of being a Hindu and an assertion of the former is an irreversible course of history as India slowly but inevitably charts its rise.

Through his campaign against Hindutva, therefore, Rahul is sending a message that an ‘ideal Hindu’ for Congress is meek, apolitical and an impassive individual who avoids expressing her political consciousness and never gets swayed by identity politics. If, however, Hindus assert their political identity, Rahul Gandhi’s Congress will disparage them as “Hindutva-vadis” and seek to disqualify them from power.

Apart from the ridiculousness of such an effort, Rahul’s campaign also lacks moral credibility because while Rahul doesn’t want Hindus to assert their politico-religious identity, Congress leaders have no qualms in appealing to religious identities of minorities as a Kamal Nath or a Navjot Singh Sidhu may testify.

For the leader of a party that tried to create the bogey of “Hindu terror” and “saffron terror” — efforts that were ultimately unsuccessful — it is notable that while Rahul is so keen on defining who is a “true Hindu” and who isn’t, he doesn’t extend the same courtesy to Islam or Christianity or other religions.

If, according to Rahul’s argument, Hindutva is the militant expression of Hinduism and synonymous with violence — a claim he is painstakingly trying to make — by the same token he should be differentiating between Islam and Islamism and calling out the radical, fundamentalist, violent ideology that is responsible for heinous terror attacks around the world. Yet Rahul reserves the distinction only for Hinduism and not for Islam where the making of such a distinction is not only logical but also necessary.

For that matter, Rahul has said not a single word so far on the militant mindset that has led to some Nihang Sikhs lynching a daily wager near the Singhu border in October, or the recent cases of lynching in Congress-ruled Punjab where two people have been murdered by a mob of Sikhs over alleged incidents of sacrilege.

Rahul claims that Congress’s ideology is “loving, affectionate” does not square with Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu’s call for Taliban-style public execution for those found guilty of sacrilege, and yet leave alone rebuking Sidhu, Rahul has so far maintained a scrupulous silence.

Rahul’s failure to call out radical Islamism or militant Sikhism while creating a false equivalence between Islamist terror perpetrated by jihadist organizations such as ISIS or Boko Haram and Hindutva is not only specious and morally repugnant, but also downright dangerous. It fuels animosity against one community and threatens India’s social fabric. It is also a self-defeating attempt because it becomes easier for BJP to tap into the resentment among the Hindus created by Rahul’s comments.

The Gandhi dynast frequently rants about the “hateful ideology of the RSS”. However, even a cursory glance at sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s comments in various fora about Hindutva and its ideal Hindu Rashtra would reveal an ideology that is modern, egalitarian, anti-caste, reformist and futuristic but rooted in the richness of an ancient civilization and Sanatan dharma.

Bhagwat has been quite categorical that lynching in the name of a cow is unacceptable, asserting that “If a Hindu says that no Muslim should live here, then the person is not Hindu.” At a function organized this year by RSS’s minority wing in Ghaziabad, Bhagwat said the “DNA of all Indians is the same, irrespective of religion… We are in a democracy. There cannot be a dominance of Hindus or Muslims. There can only be the dominance of Indians.” He has, at various times, clarified that RSS does not believe in caste-based discriminations and stated that “we can’t discriminate on the basis of patterns of worship. Those who belong to India, their security is our responsibility.”

Calling Hindutva the “essence of the country’s selfhood” Bhagwat has said that it “takes everyone along”.

If RSS is the ideological font of BJP, Rahul’s claims of Hindutva being a “violent ideology” are revealed as uninformed political rhetoric sans intellectual rigour. His tactical silence on radical Islamism or militant Sikhism paints him as a political opportunist whose attempts at portraying himself as the high priest of ‘inclusive Hinduism’ is woefully off the mark and morally decrepit.