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BJP hates Nehru and his legacy, not the Congress, its leaders or even its policies

By Kumar Ketkar

28th May 2020

BJP’s anti-Congress-ism is confined to spewing venom on Nehru, Nehruvian legacy and the Nehru-Gandhi family. It is not a Congress-mukt Bharat but a Nehru-legacy-mukt Bharat that it is pursuing.

Irrespective of whether the Congress is in power or not, anti-Congress sentiment intriguingly remains strong and an active political agenda. That is why BJP spokespersons and TV anchors feel the need to question the Congress in opposition, even when the party does not have the required number in the Lok Sabha to be designated as the main opposition.

It is the weakened Congress in opposition, which surprisingly remains the target of the ruling party on issues of governance. Even more intriguingly, other opposition parties also look at Congress with suspicion and, ironically, as an alternative to the BJP. This at a time when the BJP and its allies in the NDA have almost total control of both Houses in Parliament.
But equally ironically, the Bharatiya Janata Party, while pursuing ‘anti-Congress-ism’, displays no particular antipathy to Congress leaders or policies, reserving their venom in actual polemics only for the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The BJP has had no issue in installing the world’s highest statue of a tall and staunch Congress leader Vallabhbhai Patel. The Sangh Parivar pays huge respect to Lal Bahadur Shashtri and P.V. Narasimha Rao, both Congress leaders and former Prime Ministers. Shashtri Ji was of course successor to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. And although BJP opposed Rao’s policies of liberalisation and condemned them at the time, it has had no problem eulogising his policies a quarter of a century later.

Nor does the BJP have any problem in welcoming Congress workers and leaders, local or national, into its fold—from Jyotiraditya Scindia to Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil. BJP also bends over backwards to reward defectors from the Congress, giving them preferential treatment while distributing ticket to contest elections even at the cost of ignoring senior BJP cadre. But there never is any let-up in its strident criticism of the Congress and its cry for ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’.

How does one explain such hypocrisy and contradiction?

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The truth is they are not opposed to Congress but to Jawaharlal Nehru and the Nehruvian legacy of the Congress, which is what they hate.

It is borne out also by the BJP accommodating Maneka Gandhi, the other daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, and her son. But the target of their incessant trolling and target are Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. This despite the fact that Sanjay Gandhi and Maneka were the main political targets of the Jan Sangh in the seventies. Similarly, BJP embraced Arun Nehru despite the surname, the only unwritten condition being they take a break or denounce the Nehruvian legacy.

Their “enemy” therefore is not Congress, but its politics and the ideology of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. What they want is not a “Congress-Mukt” but a “Nehru-Legacy-Mukt” Bharat.

They do not even mind Mahatma Gandhi, whom they hated most during the freedom struggle. Gandhiji has even become the Brand Ambassador for the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” with his spectacles used as logo or the symbol!

By hypocritically appropriating Gandhi, the cunning strategy is to undermine Nehru. Gandhiji was killed by the same Hindutva forces within six months of Independence (and two years before India became Republic). But for the next 60 years almost, it was Nehruvian thinking that dominated Indian politics.

Leftists, notably some communists, too had condemned Nehru as the “running dog of capitalism” while socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia endorsed the sentiment and founded the stark, anti-Nehruvian politics of hate, lending it Leftist-intellectual respectability.
Several ‘public intellectuals’, writers and NGOs too have opted for a fake and opportunistic anti-Nehru line to demonstrate their ‘autonomy’. It helps them pretend that they maintain their distance from the Congress, Lutyen’s Delhi and Nehru’s charishma.

They are often loath to admit that Nehru himself was the ultimate skeptic with scientific temper, a firm believer in socialistic pattern of society and never spared himself. The Right wingers called him an apologist for the Soviet Union and a dedicated socialist while the communists and socialists condemned his concept of “mixed economy” to be a clever camouflage for capitalism.

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The foundation and strategic formulation of the politics of ‘Anti Congressism’ was shaped by Ram Manohar Lohia way back in 1967. Lohia-ism continued to reverberate even after his death and became the formidable political trend in the seventies. The various alliances and fronts, between 1967 and 1972, were formed on this formulation.

Communists became allies of Bangla Congress and the Forward Bloc, the Akalis tied up with the Jan Sangh, the socialists came together with Ram Rajya Parishad and Arya Samajis and so on. All of them eventually collapsed under the weight of their internal contradictions.

The so called Grand Alliance of the Jan Sangh, Swatantra Party, Socialists and the Congress (O), the breakaway faction of the Indian National Congress, known then as the Old Guard (also as the Syndicate), challenged the Congress led by Indira Gandhi in the 1971 Lok Sabha election. That was the first mid-term poll, separately held from the state assembly elections.
Till then, there indeed was “One Nation-One Election”, in 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967. That five-year cycle was broken when the so called anti-Congress fronts which formed governments in various states, from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, collapsed and disintegrated. Since then, there has always been separate electoral cycle in states and at the Centre.

The Lok Sabha election in 1971 was to become the real test of anti-Congress-ism as an ideology and political praxis. This Grand Alliance had a formidable leadership in Jayaprakash Narayanor JP, a nation-wide network of activistsbelonging to RSS-led Jan Sangh, besides the socialists and traditional supporters of the Congress who had loyalty for the Old Guard.

Their thinking was that Indira Gandhi and her newly formed Congress had no funding, no organisation, no activists and almost the entire media (only print media then) was hostile to her. The only asset with her was power. But her government was a sort of a minority government in 1971 as after the split in the party, she had less than 150 MPs with her. Her government survived on the support of the so-called Left, which supported bank nationalization and the abolition of privy purses. In fact, they supported Indira Gandhi then because their main enemy, the Congress, was disintegrating, and they hoped to fill in the political space left behind.

There used to be no opinion polls those days, except the one conducted by the Indian Institute of Public Opinion based in Delhi. This poll had given a clear victory to the Grand Alliance. Leading columnists were writing front page analytical columns running down the image ofthe popular but maligned and victimized female leader. Her so called popular appeal, they held, was a myth and reality would dawn on her once the results came in.

When the results came, it was a stunning landslide victory for Indira Gandhi-led Congress and a total rout of the first major anti-Congress national assault, it appeared that anti-Congressism would not work as an ideological glue or political alternative.

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But Lohia’s philosophy of anti-Congress-ism did not evaporate. The reason was that statistically, the Congress had never secured more than 47 per cent votes till then. Even after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi could not go beyond 49 per cent of the votes polled. Therefore, the non-Congress opposition, though divided, always felt there was hope for them.

Only two forces in Indian politics did not share totally the legacy or culture of the Congress. However, it must be particularly remembered that today’s BJP has not come into power really on its own. It is the biggest singular beneficiary of the politics of anti-Congress-ism.

In its Jan Sangh avatar, it joined the Grand Alliance in 1971 with a slogan “Indira Hatao”; then it joined the JP movement in 1974 and campaigned for “Navnirman” and “Total Revolution”, then it became a part of the Janata Party in 1977.

Later the BJP supported the V. P Singh government in 1989 and before that it was part of the anti-Rajiv agitation on Bofors and some other issues, even adjusting with the communists. It also had a very friendly floor management in 2008-2009 with the other non-Congress parties in Parliament on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal initiated by Dr Manmohan Singh.

In fact, one can say that it is the Sangh Parivar, which has cleverly used and exploited the anti-Congress politics and socialist-oriented leadership of Lohia, JP, George Fernandes, V. P Singh, Nitish Kumar and even Mulayam Singh, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati.

Although the BJP has its own majority in the Lok Sabha and in some states, it is not driven entirely by their own ideology or politics. It is essentially a government born out of the ideology, strategy and politics of anti-Congress-ism.
The reason Narendra Modi in particular and the BJP in general constantly attack the Congress and the Nehrus is because they know that the real strength of Congress is Nehru’s legacy. They also know that they cannot thrive on just the frenzy of anti-Muslim-ism or on a genuine Hindu ideology.

The BJP leadership is aware that the idea of Hindutva is only a cover. The mass communal hysteria it generates gives them votes, not the so-called idea of “Vikas”! It can bring into the fold of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance)the other non-Congress parties because they too are products of anti-Congress-ism! That is the reason why such parties are unable to follow Lohia’s principles and formula in fighting the BJP.

Indeed, anti-BJP politics is not the mirror image of anti-Congress politics. This is because the Congress has its ideological core cultivated by Nehru. Whether Congressmen give credit to Panditji for their political identity or not is a different issue. But the Indian National Congress indisputably draws its ideological strength and political soul from Nehru, who shaped the Indian polity and the ‘Idea of India’.

The BJP will need the politics of frenzy to keep the gullible masses hooked to its viciously communal agenda and at the same time announce the so called “reforms” by way of schemes to disinvest the public sector and sanction jumbo concessions to the corporate sector.

They also know that they do not actually have a mass base. The so called popular and populist schemes (like renewed MNAREGA or Ujjwala gas) are aimed at retaining the polarised Hindu mass in the fold when the frenzy declines. On the other hand, the reform agenda is to please their masters in the corporate class and in the West.
This type of dialectic, if it can be described as such, has no political future. Therefore, it can be inferred that the BJP will collapse and disintegrate the moment the tide of frenzy recedes and the “reforms” fail to take off.

The bourgeoisie and the plebians cannot be fooled and kept happy all the time.

This article was originally published in the National Herald.