On the videography survey of the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque complex, the Congress took a categorial stand Saturday that no attempt should be made to “change the status of any place of worship.” But on the larger question of how to counter the BJP’s Hindutva, its way ahead wasn’t so clear at the three-day chintan shivir underway here.
The CWC will finalise the Udaipur declaration Sunday based on inputs from six committees which discussed: political challenges, organisational issues, economic issues, social justice, youth and empowerment; and farmers and agriculture.
The elephant in the room was Hindutva. Deliberations at the political challenges committee were frank, at times even heated. There was a lot of back and forth even on whether to mention Hindu or Hindutva in the committee’s report.
At the meeting, headed by Mallikarjun Kharge, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel underlined the party should not shy away from celebrating Hindu festivals as he’s doing in his state. But former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan pressed for more ideological clarity.
Another member said Muslims are deserting the party because of its confused stand. Another said the party trying to respond to the Hindutva is like “trying to bat on the BJP’s pitch.” Yet another leader reportedly said: “We have to respond as this is where the debate has gone.”
One leader said the party should avoid any reference to the Gyanvapi survey but many argued “we have to clarify where we stand.”
For the record, the Congress did do that, underlining the primacy of Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. The Act seeks to maintain the “religious character” of places of worship as it was in 1947 – except in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, which was already in court.
Responding to a question at a press conference, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram referred to the Act and said: “We believe that all other places of worship should remain in the status they are and they were. We should not make an attempt to change the status of any place of worship. That will only lead to huge conflict and it is to avoid such conflict that the Narasimha Rao government passed the Places of Worship Act.”
Another contentious issue was the mention of the word ‘religion’. There was a view that the recommendation should mention that the party should not shun social, cultural and religious festivals. Many, including former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, said it was not necessary to mention religion while leaders from the Hindi-speaking belt said otherwise.
Finally it was decided that religion would be sent in “square brackets” to the CWC.
Lok Sabha MP T N Prathapan, participating in a discussion in the committee on organisational issues, weighed in on the subject too.
In a note, a copy of which was seen by The Indian Express, he ruled out “soft Hindutva” as a counter and argued that the Congress should “follow the opposite of what they (BJP, RSS) have…pave a clear way of activism ahead…(with) strong opposition to all types of communal polarisation.”
At the same time, there’s a sense of disquiet in a section of the leadership that the conclave is skirting the tough job of dissecting its defeats and fixing accountability. “The whole emphasis is don’t look at the past, look at the future,” a leader said.
The political challenges committee delineated a series of points – from attacks on the Constitution to protecting diversity, Centre-State relations to police as a “private army,” North-East to Jammu and Kashmir.
It also called for reclaiming the “the Indian way of life and what is means to be an Indian,” and exploring ways to seek funds from the people.
Some leaders, however, said more was needed than mere platitudes.
Chavan reportedly said that everyone agrees with these points but the question is how to make the party win elections again and that called for a roadmap. Senior leader Mohan Prakash agreed, saying there should be a credible action plan.