Veteran Congress leader A K Antony said on Friday that his party’s apparent proximity to minority communities had led people to doubt its secularism.
“Some sections of society have an impression that the party is inclined to certain communities or organisations. Congress policy is equal justice to everyone. But people have doubt whether that policy is being implemented or not,” Antony said at a party function to commemorate the late C K Govindan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram.
“This doubt is created by the party’s proximity towards minority communities, and such a situation would open the door for the entry of communal forces into Kerala,” Antony said.
The reticent former defence minister’s statement is hugely significant because he is seen as the conscience keeper of the Congress, and one of the key figures in the party’s decision-making apparatus.
He is known for his loyality to the Nehru-Gandhi family, and has been entrusted by Sonia Gandhi with the task of carrying out an analysis of the Congress’s massive election defeat. Antony has been meeting top leaders from states to understand the reasons for the debacle, and to suggest the way ahead.
Antony said the growth of communal parties in Kerala, where secularism has a strong base, should be attributed to the weakening of the Congress’s secular position. The notion that certain sections get special consideration in the government or the party should be corrected. A situation should not be created in which anyone feels that the party or the government is for someone else, Antony said.
Congress legislator T N Prathapan said Antony was in the habit of speaking candidly. “Antony has a feeling that certain forces are trying to weaken the Congress’s secular base. His comments should be seen in the backdrop of the scenario in Kerala,” Prathapan said.
The prominence of the regional Christian party Kerala Congress and Indian Union Muslim League in governance has created the impression that the Congress government in Kerala is run by minority communities. Two years ago, a major controversy erupted after the IUML got a fifth cabinet berth after bargaining hard.
As chief minister in 2003, Antony had lashed at Muslims, saying they were powerfully organized, and had secured privileges by collective bargaining. This could not be allowed, he had said then.
The soft-spoken Antony is held in high regard by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. Antony headed the panels set up to decide on alliances and draft the party’s election manifesto. Following the elevation of Pranab Mukherjee as President, Antony emerged as the key figure whom Sonia consulted on matters of both policy and organisation.