At last we have the Congress manifesto launched. The occasion was preceded by the announcement of the anti-poverty policy of giving Rs 72,000 to every household below poverty line.
So far no surprise. Another Congress policy in tandem with previous ones. But the novelty was not in the policy but in its name. All these 72 years since Independence, whenever the Congress had a new policy, its name was invariably in English which then was shortened to some jaw-breaking acronym, such as the MGNREGA. People turned that into ‘Narega’, but even then it makes no sense in any language.
NYAY is different. It is Hindi or Sanskrit. You can see that someone must have gone through tortuous variations to arrive at such a striking title. After all, ‘nyuntam’ is not an everyday word. But NYAY is the first policy name which ordinary citizens can understand, as against Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal etc. In this, it is clear that Rahul has learnt from Narendra Modi, who is brilliant at finding interesting acronyms which stand alone. We can expect the Congress to come up with more labels in Hindi or Sanskrit.
Yet the more surprising, indeed radical, policy move was what Rahul said during the manifesto launch. He said “We are all Hindu”. It is difficult to recall that just five years ago, no Congress person or indeed any one in politics wedded to the Nehruvian Idea of India would let the word Hindu pass his lips. Hindutva was a hate word and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was unmentionable except in a negative way. In the years since, the Congress has begun to wear its love of Hindus on its sleeve. Rahul has asserted his Brahmanical status and even flaunted his gotra. Shashi Tharoor has written a book extolling his Hinduness.
Now, Rahul has endorsed the RSS view on who is Hindu. Savarkar wanted to distinguish between Hindus and the non-Hindus, Muslims especially. To say that Hindu is anyone living in the land associated with the Indus was not enough for him. So he distinguished among the inhabitants of the Indus-land by the location of their holy place (punya bhumi), thus including Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, but excluding Muslims and Christians.
The RSS makes no such distinction. ‘We are all Hindus’, some ascribing to the Sanatan Dharma and others to other religions. As long as they are respectful of the land of their birth, they are welcome. The Congress has now converged to this view.
One could say that since the Gujarat elections of December 2017, there is little distance between the BJP and Congress on the issue of Hindu nationalism. In that respect, the BJP has won the culture war. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was careful to keep his commitment to the RSS suitably hidden. Modi has not been shy, though nor has he used the word Hindutva in any public speech. The severe defeat in 2014 taught the Congress that they were losing out by being thought not as secular so much as pro-Muslim and, worse, anti-Hindu. Hence the turnaround.
In a way, Rajiv Gandhi would have arrived at this stage himself had he lived to win a second term. He had allowed the Shilanyas at the disputed Ayodhya site to begin and launched his 1989 election campaign from Ayodhya.
Rahul has claimed his legacy. Better late than never.