Sonia Gandhi; (top) AK Antony arrives for a meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. File picture and PTI
New Delhi, June 28: Congress veteran A.K. Antony’s view that the perception of being pro-minorities had hurt the party has not come as a surprise as most leaders had begun to sense this problem much before the elections.
Antony had said at an event in Kerala yesterday: “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. 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.”
While several senior leaders, including general secretaries, had conveyed this sentiment to the party bosses and debated the issue among themselves before the Lok Sabha elections, many of them today felt Antony’s remark should be discussed seriously at party forums.
“This is not a criticism, this has been a dormant feeling in the party which a veteran like Antony has given voice to,” a senior leader told The Telegraph.
A key concern some party strategists had identified before the last election was the growing perception among a section of the people that the Congress pampered minorities. Added to this, they said, was the party’s inability to counter this perception by explaining its understanding of secularism which guaranteed equality, not appeasement.
The top leadership, too, never made any serious attempt to rebut the charge of appeasement of Muslims.
Most Congress leaders believe the 2014 elections did have a polarised atmosphere and Narendra Modi’s projection itself was a strong message to the society where the undercurrent of resentment against targeted welfare schemes for Muslims, brought into sharp focus by the controversies surrounding the Sachar committee report, already existed.
The BJP persistently harped on minority appeasement and tried to present the Congress as a pro-Muslim outfit that cared little for majority sentiments.
The Congress, which suffered from an acute communication crisis for years, could not explain that schemes for minorities didn’t mean a discriminatory agenda and resources were only being properly channelised to target the identified beneficiaries.
When then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in 2006 that the minorities had first claim on the resources, the Congress had made no attempt to put things in perspective as the BJP kicked up a huge ruckus that appealed to a large section of Hindus.
The Congress knows this is a sensitive issue and a crash discourse on the subject could backfire, leaving the minorities antagonised as a result. It is perhaps a calculated move that someone like Antony, who is himself from the minority community, has flagged this issue. In fact, most Muslim leaders, like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Khurshid and Shakeel Ahmed, endorse this view and have often argued at party forums that the Congress should correct this perception of being pro-Muslim.
Many Congress leaders privately argue that a party cannot rule India for over five decades with the support of minorities alone but it is true there was a communication failure in the past few years when the charge of minority appeasement was gaining ground. While leaders have been vocal about issues related to minorities, the Congress left the entire space relating to Hindu concerns to the BJP.
“This was a fatal mistake,” a senior leader said. “We should have told the people that communal forces were giving a bad name to Hinduism and vigorously tried to disengage Hindus from the RSS.”
The party has a real problem now. While the BJP has the power of articulation to convince people that it represents Hindu concerns, few Congress leaders in the recent past have demonstrated the ability to explain that protecting minority rights does not mean being anti-Hindu.
If the party debates this issue in the future, it will have to use the intellect and eloquence available among its ranks to explain and justify secularism that sustains its ideology.