Goat 'gimmick' tests Cong secular formula

The Congress office in Madhya Pradesh is caught in a faith-based dilemma that has now been "faxed" to Sonia Gandhi.

By Rasheed Kidwai in Bhopal
  • Published 23.09.15

Bhopal, Sept. 22: The Congress office in Madhya Pradesh is caught in a faith-based dilemma that has now been "faxed" to Sonia Gandhi.

At Indira Bhavan that houses the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee in Bhopal, an idol of Lord Ganesh is in place and Congress supporters bow before the image before entering the party office. The idol was placed there last year, apparently to strengthen the party's "Hindu identity" in the wake of the rise of the Narendra Modi-led BJP.

Yesterday, Yawaryar Khan and Akbar Beg, known as Congress leaders in the locality, entered the office with two goats, some fodder and water. But they were eventually forced to leave.

"We will feed the goats, look after them till Friday, September 25," Yawar said, making his intentions clear of sacrificing the goats inside the party office on Id ul-Azha (Bakri Id). Ganesh utsav visarjan (immersion) is on September 27.

Supporting him, Beg said: "Yes, if the MPCC can have aarti and puja, why not qurbani? We will make another attempt tomorrow (September 23) to keep our goats here."

Yawar said he has sent a fax to 10 Janpath, the residence of Sonia Gandhi. "If we are indeed a secular party, we should give equal opportunities for all faiths to demonstrate their religious practices," he said.

The sight of two goats roaming around amused most party leaders but not MPCC spokesperson K.K. Mishra. He sent a letter to Bhopal police seeking its help to evict Yawar, Beg and the goats.

Mishra has sought to bring in RSS in the picture. His police complaint in Hindi says: "On the behest of the RSS, some persons want to vitiate communal harmony by sacrificing a goat to mark Id ul-Azha. Yawar and Beg deny having any links with the RSS or the BJP. Most Congress leaders, too, vouch for their credentials as local-level Congress leaders.

Several Bhopal-based Muslim clerics feel Yawar's act of taking goats inside a party office is nothing short of a gimmick. "It is a sacred duty and a private act of an individual. If the attempt is to trivialise or politicise it, it is unfortunate," says Maulana Mushtaq Nadvi, Bhopal's city qazi and a respected figure.

Congress insiders said Yawar and Beg had been "instructed" by some disgruntled party leaders.

The MPCC has been witnessing lot of disquiet since the beginning of this month when a jumbo executive was announced. Many influential party leaders perceived to be close to Digviajya Singh, Kamal Nath and others were left out.

There are also reports of discontent among the party's minority leaders in the context of poor representation on a 193-member panel of MPCC office-bearers. Congress' Bhopal north MLA Arif Aqueel is also said to be sulking.

Late night, efforts were on to work out a compromise after 10 Janpath instructed MPCC chief Arun Yadav and AICC general secretary Mohan Prakash to hammer out a formula, sources said. Yadav urged Khan and Beg to give up their demand and, in return, promised to hold an Id Milan at the party office. Only, the proposed Id Milan would have to be after Ganesh Visarjan and the menu would be vegetarian - minus the kebabs, biryani, mutton chap and kaleji that are usually part of Bakri Id celebrations.

For old-timers, the disquiet and the latest row is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the grand old party.

For the Congress, secularism has been an integral part of ideology, implying separation of religion from politics. In the Indian context, the Congress's definition of secularism meant equal respect for all faiths and protection of all religious minorities.

The concept of equal respect for all religions was first highlighted in the Nehru report of 1928 and reaffirmed by Mahatma Gandhi at the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931, where he showcased the Congress as India's most national and secular organisation.

In September 1951, Nehru got all CWC members on the team of P.D. Tandon, a Congress president seen as "a Hindu nationalist", to resign, thus obliging Tandon also to step down. It may have been a mere coincidence that in the same month the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was formally launched with both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani being present.

Nehru, who had become the Congress president after Tandon's resignation, pronounced the bottom line of the party's secular creed at a meeting in the Ram Lila grounds on Gandhi Jayanti in 1951: "If any man raises his hand against another in the name of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, whether from within the government or outside."

However, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and successive events cast a shadow on the Congress's commitment towards the minorities.

While the Muslim leadership and religious clergy felt that the Narasimha Rao-led Congress furthered narrow "majoritarianism", a group within the Congress began calling for the need to review the concept of secularism itself.

Seniors like A.K. Antony and Janardhan Dwivedi want Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to showcase the party's "pro-Hindu" face. But many others feel lack of ideological clarity and sense of purpose is posing a bigger threat to the Congress than the series of electoral defeats.