As Rahul Gandhi said, we are fighting an ideological battle with the BJP and RSS. For this, we have to understand that the ideology of the BJP/RSS, Hindutva, is not merely the subjugation of religious minorities (Muslims, Christians, Jains) but also that of Backward and Dalit Hindus. Thus, Hindutva is not just anti-Muslim, but also anti-Hindu.
However, the BJP has been successful in clouding its "idealogy of hate" under the garb of emotional issues of "Ram Mandir", "Nationalism", and further by electorally pitching Backwards and Dalits against Muslims. We in the Congress need to introspect why we have been unable to embrace the cause of social justice and unwittingly played into the hands of the BJP, which wants to paint every election between secularism (read Muslim) and Hindutva (read Hindu).
We need to understand that the followers of Gandhi, Lohia and Ambedkar aren't mutually exclusive. I agree that there is a need for the unity of social justice and secular forces, just as Sonia Gandhi had been able to forge in 2004, and as Rahul Gandhi did in Bihar with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav. However, it's not merely mathematical realignment and internal organization changes that we should be concerned with but also the agenda of such a re-alignment.
In my humble opinion, a historic opportunity presents itself today to not just re-ignite the social justice movement in India but to also re-invigorate the Congress party nationally by embracing it. I present three points to this end.
First, the unification of the Janata Parivar split between various Lohia-ite parties such as the SP, JDU, RJD, and peasant parties such as the RLD, JDS, INLD needs to happen. The failure of the SP to provide space to OBC leadership from other major communities such as the Kurmis, Kushwahas, Nishads and to ally with the Jats-led by Ajit Singh's RLD led to these communities drifting into the BJP fold, not due to the lure of Hindutva, but for better representation. Bihar has already shown the political impact of the (partial) unification of these social groupings, when the Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav combine trounced the BJP despite the fact that it had two major Dalit leaders - Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi - as allies, and had captured a substantial amount of Dalit votes.
Second, the agenda of social justice has to be enhanced to further the larger aspiration for better jobs, improved public education, women equality and minority rights. With an economy in terminal decline (despite the fudged GDP growth numbers), and agriculture floundering, there is widespread anger and resentment amongst dominant communities - Jats, Patels, Marathas, Kapus, leading to pro-reservation protests. The Congress has to take the lead to make Modi accountable for job-creation, as well as demand reform in affirmative action such as proportional representation in jobs using the latest caste census, private sector reservation, and space for Dalits and OBCs in the judiciary and media.
Releasing caste census data has to be at the forefront of such a campaign, as this will corner the Modi-led BJP to choose between its upper case core and sections of OBC communities that form his new social coalition. Just as communalism is the daily agenda of the BJP/RSS, social justice needs to be the daily agenda of this grouping through ground mobilization similar to what Karpoori Thakur, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram respectively did in the 1980s. For this, coordination with like-minded Ambedkarite forces such as the BSP, RPI and LJP will be ideal.
Finally, the Congress party has to re-engineer itself to become a binding platform for these disparate forces. Despite the loss in UP, it has emerged victorious in Punjab and as the single largest party in Goa and Manipur, which demonstrate that the Congress, even at its lowest ebb, retains its pan-national character and some of the 2014 anti-incumbency is gradually weathering off. Unlike the BJP with its exclusionary Hindutva agenda, the Congress with its moderate and inclusive ideology has the ability to bind together these various forces under one umbrella. As a wise voter once told me, Congress sabki party hai. It has to become that once again and use its resources judiciously to guide the media narrative towards social justice and job creation, while blindsiding Modi's diversionary tactics of pseudo-nationalism, surgical strikes and demonetization.
The events in UP have paved the way for those who believe in Gandhi, Lohia and Ambedkar to come together. We might have lost the battle in UP, but the war will be won in 2019.
(Srikant Jena is member of the Congress party and former Union Minister, UPA II)
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