The Congress party will not like to admit it. However something is happening to the party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi.
The party of Uttar Pradesh’s Jawaharlal Nehru and Gujrat’s Mahatma Gandhi is repeatedly getting run out of Uttar Pradesh and Gujrat. And badly so. That is particularly embarassing since congress leadership walks around with the name ‘Gandhi’. Their claim to Gandhi name and righteousness came due to Gujrat and Gujrat itself has asked Sonia and crew to take a hike.
In fact, when one looks around the Indian mainland core: Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarkhand, Himachal, Jharkhand, Gujrat, and Karnataka all have congress trailing Narendra Modi’s BJP now. That would have been unimaginable sometime back. But it is their reality now. Congress-UPA have lost most of the elections they tried contesting in over the past several months. In the last Gujrat and Himachal Pradesh elections, it tried to test its pull with ‘Chak De Congress’ as its rallying cry, referring to the movie propping up Shahrukh Khan, almost universally hailed in the media and believed by some to be new congress mascot. The result however was that Congress got wiped out from both; blown away in Gujrat as well as thrown out of Himachal.
There have been many reasons given as to why congress is faring so poorly all of a sudden: quotas, treaties, price control, anti-incumbency etc. All may be legitimate but one big one may indeed have to do with Bombay. When it comes time for real power, it is not Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, or Salman Khan who congress needed, it was Amitabh Bachchan.
Instead, foolishly, congress has been trying to undermine Amitabh Bachchan over the last 2-3 years and more importantly, may have gone through an ideological shift. That’s starting to prove costly now. Its ideology and its decision to go to war against Amitabh is a 1-2 punch that’s starting to cost the congress across India and could eventually even bring its government to its knees.
Congress’s mistake is that in trying to manipulate the muslim votes, it has forgotten that the dominant pillar that allowed it to exist in the first place, is the secular Hindu. More than just a Friday to Friday film star, Amitabh Bachchan is viewed as a pan-India icon of secular Hindus around the country. He is perhaps only man in the country (apart from the temporary cricketer who may be hot or cold) who bridges the north-south, east-west, rural-urban, new and old India divide. He can resonate with the activists of Bengal, with the coalmine workers of Jharkhand as well as stand up with the westerners with Cambridge degrees. And much as the congress and its minions in the media make light of the temple visits to Tirupati for example, it connects with the people of India implicitly. They can sense that Bachchans represent Hindustan core a lot more closely than some artificial clan who may have merely stolen the Gandhi name from the Gujrati Mohandas Gandhi but don’t really have anything to do with him, his satyagrah, nor stand for any of his real values (he died uttering ‘Hey Ram’ for example, and they filed an affadavit against Ram); that they are instead trying to drive a pseudo-secular agenda upon India.
So the Congress’s problem is that too many Hindus (previously secular ones included) are starting to see it not as secular but as the Islamist party of India with media including NDTV, Hindustan Times, Mid-Day and much of Bollywood essentially doing its bidding against Modi and the BJP. In fact leading upto the elections, far from being impartial, these channels and newspapers seemed to be practically leading the drumrolls against BJP, making the Hindus suspicious and ultimately more punitive. The media and Bollywood filmmakers and actors in particular have been lucky so far that apart from the odd Shiv Sena rallies, they and their anti-Hindutva platform really haven’t been taken to task or come in the line of fire the way they could in more blatant ways.
The center-right Hindus already had been suspicious of Congress-UPA. Modi and crew have always claimed that Congress-UPA stands for anti-Hindutva in the guise of secularism. Thus by filing affadavits on Lord Ram earlier this year, they only confirmed what Modi was saying all along, and increased the resolve and the intensity of the antipathy against the UPA. Then by repeatedly targetting the Bachchans, symbolic of the secular Hindus, they may have turned this into their waterloo. All the IT notices, all the threats, all the fake land cases on Amitabh Bachchan (including random packets sent for now Aishwarya Bachchan) don’t go unnoticed. The public sooner or later caught on to what was going on and once they started to, it started energizing the force of Hindutva, and congress started losing even the secular, liberal Hindus in significant numbers. And that may have been in part its undoing.
In many ways congress is lucky that Bachchan is not with BJP and the party that’s latching onto him has been Amar Singh’s leftist Samajwadi Party, which is insignificant outside Uttar Pradesh. BJP is not in power in the key state of UP as it does not have a clear, charismatic face to rally the Hindus behind its industrial, nationalized Hindutva platform there. But had Amitabh Bachchan entered the fray and become the face of BJP; considering that he hails from the symbolic land of Ayodhya itself, the rivals would have been in much bigger trouble than they already are. As it is, BJP seems capable of routing the congress even without him.
But the bottom line is that Congress party, already in the bullseye of the center-right, and which depends so much on secular Hindus, could not go against Amitabh Bachchan without paying the price. And it is starting to see that now.