Kamal Nath plying soft Hindutva agenda in MP. Will it work?

The extent to which the pronouncedly rightward lurch of the electorate in 2014 is changing the country’s politics is evident from the soft Hindutva agenda being executed in non-BJP ruled states like Madhya Pradesh.

Behind the initiative is the state’s very secular chief minister Kamal Nath, a trusted protégé of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. Nath’s image throughout his political career has been that of a slick deal maker with commerce and industry in his blood. Slowly and steadily he is now also blossoming into a cleverer and savvier politician than his old party colleague and former CM, Digvijay Singh, who ran the state from 1993 to 2003.

Having never sullied his hands in state politics, the impression that Nath would allow the more astute Raja of Raghogarh to pursue the Congress’ insidious anti-RSS agenda is being turned on its head. Ironically, without anyone questioning his secular credentials. Care for the mother cow, temple, and right to health have in the last few months emerged as the principal planks of the wobbly Nath regime.

Though the Congress has since the Nehru years not been averse to hypocritically using cow welfare as a Hindu appeasement ploy, the issue was more or less cast side after it came to be seen as a cause native to the BJP. A random photograph on stray cows loitering the Indore-Bhopal freeway posted by Digvijay Singh on social media affixed with the cynical aside, “Now where are those ardent cow lovers and their defenders?,” got Kamal Nath thinking. And lo and behold! The next thing you have is a commitment to build 3,000 cow shelters in the state by 2020.

That the words emanating from the CM was not mere jumla became evident from the recently reported proposal to slap a two per cent gau surcharge (possibly on the sale of cars, two-wheelers, liquor etc. as in Punjab and Haryana). Rajasthan, on its part, levies a similar charge on the purchase of non-judicial stamp paper.

Dreamers of a Congress revival claim the sudden display of cow affection is fully in keeping with the party’s old ideology. A pair of bulls was the party’s poll symbol till the 1969 split followed by the cow and calf totem till 1977. Cynics, nevertheless, contend that the bovine surcharge is nothing but a ruse by a cash starved government to replenish its bottom kissing treasury following the largesse handed out to farmers to honour its pre-poll pledge. Since the levy is linked to the upkeep of the holy and humble animal, the chances of any criticism, much less opposition, are few. Nath’s clarification that the state’s initiatives on the cow is a matter of faith, not politics, is at best ingenious.

Coupled with the cow is the CM’s Rs 300 crore plan to develop and expand the precincts of Ujjain’s Mahakaleshwar temple, one of the 12 jyotirlingams and 18 Mahashakti peethams. Quite obviously, with the Ayodhya judgment looming on the horizon, and the fast paced work on the Kashi Vishwanath corridor project, the Congress can always raise its hands at having done its bit for the temple cause. In fact, even during the run up to the 2018 state poll, the party tried pleasing Hindu voters by organising a fortnight long Ram Van Gaman Rath Yatra, a spin off from a lapsed BJP project to develop as a tourist circuit the pathway taken by Prabhu Shri Ram en route Lanka. Nothing has been heard of the project since.

Then there is the Right to Health which the Nath regime hopes to enact into a law, a first among states. Aping the Ayushman Bharat scheme of the Modi government, the Right envisages enlarging the hospitalisation cover beyond the Rs 5 lakh limit fixed under the Central scheme. Actual implementation may prove a challenge for a financially strapped regime. But that’s something which seems to have escaped calculation.

Given the acute tightness of the ruling Congress’ numbers in the state assembly and dependence on potentially treacherous allies like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), it is hardly surprising that Nath hopes to secure his party’s innings by mollycoddling the majority community. He knows only too well that MP and Gujarat have been the Sangh’s most reliable political laboratories. With the Congress’ influence in steady decline, outflanking the saffron brigade on home turf will be next to impossible without a display, faux or otherwise, for Hindu centric concerns. That the BJP polled more votes than the Congress in the 2018 state poll despite losing by a whisker still rankles. And that too after a 15-year rule.

The numbers told a story: Hindu voters, by and large, are disinclined to put their faith in the Congress. The national trust deficit with the party has only widened over the years. Which is why its pro-Hindu overtures will remain suspect.


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About the Author

Sudhir K Singh
Sudhir K Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He will be writing regularly for the Hindu Post as consulting editor.