Chintan Shivir ends today: Hindutva debate in Cong, party shuns talk of defeat

On the videographic investigation of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Complex and Gyanvapi Mosque, Congress took an adamant position on Saturday that no attempt should be made to “change the status of a place of worship.” But on the larger question of how to counter the BJP’s Hindutva, its path forward was not so clear during the three-day shivir chintan underway here.

The CWC will finalize the Udaipur Declaration on Sunday based on inputs from six committees which discussed policy challenges, organizational issues, economic issues, social justice, youth and empowerment; and farmers and agriculture.

The elephant in the room was Hindutva. The deliberations of the Political Challenges Commission were frank, sometimes even impassioned. There was a lot of back and forth even on whether to mention Hindu or Hindutva in the committee report.

At the meeting, led by Mallikarjun Kharge, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel stressed that the party should not shy away from celebrating Hindu festivals as it does in his state. But former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan pushed for more ideological clarity.

Another member said Muslims are deserting the party because of its confused position. Another said the party trying to respond to Hindutva was like “trying to strike at BJP ground”. Yet another leader reportedly said, “We have to react because that’s where the debate ended up.”

One leader said the party should avoid any reference to the Gyanvapi investigation, but many argued that “we need to clarify our position”.

For the record, Congress did, emphasizing the primacy of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991. The law aims to maintain the “religious character” of places of worship as it was in 1947 – except in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, which was already before the courts.

Responding to a question at a press conference, senior Congress official P Chidambaram referred to the law and said, “We believe that all other places of worship should remain in the status that they are. and that they were. We should not try to change the status of a place of worship. This will only lead to a huge conflict and it is to avoid such a conflict that the Narasimha Rao government passed the Places of Worship Law.

Another controversial issue was the mention of the word “religion”. According to one opinion, the recommendation should mention that the party should not avoid social, cultural and religious holidays. Many, including former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, said there was no need to mention religion as leaders in the Hindi language belt said otherwise.

Eventually, it was decided that religion would be sent “in brackets” to the CWC.

Lok Sabha MP TN Prathapan, participating in a discussion in the committee on organizational matters, also weighed in on the matter.

In a memo, a copy of which was seen by The Indian Express, he ruled out ‘soft Hindutva’ as a counter argument and argued that Congress should ‘follow the opposite of what they (BJP, RSS) have …opening a clear path of activism ahead… (with) strong opposition to all types of communal polarization.

At the same time, there is a sense of concern in part of the leadership that the conclave is sidestepping the difficult task of dissecting its defeats and fixing responsibilities. “The emphasis is on not looking at the past, looking at the future,” one executive said.

The Political Challenges Committee has defined a range of issues – from attacks on the Constitution to the protection of diversity, from centre-state relations to the police as a “private army”, from the northeast to Jammu and Cashmere.

He also called for reclaiming “the Indian way of life and what it means to be an Indian” and exploring ways to seek funds from the people.

Some leaders, however, said more than mere platitudes was needed.

Chavan reportedly said everyone agreed with these points, but the question is how to make the party win elections again and that called for a roadmap. Leader Mohan Prakash agreed, saying there should be a credible plan of action.

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