In the movie My Name is Khan, the character played by Shah Rukh Khan would offer the disclaimer, "My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist." Similarly, when I introduce myself I think I too need to clarify my position: "I am a Congressman and I am not an anti-national, not a sycophant and certainly not corrupt."
I am a proud Indian and a proud Congressman by choice and so are millions of workers and believers in the Congress ideology. They are honest and hardworking while believing in an India which is secular, inclusive, equitable and progressive. Through this blog post, I want to echo the voices of millions of Congress workers who have been vilified for their ideology, who have been mocked by all and sundry BUT who have still chosen to soldier on, because just like me they are proud Congresspeople!
[The Congress] has to now defend its nationalistic credentials against those who would struggle to name even ONE significant contribution towards either the freedom struggle or nation building.
In this blog, I will try and explain why we may be quiet in the face of the voluble BJP machinery but our voices have not been silenced. And while we may be down, by no means have we lost the will to fight. I request the audience to read this blog with an open mind to appreciate my arguments.
A shared legacy
As soon as I step into any Congress office, I see pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose, Dr. Ambedkar, Maulana Azad and many more such leaders who played crucial roles in building India into a strong secular, socialist, democratic, republic. It makes me immensely proud to be part of the same legacy. The Congress is the party which struggled for India's independence for more than 50 years from 1885 to 1947 and in the process lost thousands of workers and leaders to the tyranny of the British rule. Gandhiji, the father of our nation was a Congressman and his killer was from the RSS. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel whom the BJP is seeking to appropriate these days was a Congressman and he was the one who banned RSS, stating in unequivocal terms, "The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the government and the state."
While Mahatma Gandhi, along with other Congress leaders, ousted the British, Pandit Nehru gave India its soul of tolerance, inclusion, and democracy. While Sardar Patel unified independent India, Lal Bahadur Shastri and later Indira Gandhi fought off foreign aggression. While the Congress helped Dr. Ambedkar in drafting arguably the world's best Constitution, Maulana Azad was busy rebuilding India's defunct public education system and Babu Jagjivan Ram was busy ushering in our first labour reforms. It is indeed a sad commentary on our times that a party with such a rich legacy of service and sacrifice to the nation has to now defend its nationalistic credentials against those who would struggle to name even ONE significant contribution towards either the freedom struggle or nation building.
We gave the nation the values it embodies
When I read the preamble and see the words sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, it fills me with a sense of awe. This vision in 1947 was audacious, to say the least. To illustrate the point I will share some telling statistics. At the time of Independence, India's literacy rate was just 12% and has since grown to more than 74%. The infant mortality rate was quite alarming—about 218 per thousand in contrast to the present IMR of about 50 per thousand. Life expectancy was also very low—32 years in contrast to the present 65 years. The per capita GDP was just about $300 at a much smaller population base when compared to nearly $1750 at a population base of 1.2 billion. India's GDP, in absolute numbers, has grown from a mere ₹2.7 lakh crore to ₹57 lakh crore in the six decades of Congress rule since independence (with GDP growth accelerating from just about 2% to nearly 10% under Dr. Manmohan Singh).
I applaud the Congress tradition of standing up for the weak, the downtrodden and the poor and for me it's another reason why I am a proud Congressman.
I am proud Congressman as it was the Congress that in 1947, set about chasing the India of their dreams. India dove straight into the political rights that even the West took 100 years to reach.
Since then we've certainly made mistakes—we've had riots, our caste system is appalling, we still have unacceptable levels of poverty. Yet, no rational mind can deny that we made tremendous progress and that, most importantly, no one has lost the basic idea of India. That is something I cherish as a Congressman—I still believe in the idea of India as enshrined in our Constitution and that for me is a dream worth fighting for!
We fight for the oppressed, the weak, the poor
The Congress has always stood for the rights of the oppressed, the weak, the downtrodden and the poor. In India, such people happen to mostly be from the Muslim, Dalit and Scheduled Tribe communities. Be it through provisions in the Constitution or through laws enacted for SC/ST and minorities, the Congress has always tried to protect the interests of the marginalised. Yet in today's India, the Congress is often accused of minority and Dalit appeasement at the cost of upper caste Hindus. In fact this has become a rallying cry for the majoritarian sentiments that are ruling the roost in our country, presently.
I for one applaud the Congress tradition of standing up for the weak, the downtrodden and the poor and for me it's another reason why I am a proud Congressman. We are not against the privileged but understand that they do not need as much support as the poor do. We have inherited this ethos from Mahatma Gandhi who always advocated for the weaker sections of society.
As was highlighted by the Sachar committee report, the conditions facing Indian Muslims was below that of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. As per the International Dalit Solidarity Network, every week, nearly 13 Dalits across India are killed and 21 Dalit women are brutalised due to caste-based violence. If these statistics do not call for special attention to the most marginalised then what does?
I firmly believe that it is incumbent on the majority to make the minority feel safe. The exact opposite is happening in India, and while people might ridicule the ideology of standing up for the poor and the marginalised as appeasement, I back it completely. If India has to survive as a secular, united nation then we cannot ostracise nearly 34% of our population (Nearly 14% Muslims and 20% Dalits).
On Congress-mukt Bharat
Now let us examine the oft-repeated refrain of the BJP to establish a Congress-mukt Bharat and try and understand what it really means. Currently India is in awe of a macho style of majoritarian nationalistic politics. This kind of sentiment taps into the majoritarian resentment against the minorities and in turn develops a deep sense of insecurity among the minorities. While this tactic may reap rich electoral dividends in the short term, in the long run, such politics lead only to division, discord and destruction as was evidenced during Independence when millions perished in the winds of hate! Do we really want a Congress-mukt Bharat where all voices of moderation are eclipsed?
There can never be a Congress-mukt Bharat as I believe that in the heart of every moderate Indian, in some corner, there lives a proud Congressman.
Secondly, for a democracy to function effectively, we need a strong opposition—otherwise brute majorities do not take long to slip into authoritarian regimes as had been the case in Nazi Germany, Communist China and fundamentalist Pakistan. Do we really want that for our country? Do we really want a Congress-mukt Bharat?
I will leave the audience with this question and as far as I am concerned, the answer is clear. I am a proud Congressman and will continue to soldier on, as I truly believe that this party despite all its faults reflects the ideals of our country that our founding fathers spelt out in the Constitution.
The Congress's idea of India is worth fighting for and I as a soldier of my country, choose to battle on, along with hundreds of thousands of Congress workers in every city and every village of India.
There can never be a Congress-mukt Bharat as I believe that in the heart of every moderate Indian, in some corner, there lives a proud Congressman. Jai Hind!