Back in 2013, the then UPA government first filed an affidavit in the Ram Setu case, saying there was no historical or scientific proof about the existence of Lord Ram or Ramsetu as a man-made bridge.Promptly, the BJP went on a furious offensive, with veteran BJP leader LK Advani calling the affidavit “blasphemous and arrogant.” He also demanded an apology from the ruling dispensation for “hurting” the religious sentiments of the Hindus.Both the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as also Congress president Sonia Gandhi got cold feet, eventually withdrawing the affidavit.Still, the Congress was trounced in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and is still struggling to find its feet.Fast forward to September 2023.The DMK’s heir apparent Udhayanidhi Stalin denounces Sanatan Dharma as a disease like dengue and wants it to be eradicated lock, stock and barrel in the interests of equity. Predictably the BJP erupts in anger everywhere, some claiming Udhayanidhi is actually calling for the genocide of the Hindus.Evidently, they are keen on reaping an electoral harvest yet again on the back of “hurt Hindu sentiments.” Much more so, when many seem to think the battle could be close next year.When the BJP has gained a lot of ground since 2013, and the so-called Hindutva has become a staple of public discourse, the Congress should have been expected to repudiate or at the very least, distance itself as much as possible from Udhayanidhi’s comment.But all that Congress has said officially, through its powerful general secretary KC Venugopal, is that it respects all religions, while stressing that other parties too, have the freedom to express their views.“Our view is very clear – ‘Sarvadharma Sambhav’ (equal respect to all religions) is the Congress ideology.

But, you have to understand that every political party has its freedom to tell their views,” he said. Even more interesting is that Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge’s son and a senior minister in the Siddaramaiah’s government, Priyank Kharge has asserted that any religion that does not promote equality or does not treat you like humans is as good as a diseasePerhaps the strongest possible indictment of the Sanatan Dharma from the Congress.He should have known coming from the son of the national president, his comments would acquire larger-than-life dimensions, but still, he went ahead. And so far, there has been no official disowning, let alone condemnation of Udhayanidhi, despite the general perception that under the Modi onslaught, the Congress is silently, if tentatively, embracing soft Hindutva, while Rahul himself had become a janeyu Brahmin.Yes, in Tamil Nadu, the Congress itself is hopelessly weak and annoying the ruling DMK is the last thing it would like to do, what with MK Stalin emerging as the staunchest supporter of Rahul Gandhi among the allies. All the same, the party should be acutely conscious that it might be on the back foot right across the cow belt, which perhaps holds the key to a parliamentary majority.If one weighs the gains in the south, or say in Tamil Nadu at least, against possible backlash up north, by now the Congress should have attempted a much larger damage control exercise than has been the case so far.But it has not.And so the question is, does a terribly weakened party feel too intimidated to take on any of its allies, willing to accept the proverbial bird in hand, instead of looking for two in the bush?That is one interpretation, of course, but it is also possible the Congress, especially Rahul Gandhi, much more of a moderniser than many around him, might be willing to bet on a Dalit-OBC-Muslim consolidation by tacitly endorsing strident attacks on Hindutva.This writer is willing to go with the latter.Going by the Jodo Yatra, the pitch for egalitarianism as seen in proposals like the Universal Basic Income, and the support for caste surveys, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi might be readying itself for yet another make-over, though janeyu still intact, as it were. After all, even in the Hindi-speaking north, it is the OBC castes that are in a huge majority, though the Hindus in general could be under the Hindutva spell.So then, if the INDIA does give a tough fight to Modi, even if it doesn’t triumph next year, one can expect the Congress to move increasingly towards Lohia-type socialism in the days to come. TN Gopalan is a senior journalist based in Chennai.Views expressed here are the author’s own.Sign up for a Weekly Digest from Dhanya Rajendran* indicates requiredEmail Address * First Name   

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