Congress leader Salman Khursid’s latest book, in which he has compared political Hindutva with radical jihad followed by Islamic State and outfits like Boko Haram, has left the party in a tight spot, especially when the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, where religion plays a major role, is in the offing.
Even though the party has refused to comment on Khurshid’s book ‘Sunrise over Ayodhya’, calling it his freedom of expression, many in the Congress have taken exception to the comparison. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has called it “factually wrong” and “an exaggeration”.
“We may not agree with Hindutva as a political ideology distinct from composite culture of Hinduism, but comparing Hindutva with ISIS and jihadist Islam is factually wrong and an exaggeration,” Azad said.
In the book, Khurshid writes in detail about the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi issue, summing up that it was a story of one faith winning over another.
“Sanatan dharma and classical Hinduism known to sages and saints was being pushed aside by a robust version of Hindutva, by all standards a political version similar to the jihadist Islam of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram of recent years. Since the political content was clear, the term inevitably found place in election campaigns,” he wrote.
Khurshid also details the interaction between the Congress and the PV Narasimha Rao government before and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Khurshid, who himself was a minister in the Narasimha Rao government says he and a few other ministers had assembled at the residence of Rajesh Pilot, the in-charge of internal security to discuss the crisis and later went to meet senior leader CK Jaffer Sharief.
“Thus, two bold voices in the government were roused. Calls were made to principal secretary AN Verma, who suggested that we speak to the PM. We got through to the PM and suggested to him that Rajesh Pilot be included in the group that was flying to Faizabad. He in turn asked us to speak to AN Verma again, and thus the chase continued for a while, until we were told that the PM would not be available, having turned in for the night,” he writes.
He said the group wanted a senior functionary of the government to “intervene before the idols, which had been shifted during the demolition of the mosque, were reinstalled on the site”.
Recounting the mood at the Council of Ministers a day after the demolition, he writes, “Understandably, most were at a loss for words, but Madhavrao Scindia broke the ice to say how we all felt for Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. The reaction of the embattled PM took us by surprise when he retorted, ‘Please spare me your sympathy’. I do not recall the meeting having lasted long or indeed any substantive further steps being discussed.”
The book, which touches on the chords of polarization politics, a topic Congress has been trying to avoid ahead of the assembly election and instead seems to be focusing on people’s issues, will be enough fodder for BJP to campaign against it.
Soon after the contents of the book became public, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia accused the Congress of spreading anti-Hindu sentiments while demanding an apology from Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The fact that Khurshid is part of the strategy committee of Priyanka Gandhi, the face of Congress in Uttar Pradesh, will make matters difficult for the party.
Khurshid, however, has stood by the comments made in the book.
“I have not called these guys terrorists, I have just said they are similar in distorting religion. What Hindutva has done, it has pushed aside Sanatan Dharma and Hindusim and it has taken over a robust, aggressive position similar to Boko Haram and those other guys,” he told PTI.
“I could not find anybody else that they could be similar to. I said they are similar to them, that’s all, nothing to do with Hinduism. Hindutva, as portrayed by its proponents, is distorting religion,” he said.
Commenting on Azad calling his comparison an exaggeration, Khurshid said “Now exaggeration, measurement and assessment and perception varies from person to person. It may seem exaggerated t him, it does not seem exaggerated to me.”