Congress leader Aziz Qureshi opposed his party’s tolerance with Hindutva tactics, stating that Muslims would only tolerate to an extent on Sunday.
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“Muslims are not wearing bangles”
The 82 year-old veteran Congress member was addressing a contingent of Congress’ Muslim leaders gathered in Lateri, Vidisha district, Madhya Pradesh, to celebrate the birth anniversary of late PM Rajiv Gandhi. On the stage, he vented out his displeasure over the tactics employed by his party in the run up to the Assembly polls in MP, drawing a line in the sand by asserting that “Muslims are not slaves or bonded labourers”. Ruing the lack of opportunities for Muslims in the police, defence forces and banks, along with lack of guaranteed bank loans, he questioned Congress’ ability to secure Muslim votes.
Bolder statements would follow as he touched upon the recent string of communal violence that has gripped the nation, commenting on how Muslim “shops, places of worship and houses are being burnt”, with women and children being targeted. Claiming that the community’s tolerance level has a limit, he made a point that Muslims “aren’t cowards”. If that line were to be crossed, the Congress leader saw “no harm in one or two crore out of 22 crore Muslims” sacrificing their lives for the community.
Incensed at the sight of “(Jawaharlal) Nehru’s heirs” taking part in religious processions, installing idols at the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) Office, along with chanting slogans such as “Jai Ganga Maiyya”, “Jai Narmada Maiyya”, “Garv se kaho Hindu hain (say it proudly that we are Hindus)”, Qureshi called it “shameful”. A former UP governor, Lok Sabha MP, and a leading member of the party since the Indira Gandhi-days, he claimed to be not afraid of being expelled from the party over his defiant comments.
Reactions from Congress, BJP’s accusations proved?
The state unit of the INC later attempted to instill some diplomatic touch on the heated issue, with the media department head KK Mishra referring to Qureshi’s remarks as his “personal opinion”, while clarifying that the party “believes in secularism”.
On the other hand, the BJP saw this as an avenue to add to Congress’ miseries. MP BJP spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi aired his thoughts on X (formerly Twitter), viewing the rant as having the effect of “exposing the real face of the Congress”, a party which believes in the politics of minority appeasement. Accusing former CM Kamal Nath and Rahul Gandhi of only turning to Hindus during poll season, he challenged the two to respond to Qureshi’s comments, lest they were to show implicit approval of them.
Rise of “soft Hindutva”, “no problem” says INC
Kamal Nath, who grabbed headlines just a few weeks ago after claiming that the nation was automatically a “Hindurashtra” as a result of Hindu population majority, has been noticed by political observers in taking a meticulous and prolonged approach to pushing a “soft Hindutva” image of himself and the Congress. Despite the polarised reception from his fellow party members, Nath has been responding to “the collective yearning” for soft Hindutva coming from the Congress tribe, who seek to disrupt 15 years of uninterrupted BJP rule in Madhya Pradesh, according to a report in the Wire in 2019.
Several high-profile Congress leaders, including AK Antony and Rajendra Singh, have pointed to the Congress’ “anti-Hindu” and “pro-Muslim” image, given to them by the BJP, as a major detriment. Singh, in a 2018 Indian Express article, attributes the adoption of saffron politics as a “conscious decision to shed that tag thrust on us by our rivals.” Qureshi’s anxieties and Nath’s agenda are further bolstered by the fact that there might not be much to lose for the Congress if Muslim voters are left alienated, as the 2011 Census states that Muslims constitute only 6.6% of MP’s population.
It has been mere days since Rajya Sabha MP and former CM of MP, Digvijaya Singh claimed that the BJP wants to “engineer riots like Nuh” in Madhya Pradesh. Interestingly his brother, Lakshman Singh, a Congress MLA, made a bold statement of his own on 3rd August. When asked whether Congress was moving towards soft Hindutva by ANI, Singh claimed that not only has the party adopted the tactics in question, but has already derived great utility from them in the previous Assembly polls in 2018. However, he provided a footnote, saying that the party “respects other religions too”.