Why is the BJP calling the Congress Manifesto 2024 to be an “Imprint of the Muslim League”?

The author argues that this panic reaction from PM Modi shows that he and his party are rattled by growing criticism and alienation from the people and especially by the substantive promise of social justice and transparency offered by the Grand Old Party in its manifesto
Image: National Herald

Day before yesterday, April 6, 2024, our Prime Minister, supremely confident of winning a third term with huge mandate, appeared to be significantly rattled. What had shaken him appears to be the Congress manifesto released on April 5 While addressing an election rally in Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh), he said that the Congress manifesto “completely bears the imprint of the Muslim League”, and added that the rest of the manifesto was influenced by the Left. At the two back rallies held in western Uttar Pradesh’s Sahranour and Pushkar in Rajasthan, Modi’s tone appeared to be hysterical as he appealed to voters to re-elect both him and the party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Rarely do voters believe the promises made in party manifestos, and even more unlikely is it that the detailed promises outlined in the manifesto ensure victory to a party. The absence of a level playing field in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections that the Congress faces should not have –normally –rattled the top brass of the BJP, leading their star campaigner to so sharply comment upon the manifesto of the Congress. Why has the BJP not been able to ignore it? Does the BJP –in any way– fear defeat?

The Congress manifesto is a bold and brave document, except on one count, Personal Laws of the Religious Minorities. The Personal Laws need significant reforms, and in their present un-reformed form militate against gender justice. Especially since majority Muslim countries have in fact implemented significantly some of these reforms (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Arab and African countries). Thus, by not committing to reform in the personal laws, the Congress manifesto 2024 appears to regress, even go back to the 1980s. The Congress must not forget that it was this moment which provided lot of fodder to the resurgence of Hindutva. (The Congress Manifesto does include the following: “The Congress will encourage reform of personal laws. Such reform must be undertaken with the participation and consent of the communities concerned.”-Editors)

It is also common knowledge that the Congress is at its weakest ever especially faced with a weak organization in most parts of the country. It is also extremely resource-starved both in terms of funds and workers. Besides, several promising leaders have deserted the party in recent times.

Given the degree of heightened communal polarisation, particularly in the Hindi belt, and the deep anti-Muslim hatred this polarization has generated, a party reiterating its Pluralist and Secular character and openly challenging the crony capitalism of the dispensation, signals a bold, refreshing stance. The Congress is in fact stoically and courageously assert its core historical ideology. Certain political scientists (Suhas Palshikar being one of these) often say that a political party in deep crisis reverts back to its core ideology to revive itself. May be, the Congress has learnt this lesson and has jettisoned its soft majoritarianism to a significant extent.

The Congress (in its manifesto) has defined its priorities quite clearly. Equity and Social Justice is on the top of its agenda in the manifesto. Youth Unemployment, Distress of Traders caused by the GST, Farmers’ Distress, Ruination of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)with sudden and total Demonetisation, Crimes against Women, Deprivation, Persecutio and Marginalization of the SCs, STs, Minorities, Hijacking of Institutions by the dispensation are some of the highlights emphasised right at the beginning of the manifesto. “Climate of Fear, Intimidation and Hatred” is a concern highlighted without hesitation. Democracy or Authoritarianism, Freedom or Fear, Prosperity for All or Wealth for a Few, Justice or Injustice, are the serious issues flagged before the electorate. [1]

An exclusive segment on the Religious and Linguistic Minorities in the Manifesto reminds us of the “resolution adopted in the 1906 Calcutta Congress that each province organise at its capital a Provincial Congress Committee in such manner as may be determined at a meeting of the Provincial Conference or at a special meeting held for the purpose, of representatives of different districts in the province”. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) is said to have insisted on this aspect. This was further reiterated at the Nagpur session (1920).[2]

The most clear and bold aspect of the manifesto is its’ promise to conduct a nation-wide Socio-Economic and Caste Census to Enumerate the Castes and Sub-Castes and their Socio-Economic conditions. Based on the data, the agenda for affirmative action will be strengthened. Significantly, the Congress has guaranteed that it will pass a constitutional amendment to raise the 50 per cent cap on reservations for SC, ST and OBC. The reservation of 10 per cent in jobs and educational institutions for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) will be implemented for all castes and communities without discrimination. Importantly, all the backlog vacancies in posts reserved for SC, ST and OBC within a period of one year. The Congress will abolish the contractualisation of regular jobs in the government and public sector enterprises and ensure regularisation of such appointments.

Promises of legislating the Rohith Vemula Act to protect the SC students (ill enact a law with reference to Article 15(5) of the Constitution to provide for reservation in private educational institutions for SC, ST and OBC), of Establishment of a Diversity Commission to ensure representation of all segments in public spaces and employment, implementing the Renke Commission (The Manmohan Cabinet in its meeting held on 30 January 2014 had approved the establishment of a National Commission for De-notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes-NCDNT- for a period of three years and framing of an appropriate scheme for grant of Pre and Post matric Scholarships and Construction of Hostels for DNT students), are some of the egalitarian and socialistic measures to empower the oppressed and marginalized segments, which might have seriously rattled the BJP. Theseit has dubbed the pro-poor provisions with Left influence (in the Congress manifesto). The promises of establishing Village Councils and Autonomous District Councils are the steps towards rectifying Regional Imbalance. Senior Citizens, Disabled and LGBTQ communities have got significant space. Right to Health, residential schools at Block/Tehsil levels, are also most appreciable promises.[3]

Removal of Economic Inequalities and Transition to a Socialist form of Society were stated as the two major objectives of Congress since at least 1929.

Defending the Constitution and Reversing the Damage

Two significant points of emphasis are contained in the two sections entitled “Defending the Constitution” and “Reversing the Damage.”

From de-criminalising the offence of defamation, to uphold the people’s right to assemble peacefully and without arms; to review and repeal laws that have affected free press and privacy the manifesto goes further. It assur4es its voters to repeal weaponised and unconstitutional laws. “All laws that interfere with personal freedoms will be repealed.”  The Msnifesto promises to strengthen the Election Commission of India and other statutory bodies and ensure that Parliament is accountable to the people.

But what is it that prompted the Prime Minister to malign this manifesto by likening it with an imprint of Muslim League?

One can only make an intelligent guess. This author is someone who has been teaching postgraduate courses in modern & contemporary Indian history for the last 25 years or so. Modesty apart, I have a keen understanding –more than the non-specialist Indian electorate–of why PM Modi has made this reference to the All India Muslim League (AIML).

The kind of egalitarian pursuit as promised or envisaged in the INC Manifesto 2024, is at complete odds or in opposition to what a reactionary force like the AIML could ever have envisaged. Every student of Indian history and every Indian with a common sense (or understanding) of history knows this well. Since the Congress envisaged its socialist goals from the Karachi Session (1931) onwards, culminating into the Faizpur Agrarian Programme (1936), the Muslim League got seriously alarmed. Having been routed in the 1937 elections, the landlords of the respective religious denominations started running towards the AIML and AIHMS (All India Hindu Maha Sabha). From 1938 onwards, the two organisations grew strong and hysterical. During the Quit India Movement (1942), after the Congress leaders were jailed, both these reactionary organisations had a field day and were shamelessly encouraged by the British colonial state pushing India fast towards Partition. Jinnah and Savarkar gained unprecedented strength. Savarkar was no longer confined to Ratnagiri by the colonial state.

The Interim government of 1946 (formed in September), had its finance minister from the AIML. He was Liaqat Ali Khan (1895-1951), succeeding John Mathai (1886-1959) in November 1946.

Hence, this author finds no such similarity between the All India Muslim League (AIML) of pre-1947 and the Indian National Congress (INC) Manifesto 2024. Moreover, even in the 1940s, it was AIHMS which had formed coalition govt with AIML in Bengal, NWFP, and Sindh.

Raghabendra Chattopadhyay’s essay (1998), (the author is not a huge sympathiser of the Congress, writes:

“The leaders of the Congress now came out in public to denounce the Budget as a ‘clever device’ for discrediting the party by giving a ‘most unpractical turn to both the Congress demands; that is, those for Governmental action against profiteering and tax evasion’. Liaquat’s taxation measures, they argued, ‘would have impoverished all rich men and done permanent damage to Commerce and Industry’. Congress leaders like Patel and Rajagopalachari were violently opposed to the Budget and felt that Liaquat was ‘more concerned to harass industrialists and businessmen than to serve the interests of the country’. They even charged that the Budget was based on communal considerations motivated to harm the members of the business community, the majority of whom were Hindus”.

This quotation makes it amply clear that the Congress was critical of the 1946 Budget of the AIML. Nehru, notwithstanding his socialist convictions, was particularly critical of it in the FICCI meeting that followed soon after.

So why then did the PM Modi liken the Congress manifesto 2024 with the AIML? Liaquat’s new taxes were directed against big business and other excessively wealthy people. “The [1946] Budget [had] really stirred up the entire business community, Indian and British, who were soon up in arms against Liaquat. Stock exchanges in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were indefinitely in protest against the tax proposals. The big houses, and the Press under their control, denounced the Budget ‘murderous one’ intended to destroy the economy by choking business activities in the country”.

Likening the Congress with the AIML is strange because it is the AIHMS had formed coalition governments with the Muslim League in Bengal, NWFP and Sindh in the early 1940s.

Thus, in all probability, PM Modi appears seriously worried of the Congress attack against crony capitalism which has been wreaking havoc against the poor and middle class Indians since 2014. That is only reason, why PM appears so rattled. Why otherwise does the BJP simply not ignore the Congress manifesto, if the BJP is really so very confident of achieving its target of over 400 seats in the Lok Sabha?

Of course, a lot will depend upon how the common electorates would respond to the debate on this particular remark. Afflicted with communal polarisation, particularly the north Indian electorates are less likely to devote a cool-headed look into the Congress manifesto and the PM’s odious comparison of it with the Muslim League. Let’s watch to see if the ordinary voter will have the last laugh or the Adanis and the Ambanis will emerge victorious at the cost of the Indian? The Electoral Bond Scam, or extortion, has already exposed the deep nexus nexus. Will a 400 plus Lok Sabha of BJP ensure India a pluralist democracy? Or, we shall have moved over to the electoral autocracy (Putin’s Russia style, or the Israel model of bi-national state system with graded citizenship)?

Both the voters (electorates) and institutions (Election Commission) are under watch. What do they have in store for the future of India!

[1] From the Manifesto: “Our greatest concern was the prevailing ‘climate of fear, intimidation and hatred’. In the last five years, every section of the people has lived in fear; laws and investigating agencies have been weaponised to intimidate people; and through its words and actions the BJP and its affiliates have spread hatred among people belonging to different religious, language and caste groups.”

[2] On Religious and Linguistic Minorities: “The Party will respect and uphold the fundamental right to practice one’s faith and the rights guaranteed to religious minorities under Articles 15, 16, 25, 26, 28, 29 and 30 of the Constitution. The Party will also respect and uphold the rights of linguis- tic minorities guaranteed under Articles 15, 16, 29 and 30 of the Constitution. ..”The Party e will encourage and assist students and youth belonging to the minorities to take full advantage of the growing opportunities in education, employment, business, services, sports, arts and other fields. The economic empowerment of minorities is a necessary step for India to realise its full potential. We will ensure that banks will provide institutional credit to minorities without discrimination. The Congress Party will ensure that the minorities receive their fair share of opportunities in education, healthcare, public employment, public works contracts, skill development, sports and cultural activities without discrimination. Congress will ensure that, like every citizen, minorities have the freedom of choice of dress, food, language and personal laws. The Congress will encourage reform of personal laws. Such reform must be undertaken with the participation and consent of the communities concerned.

[3] Other aspects in the Congress Manifesto released on April “The Congress will include in the curriculum of schools the life and work of social reformers to spread the message of social justice. The Congress will establish Ambedkar Bhavans-cum-Libraries in every district to promote the habit of reading and discussion. The Party will pass a law authorising allocation of resourc- es for the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan and Tribal Sub Plan within the annual budget and monitoring the execution of the plans. 15. Congress will end the evil of manual scavenging. Every manual scavenger will be rehabilitated, re-skilled, provided a job and assured a life of dignity and safety. The Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act, 2013, will be strictly implemented and any person employing anyone for manual scavenging shall be punished. We will provide compensation of 30 lakh to families of sanita- tion workers.”(safai karamcharis) deceased while at work. We will allocate sufficient funds to enable the procurement of machines that will clean sewers and septic tanks, and remove human waste. Free insurance will be provided to all sanitation worker


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