Monkey see, monkey do

Looking at the way the Congress and the BJP have been copying each other, I am reminded of the parable about the cap seller and the monkeys. It goes like this.

One day the cap seller slept off under a tree with his bundle of caps beside him. When he woke up he saw that a bunch of monkeys had made off with all his caps.

He tried his best to get them to return the caps, to no avail. The monkeys only imitated his every gesture. In sheer frustration he threw his own cap on the ground — and found a barrage of caps coming down from the tree.

But Jinnah, encouraged by the British, persisted with his campaign. This gradual poisoning of Muslim minds led them to vote — in some parts of India — overwhelmingly for Jinnah in the election of 1946, and Pakistan became a reality.

Touched to the quick at being called a Hindu party, the Congress responded exactly as it is responding now to the BJP charge that it is a Muslim party. It bent over backwards from 1948 onwards to prove that it had more than enough space for Muslims.

This, however, led to an unexpected consequence: In the early fifties the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the parent of the BJP, was born. It started the opposite myth to Jinnah — that the Congress was a pro-Muslim party!

I copy, therefore I am

The Jana Sangh’s campaigns, however, fell on deaf ears. The voter gave it short shrift. In the 1971 general election, thanks to Indira Gandhi repainting the Congress in communist colours, the Jana Sangh was almost completely routed.

So how did it respond? In 1973 it came up with a me-too formula called “Gandhian Socialism”. Neither fish nor fowl, this formulation — one of its fathers was the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee — was designed to prove to the voter that it was not a suit-boot party. The idea was to invent a non-Marxist form of economic nationalism.

But the voters couldn’t figure out what Gandhian Socialism was. In fact, even now no one can. As a result, the Jana Sangh continued in the political wilderness. Then in 1980 it renamed itself the BJP. This happened because in 1977 it had merged itself with the socialist-dominated Janata Party. The socialists forced it to go out.

The new name didn’t help. In the 1984 general election, it won just two seats.

So, in 1986, Lal Krishna Advani decided to revert to what in the suit-boot world is known as core competence. He approved the slogan “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain”.

A new term, Hindutva, was born. Like Gandhian Socialism, it too was meaningless. The BJP became a religious nationalist party.

Mr Advani demanded the Ram temple at the very spot where the Babri mosque stood. Many Hindus cheered but most of them were unmoved.

An alarmed and inexperienced Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, decided to copy the BJP — whence there was that ill-fated shilanyas — while simultaneously showing that it was pro-Muslim, whence there was that Shah Bano fiasco.

Monkey response

The bemused voter rejected the Congress in 1989, which found itself back to where it was in 1946 — neither this nor that. But that was not all. Just as in 1946, when another communal party had prospered, this new-found Congress confusion allowed the BJP to spread its wings.

It hasn’t looked back since then. True that it lost the 2004 election but its campaign, that the Congress is a Muslim party — the opposite of Jinnah’s campaign, which said it was a Hindu party — has only grown and found credence.

After the utterly humiliating defeat of 2014, A K Antony, in a report to Sonia Gandhi, also said as much. And a few months ago, she repeated that on a TV channel. The die was cast.

So the Congress, from the Gujarat election onwards last December, has started copying the BJP. Its president is donning Hindu plumes. The effect on the voter is exactly like the Jana Sangh’s Gandhian socialism of 1973 — zero.

This monkey see-monkey do act isn’t going to help it triple its seats in the Lok Sabha or even double it. But sure as night follows day it is going to result in a low voter turnout in 2019.

When two parties are identical, why bother to vote for either?