Your Bharat Jodo (unify India) padyatra has started well. India is a badly divided nation that needs healing. Yet that wound cannot be healed without clearly understanding the cause and remedy. You believe the hard secularism of Jawaharlal Nehru has become an electoral liability, saddling your party with an anti-Hindu image. So, you have switched to what critics like me call soft Hindutva. You have promoted your image as a Shiva worshipper, temple visitor and wearer of the Brahminical sacred thread. You no longer fight electoral battles with secular guns blazing.
Alas, soft Hindutva has flopped. Instead of gaining votes, it has given you the image of a leader lacking serious convictions. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is riding high, and regional parties have reduced you to third position or worse in many other states. This has stoked constant defections and revolts.
You need a strong new message. Bharat Jodo is a good slogan, but soft Hindutva has only strengthened the BJP’s idea of India, at your cost. The solution is to return to the message of Mahatma Gandhi, whose birth anniversary is nigh.
Gandhiji was the best example of being highly religious, yet totally secular. He was assassinated by Nathuram Godse for being a Muslim appeaser. But the people were fully with Gandhiji, who proved that a good Hindu should be secular as a matter of duty, and that being anti-Muslim was bad Hinduism.
To gain credibility and a strong new image, resurrect Mahatma Gandhi’s practice of having a satsang (prayer meeting) every evening, singing songs praising the lord as well as communal harmony. Set aside half an hour to sing the songs that Gandhiji did. The pride of place must, of course go to:
Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram
Patita pawan Sita Ram.
Ishwar Allah tero naam.
Sabko sanmati de Bhagwan.
In those few, succinct words Gandhiji rolled Hinduism and secularism into a single whole. You could add another line to be sung to the same tune: ‘Jesus, Buddha tero naam, sabko sanmati de bhagwan’.
What else? The Mahatma’s favourite hymn was ‘Abide with Me’. This was, therefore, played every year at the Beating of the Retreat ceremony till the practice was stopped this year. You should revive it at your prayer meetings. Lawyer Suranya Aiyar has made a Hindi adaptation of the hymn which she sings with her friends. You should do so too.
You must include the beautiful song ‘Vaishnava Janato’, one of Gandhiji’s favourites. It extols the virtues of the Hindu who understands the pain of others; does not let pride enter his mind; does not speak ill of others; keeps his promises, actions and thoughts pure; who respects women as his own mother; who utters no untruth no matter how much his tongue tires.
You must also include ‘Sara Jahan se Achha’. This is not a religious song but carries an inspiring message of all Indians pulling together to make India great. Iqbal, a great Muslim poet, penned this song, but it clearly transcends all religions and has become a national favourite. It exemplifies the theme of Bharat Jodo.
You could end every prayer meeting with ‘Hum Honge Kamyaab’. This Indian adaptation of ‘We Shall Overcome’ has become so popular as a school song that it is now as Indian as cricket. It is tailor-made for Bharat Jodo. It urges us to walk and talk together, with the fullest faith in succeeding one day.
By all means, invite famous singers to join in occasionally. But let this above all be a way for you to connect with the people of India, using music to carry your political message of unifying religion and secularism.
The BJP aims to convert the 80% Hindu share of the population into a permanent parliamentary majority. It equates your party’s historical secularism with being pro-Muslim, of appeasing minorities to buy their votes. It has successfully sold this message to voters.
Nehru was among those who wanted to keep religion and politics separate. So did Marxist and socialist intellectuals. But Gandhiji declared bluntly that those who sought to separate politics and religion understood neither politics nor religion. Ironically, the BJP has mixed religion and politics with enormous success.
The answer is not to try and unmix them but to produce a better mixture as Gandhiji did himself. . Your party should emphasise that ‘Gandhi’ does not mean just Indira, Rajiv, Sonia or Rahul. It should mean the Mahatma above all. Make the connection with the Mahatma a real and living one through a daily satsang. May that heal both your broken party and a divided land.
This article was originally published by The Times of India on October 2, 2022.