Kapil Sibal’s plea before SC to defer Ayodhya hearing a blunder or masterstroke for Congress in GE 2019?
Newly anointed Congress President Rahul Gandhi has the formidable task of rejuvenating the grand old party from its rather run- down present state into a lean, mean fighting machine in next few months. As it is the task is difficult but his political quirks make it even more daunting. For one, he still functions in the political paradigms of the 1980s. His politics remains tied to his grandmother’s apron strings. He still swears by 80s style failed socialist policies, reviles big businesses and indulges in homilies to pose as messiah of the masses. Rahul’s ‘killer blueprint’ of resisting BJP involves doing an extensive temple run in Gujarat and blocking the temple run in Ayodhya – a contradiction that the BJP has been quick to latch on. The impossibility of this position may not have occurred to the dynast but in any case a Congress leader shall always be around, ready to be martyred in the larger cause of saving a Gandhi if matters get out of control. Sibal appears to be the ‘chosen one’ this time. Let us examine whether this is a superficial view or there is more to it than meets the eye. Could it be that the seasoned legal eagle, known both for the sharpness of his intellect and of his tongue, was prepared to lose the immediate battle in order to prepare well for the decisive war ahead – GE 2019?
Congress’ biggest problem is that of bankruptcy of ideas: A failure to find an ideological space or a political positioning. Consequently, it tries to occupy all sorts of spaces—liberal, conservative, subaltern, casteist, classist, rural, pro-minority or majoritarian—and often the inherent tension between these spaces makes its position untenable.
It is evident that Rahul felt the need to delve in soft-Hindutva ahead of Gujarat elections and went out of his way to do a round of temples and pose as a Brahmin poster boy.
Once Gujarat is over, however, Congress’s need for a soft-Hindutva positioning is exhausted, and it even becomes counter-productive ahead of the Ayodhya verdict where its ambiguity contrasts unfavourably with BJP’s clarity on Ram Temple. Hence Sibal’s submission in court that Ram Temple verdict should be postponed till after 2019 general elections. Two motivations prompted this act. First, deny Narendra Modi ahead of GE 2019 the fruits of Hindu vote bank consolidation that will inevitably result from any Supreme Court decision either way. If it is in favour of the temple the Hindu masses, irrespective of caste distinctions, will shower him with their votes out of gratitude; if not, then their frustration and angst will make them rally even more unitedly behind him. Second, buy time to decide on Congress’s own political position depending on the unfolding scenario.
Sibal has since issued statements that are easily refuted and are at odds with his stature as a senior, seasoned lawyer. He claimed that he never represented the Sunni Waqf Board in court. He told ANI: “The Prime Minister did not check the fact that actually I never represented the Sunni Waqf Board in the Supreme Court. And yet he thanked Sunni Waqf Board for a statement on the basis that I represented them. I request the prime minister to be a little more careful.”Documents widely available in public domain clearly show that he was, in fact, representing the Sunni Waqf Board in Supreme Court. Other documents also surfaced that demolished Sibal’s defence that he wasn’t appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board. The events took a curious turn a day after when Zafaryab Jilani, convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC), threw his weight behind Sibal and claimed: “Whatever Sibal has said has been stated with prior consultation with all advocates including leaders of the Muslim Personal Law Board. Sibal had discussed this. With full confidence, we can say that we completely endorse what Sibal said.”
The ANI report also quoted Haji Mehboob, who now seemed to be back- tracking from his earlier statement. “If Jilani saab is saying that what Kapil Sibal said yesterday was right, then I agree with him. I don’t want to say any- thing else.”Finally on Thursday, the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Board chairman Zufar Ahmed Farooqi claimed Sibal wasn’t representing them. He was “representing one of the private parties involved in the suit.”
It is not difficult to imagine what may have conspired behind the scenes within a span of 24 damaging hours for the Congress. The protestations and denials issued since are designed to absolve Sibal of all responsibility for his statement, leading one to wonder whom exactly was the senior lawyer representing while making that submission.
However, the political script in the court drama can tremendously boost Congress chance to take on omnipotent BJP led by Narendra Modi, RSS and Mumbai club. On ground zero, Congress party led by newly elected Rahul Gandhi has limited chance to reclaim the lost territory. The political map is dominated by saffron and regional parties today because Congress’s biggest problem is that of bankruptcy of ideas: a failure to find an ideological space or a political positioning. It is evident that Rahul felt the need to delve in soft Hindutva ahead of Gujarat elections and went out of his way to do a round of temples and pose as a Brahmin poster boy. This is after all is merely the cloning of BJP’s winning formula of Hindutva, albeit in a much milder form. But even then it has the ingredients of what it takes to alienate the Muslim vote bank that has traditionally been the party’s mainstay. It is precisely to preempt this dangerous circumstance that Sibal’s request to defer the case beyond GE 2019 was designed. In short, the compulsions of Gujarat assembly elections 2017 made Rahul Gandhi go on around of the temples; similarly, the compulsions of Lok Sabha GE 2019 made Sibal seek postponement of the case hearings. Congress can ill afford to lose its Muslim supporters which would have been inevitable in the event of a court verdict on the Ayodhya case.
Now the master stroke of Sibal has the potential to revive the party from being on the ventilator to racing on high speed motor track by strategically attracting pan India 15% minority vote that can be the launching pad for RaGa’s quest to power for GE 2019 with his newly acquired soft hindutva persona. In a single action, the political landscape of the country can be altered but with a better political articulation. RaGa Congress can be revived when the Congress party can snatch minority votes from the regional outfits namely SP, BSP, RJD, RLD, NCP, YSR Congress, TMC etc and it can be clubbed with soft hindutva narrative to mount a serious challenge for Modi led BJP. The optimum polarization is possible by aggressive approach and strategic narrative and the same is brilliantly provided by Kapil Sibal on platter to Congress party. The roadmap to GE 2019 is scripted with brilliance and the pursuit of success will test the political acumen of the newly elected Congress president. Soft Hindutva with Sibal’s taking up cudgels for the Muslim minority in the Ayodhya case can turn out to be the winning bet for the ailing Congress party in GE 2019.
(PRAKHAR MISRA: Writer is Political Editor – Opinion Express )