There is one thing that strikes me about the top two national political parties of India: The Congress and the BJP.
When you look deep within the policies of the two, there is practically little difference between them.
Let me explain.
Communalism: BJP's biggest negative tag is communalism. But didn't communal violence crop up soon after Independence when the Congress ruled with an iron fist throughout most of the land?
Gujarat saw riots even before the BJP was born, especially during tensions between Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi. In 1969, more than 1000 people died in the Ahmedabad clashes. Sounds a bit like Godhra? These riots soon spread to other states.
Maharashtra saw clashes even before the Shiv Sena became a strong political force. That's the same with many other Congress bastions throughout the land.
In fact when one thinks of the two most shameful communal riots of the land, one thinks of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and Godhra 2002. It is no surprise that one is associated with the Congress and the other the BJP. If not much action was taken after Godhra, then after 1984, too, some of the accused ended up in Rajiv's government.
Liberalization and Foreign Policy: In the last 20 years, the two parties seem to think alike. Narasimha Rao began economic liberalization, which was carried forward with much gusto by AB Vajpayee and now by Manmohan Singh. It's almost as if the three PMs were running a relay race on the same team.
Vajpayee started cozying up with the US, trying to start many initiatives and ink deals. This was taken forward with great enthusiasm by Manmohan. He even put the government on the line with the Indo-US nuclear deal.
The last 20 years have seen many continuous policies broken only by HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral, who were not from the two above-mentioned parties.
Ram Janmabhoomi: Everyone knows the RSS and BJP role in the Ram Mandir issue. But why is the role of the Congress always downplayed? Lord Ram's icons were placed when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister. The disputed structure was opened during the Rajiv Gandhi regime. That came soon after the infamous Shah Bano case.
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement gained great momentum in 1989, so why was the Congress government caught napping three years later in 1992 when the disputed structure was brought down?
Laying the foundation for the new temple. Building bricks for the new structure. LK Advani's Rath Yatra. Everything was done openly and nothing in secret.
In fact, it was Lalu Prasad who brought a halt to the Rath Yatra. If a state chief minister could prove himself to be so powerful, why was the central government so powerless?
The Centre watched mutely as the whole crisis exploded in 1992. Amazingly the then Home Minister SB Chavan said that he "didn't know anything" hours after Kar Sewaks had razed the holy site. Shivraj Patil had lesser crimes when he quit the same post.
In fact, in the subsequent Mumbai riots, 1500 people were killed. The Congress cannot wash their hands over that.
If you look at the whole Ram Janmabhoomi problem, then it's a perfect Congress-BJP jugalbandi.
There are many other smaller similarities. If Indira did Pokhran 1, then Vajpayee did Pokhran 2. If Rajiv had Siachen, Vajpayee had Kargil. If the Congress has had development CMs like SM Krishna, BJP has Narendra Modi.
Two states which used to be at the forefront of development and economic health were neighbours Maharshtra and Karnataka. While the Congress is ruining the former, the BJP is messing with the latter.
Vajpayee led his coalition well and was seen as a mild-mannered statesman who didn't have full control over all elements of his party.
Can't one say the same thing about Manmohan?
Both were virtually pulled out of retirement and handed the PM's post.
Another recent thing: When's the last time onion prices were so high?
It's when the BJP came to power in the late 1990s! The current Congress has decided to mirror that problem too.
In fact there is only one difference I can see.
If the BJP had a dynasty, then it would behave very much like the Congress.
If the Congress had no dynasty, then it would behave very much like the BJP.
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(The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.)