The Hindutva competition
The "save the cow" campaign will be on in the four major states where assembly elections will be held later this year

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee: "I prefer to die rather than eat beef." That was his response to an allegation by a Madhya Pradesh Congress leader that the Hindu prime minister eats beef. Enter the poll arena: The cow. It is certain that "save the cow" campaign will be on in the four states where assembly elections will be held later this year. Cow is becoming a subject of furious battle between political parties. It is not that anyone is really interested in saving the cow. The lot of cows is far from happy in this country. It is a most ill-treated and exploited animal. The cow, however, can become a poll issue. It fits into the Hindutva agenda. Muslims love to eat beef. Hindus do not eat beef. A Hindu is quite sentimental about the cow. He worships the cow and gives it the same names as he does to women - Yamuna, Kaveri, Jalaja, Lakshmi. His contention is that an animal which gives precious milk and helps in survival of human beings should not be slaughtered. On the issue of the cow, feelings can be whipped up.

Cow worship

Why has the Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh made the beef-eating allegation? The Congress in Madhya Pradesh as well as the Congress in other states are worried about the rapid, vast advance of Hindutva. There is a small border between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh are afraid that the triumphant winds of Hindutva may blow across their state and help the BJP win the assembly elections.

In Madhya Pradesh, chief minister Digvijay Singh is trying to counter the challenge posed by Uma Bharti - BJP's strong Hindutva leader. He has to contend with the charge that the Congress is concerned more with the protection of Muslims than Hindus.

It is not Mr. Digvijay Singh alone who has realised the need for - Hindutva competition.

In all the states which will go to polls, there is a growing realisation in the Congress party that the BJP's bid to hijack Hindutva must be stopped. And there is a similar assessment in this regard at the national level of the party as well.

In the recently held meeting of the Congress in Delhi, the "garibi" programme was revived. And also there was a hint that the socialistic pattern of society - a pet concept of early Congress leaders - still had relevance.

But behind all the assertions and the rhetoric could be seen an uneasy feeling - a nagging fear that it may not work.

The Congress leaders cannot be unaware of the giant strides with which Hindutva has advanced. They may not admit it, but it was a big blow to the party.

The Congress cannot be on the side of minority communities and win elections. Without the Hindu vote, it will be nowhere.

What is also worrying the party is that the so-called secularism by which it swears is attracting less number of people belonging to both the communities.

It has no go, but to dilute its concept of secularism. The Congress is more guilty of playing divisive politics than the BJP. By posing as champions of Muslims, it has hastened the process of polarisation.

The Congress has no go but to reverse its stand. Its stock with the majority community is very low. There we see a Hindutva competition going on in the four states which are going to polls later this year. What is happening at Bhojshala in Madhya Pradesh shows the changing policy of the Congress CM Digvijay Singh is desperately trying to be seen as being pro-Hindu.

The Hindutva organisations are making things very difficult for him. The Hindu Jagran Manch is spearheading a temple campaign there. Mr. Digvijay Singh who sometime ago convincingly proclaimed that he would do everything possible for the cow, is fighting hard to counter the moves of the Manch.

The Bhojshala issue may figure not only in the poll agenda of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, but also that of the Congress. There is now a keen contest between Mr. Digvijay Singh and Sadhwi Uma Bharti over the Bhojshala issue and the former evidently wants to establish that he is no less keen about fighting for the rights of Hindus than Uma Bharti.

Mr. Jagmohan, the Union minister for culture, who is a strident advocate of Hindutva is making things difficult for Mr. Digvijay Singh.

It is an undisputed fact that there was a Sanskrit University at Dhar and there was also a temple with a Saraswati idol.

The Saraswati idol was evidently stolen by the colonial rulers and it is now in the London museum.

Mr. Jagmohan and the Hindutva organisation could make a big public issue out of it and demand the return of the Saraswati idol. It is possible that the British government may agree to give back the stolen idol.

At the Saraswati temple, there is a 200 square feet hall in front where namaz is being held now. It was the Hindu ruler of the region who in 1307 permitted the offering of prayers by Muslims. Muslims, however, say Bhojshala was a mosque built by Mohammed Shah Khilji in 1457.

The Hindu Jagran Manch has demanded that the ban on the entry of Hindus should be lifted. Hindus can visit the place only on Tuesdays but can offer puja only once a year on the Basant Panchami day.

Mr. Digvijay Singh has suggested that Hindus can visit the place twice a week. A clear pro-Hindu move.

Aggressive issue

But Mr. Jagmohan has done one thing better: Hindus must be allowed to go in with one or two flowers and a few grains of rice.

One or two flowers and a few grains of rice. A harmless, non-controversial move or a clear religious one - in favour of Hindus. What Mr. Jagmohan is suggesting is that the Hindus should be allowed to worship at Bhojshala throughout the year.

In the run-up to the assembly poll in November, this is going to gradually snowball into an explosive issue.

There have been attempts by Hindus to forcibly enter Bhojshala. There have been violence too. It is likely this will escalate.

Uma Bharti evidently wants to make Bhojshala an aggressive Hindutva issue.