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Mainstream, VOL LX No 8, New Delhi, February 12, 2022

Among Political Parties, Congress is the Leading Force of National Unity in India | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 12 February 2022, by Bharat Dogra

As India approaches 75 years of its independence, one of the biggest blessings our nation can celebrate with legitimate pride is that it has been possible to protect the integrity and unity of the nation. This is stated not in terms of any feelings of narrow nationalism; instead, this is stated in terms of a very rational, careful assessment of how important peace and stability are for the well-being of people. Of course in this eventful journey we have made some mistakes, we could not always give adequate justice to some of our more troubled fellow citizens in some parts of the country. We should be careful to correct these mistakes. On the whole, however, we have done well to prove wrong those prophets of doom who used to assert that India will collapse after the departure of British rulers.

While several outstanding leaders have no doubt contributed to this achievement, in the critical immediate post-independence days the inspiring and thoughtful, well-informed leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru was particularly important. With the cooperation of very wise colleagues like Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and B.R. Ambedkar, to mention only a few of the several greats, Jawaharlal was able to take forward the consensus created during the freedom movement for unity, integrity, inter-faith harmony and social justice. Again not everything was perfect. The national commitment to equality and justice could have been stronger (in fact that there are indications that Nehru wanted this) and the development model could have shown more commitment to the original, innovative thinking of the great Mahatma Gandhi. In fact we still need to learn from these earlier mistakes.

So while things were not perfect (these seldom are), Nehru and his colleagues, in the Congress and in the opposition ( which also included many stalwarts) nevertheless provided a great start to the idea that is India based on unity in diversity. This good beginning proved to be very helpful as big challenges appeared soon enough. There was the trust-shattering invasion by China in 1962 to draw away attention from the mllions dying then in China in a man-made famine of the great leap forward infamy, which also inflicted terrible harm on the concepts of third world unity and Asian unity. While the Kennedy years were a time of great hope for India-US relations, very hostile conditions were created for India in the Kissinger years, including but not confined to the years of Nixon presidency. The irrational hostility of the duo of Nixon and Kissinger to India is well-recorded but infact they created even more problems for India than is commonly realized .Then came a phase when Pakistan with the encouragement of bigger powers became most brazen about inciting terrorist and seperatist violence in India. If India could survive these severe hostilities to retain the unity of the country, a lot of credit goes to the Congess party of Nehruvian years as well as subsequent years which created a base of protecting unity in diversity.

This important part of the history of post-independence years should not be forgotten, and those committed to India’s unity should come forward to defend Congress in difficult times from the highly unjustified attacks of the most aggressive leaders of the BJP. Not all leaders of the BJP are so aggressive, some of them would like to live happily with the Congress as the leading opposition party as is the accepted practice in most mature democracies. But a few highly agressive leaders of the ruling party first talked of the most undemocratic concept of Congress-mukt Bharat ( India without Congress) and are now inflicting the most unjust criticism on Congress as a divisive party of disunity of India, in fact using even stronger and more unjust words. Hence it is important to assert today that among all political parties in India today the Congress still remains the most important nationwide force of national unity.

There are three political forces in India today which have a nationwide presence (a fairly stable and significant presence for several years). The most powerful and resourceful such force today is the BJP supported by the wider Sangh Parivar. Its membership has certainly increased in recent times but its money power is even stronger than its membership strength. Its leaders talk in loud and strong terms about a narrow view of national unity and majoritarian kind of nationalism. Unfortunately its vision of nationalism is a very narrow vision. The commitment of the BJP, the Sangh Parivar and their cadres to inter-faith harmony is highly suspect, to say the least. However inter-faith harmony (based on equality of all, equal dignity of all, equal respect for all) is a basic and very important aspect of national unity and without a genuine commitment to this, real unity cannot be achieved and the concept of unity in diversity cannot be realized.

Secondly, the years of BJP and NDA rule have been marked by unprecedented levels of wrong-policy related inequality. This has widened the gulf between the rich and the poor, between billionaires and marginalized people as never before in free India. The experience worldwide is that high levels of inequality result in serious discontent among a large number of people, and this discontent in turn can find several undesirable outlets including violence, also threatening unity and stability of the country. Hence the potential unifying force of the BJP, despite its increasing nationwide presence, has been badly affected and harmed because of these two factors.

The second political force with a nationwide presence in India is the Congress Party. It has the rich legacy of the freedom movement when it was in the forefront of creating a national consensus on unity based on fighting for freedom, social justice and inter-faith harmony. Under Nehru this legacy was carried forward successfully after freedom to strengthen national unity, but it should be admitted that this also came under strain at times. On the whole, despite setbacks, Congress still remains the biggest political force of national unity today with a broad commitment to inter-faith harmony. Its hands should therefore be strengthened by independent forces. It has shown some signs lately of further increasing commitment to reducing inequalities and this should be welcomed.

The third political force which has a nationwide presence consists of the leading left parties which have often functioned often as a coalition or united front as well. Their election performance may have weakened in recent years, but they have committed cadres with an ability to punch above their weight. Their commitment to inter-faith harmony and national unity based on this has been very firm. Hence these forces should be strengthened and there should be more cooperation between them and the Congress. However a few fringe groups of the extreme left have sometimes made objectionable statements that appear to be in conflict with national unity and integrity. Such tendencies are best avoided.

The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man Over Machine—A Path to Peace, Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.

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