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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 30

Chandra Shekhar’s Unforgettable Resistance to Globalisation

by Prem Singh

Saturday 14 July 2007

Tribute

As the first phase of liberalisation in India drew to its completion, Chandra Shekhar, on August 9, 2000, the 58th anniversary of the ‘Quit India’ Movement, launched the Vikalp Abhiyan— a protest march against the forces of globalisation. On this occasion he observed:

Our country, forgetting the vision and dream of Swaraj, was once again falling into the shackles of economic slavery which would place its political and social freedom at risk in the hands of the international market. The time has arrived to do or die in order to resist neo-imperialism, entering the country through the market.

Even if one were to keep aside the adage of ‘former Prime Minister’ for Chandra Shekhar, there are many other points of recognition that establish him as an exceptional leader of men and a real human being. In fact his stature among contemporary leaders could have been better had he not become the country’s Prime Minister for four months. Chandra Shekhar is with us no more. History alone decides the relative significance of a leader who should be remembered, and how. The assessment of such significance cannot be established without deep cognition.

Chandra Shekhar’s political thought and concern found genesis in the socialist movement and ideology. Gandhi had been a deep influence on his ideas and personality. Chandra Shekhar was an erudite leader. He edited an important journal of the socialist movement, Sangharsh, which was initially brought out by his political guru Acharya Narendra Dev. Chandra Shekhar edited another journal Young Indian in Hindi as well as in English. In the 19 months of his imprisonment during the Emergency he wrote a diary, published in two parts under the title Meri Jail Diary. His autobiography Jindagi Ka Karvan and several other books that contain his ideas and interviews have been published by Rajkamal Prakashan, Delhi. Chandra Shekhar enjoyed close relationships with writers and journalists. He was not and never claimed to be a theorist of socialism like JP, Lohia and Acharya Narendra Dev. He, on the other hand, was a practical politician within the parameters of socialist ideology. In his own way he was a thinker who expressed his ideas as a writer, as an editor and as a leader during the long span of his political carrier. The consistency and concerns of his ideas are remarkable and always directed in the interests of the downtrodden. Due to his defiant and rebellious temperament he earned the title of ‘Young Turk’.

IN statements and comments of leaders and journalists published in the newspapers the day after his demise, he was remembered as a socialist stalwart, parliamentarian, secularist and friend and for his qualities of fearlessness, straight-forwardness and generosity. However, in most of these glowing tributes there was hardly any mention of the Chandra Shekhar who had launched a staunch opposition to globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. Even those journalists, who had been close to Chandra Shekhar and had compiled his works, did not remember to make a note of this very distinctive feature of his political position. Janeshwar Mishra’s comment in Dainik Bhaskar is perhaps the only one that mentions in passing that ‘Chandra Shekhar was opposed to the slaving-after for foreign capital’.

If one fails to remember this unique political stance, then Chandra Shekhar is no different from yet another ‘good’ leader. But the truth is that in mainstream politics, apart from some Leftist leaders, he happened to be the lone leader who, in Parliament and outside, was vociferous and vocal against globalisation that has arrived in the guise of the new economic policies.

The point where Chandra Shekhar moved ahead of the Leftists was that he did not stop at a critique of globalisation but went on to offer a possible answer. Chandra Shekhar believed in the Gandhian economic philosophy as an alternative to the new economic policies. He wrote:

The call for Swadeshi and Swavlamban given by Mahatma Gandhi was not merely a slogan. It was an economic philosophy of life aimed at self-development.

In his short span as the Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar firmly resisted the dictates of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. When the Vice President of the World Bank came to India during his tenure, Chandra Shekhar’s clear observation was:

The market economy run by you is confined to a very small population. Please do remember, they alone do not constitute the entire nation.

Chandra Shekhar organised a public awareness campaign—Jan Chetna Abhiyan—against the Dunkel Proposals. He participated in the Swadeshi Jagran Manch on the call of the RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras. In the year 2000 on the occasion of August Revolution Day he launched the Vikalp Abhiyan to protest against the second phase of globalisation. But, as he confessed, the hope of a powerful movement emerging out of this Abhiyan could not be achieved. Consequently he planned a Yatra from Puri in Orissa to Porbander in Gujarat. An effort was also made in this direction with the support of four former Prime Ministers. It becomes evident from these concrete ventures and programmes that his protest against globalisation was not merely verbal. Yet the fact remains that he could not achieve much success in spearheading a strong movement against globalisation. A point to consider here is that Chandra Shekhar did not have much of a link with the movements and activists outside mainstream politics, those who had been offering a genuine and relentless fight through their own small but substantial programmes. Had this happened the picture of politics might have changed or at least become much more different.

Chandra Shekhar continued to search for an alternative to globalisation within the mainstream politics. The need, however, was to look beyond the considerations of the ‘mainstream’ in order to circumvent the compromises and pitfalls inherent in mainstream politics. Who could have understood this need better than Chandra Shekhar? In his autobiography he wrote:
There were five issues involved in Bharat Yatra—scarcity of proper food and drinking water, primary education, basic health amenities and fifth - social harmony. I had planned in my mind that we would work in 350 backward districts of the country. In order to perform this task I had decided to quit the post of the President of the Janata Party. But I could not do this. After the Yatra I became trapped in the politics of Opposition. That was my mistake.

In the book Rahabari Ke Sawal, edited by Rambahadur Rai, he expressed regret for joining electoral politics and, in the process, forsaking the common people and the youth who had joined him during the Yatra. Despite this realisation, tothe very end, Chandra Shekhar could not gather the courage to remedy this error of judgment and rectify his mistake. This was unfortunate, particularly because concrete efforts in this direction had already been initiated at several grassroots levels. The decision to turn away from mainstream politics that had increasingly begun to toe the line of globalisation and seek alternative modes of seeking solutions to political dead-ends had already been pushed forward by another veteran of the socialist movement, Kishan Patnaik, along with several young and senior socialist leaders.

If Chandra Shekhar like Patnaik had broken away from the maze of mainstream politics, the way he had done during his Bharat Yatra and opted for alternative politics, it would have been very difficult for neo-imperialism to sink in its teeth so irremediably in the country’s economy. Many committed socialist workers find it curious and also feel sad that while Chandra Shekhar has had dialogues with and the cooperation of intellectuals as well as leaders like Deoras and Nanaji Deshmukh from other ideological groups, there was none with socialist leaders who were involved in work solely in this direction. Whatever may have been the reasons, had there been a closer association between them, a stronger resistance to globalisation would have certainly emerged. This is not to undermine Chandra Shekhar’s efforts at all. Leaders, commentators and the media might well have ignored his role as the one who opposed globalisation. But history will always present him as an uncompromising political figure who will continue to inspire generations to come.

The author is a former Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla; he is at present a Reader, Department of Hindi, University of Delhi.

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