Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2012 > Coming Battles

Mainstream, VOL L, No 31, July 21, 2012

Coming Battles

Friday 27 July 2012, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The following lines were written on June 24, 1987 and published in the Mainstream, issue of June 27, 1987 bringing out the bizarre scenario prevailing twentyfive years ago just before the presidential poll. It also magnifies the contrast with the situation that obtains in the Left today thereby revealing the fact that the current Left leaders, especially those running the CPM, are indeed poor substitutes of those who led the Left parties then precisely because the present-day Left leadership, being completely immersed in “pragmatic realpolitic”, is bereft of any ideological perspective whatsoever. —Editor

The talk in New Delhi since the Congress disaster in the Haryana poll (June 17) centres round one and only one question: how long is Rajiv Gandhi going to last as Prime Minister? The question persists even after the defusing of the narrow-shave crisis that surfaced on the fateful Sunday (June 21) when taking advantage of Rajiv’s poll debacle Giani Zail Singh tried briskly to rally the Congress-I dissidents, and with their support, to throw himself into the presidential poll contest with the avowed objective of defeating Venkataraman, who, as the official Congress-I candidate, is Rajiv’s nominee. Giani’s calculation was that with substantial dissident support coupled with that of the Opposition, he would be able to defeat Venkataraman, and thereafter promptly dismiss Rajiv Gandhi, on the plea that the presidential poll results made it clear that the Prime Minister has lost the support of the majority of Lok Sabha.

The hectic day ended when in the evening Rajiv met Zail Singh for an hour-long tete-â-tete, in course of which two assurances were reportedly forthcoming from the President: first, he had no plans of standing as a candidate in the presidential poll. Secondly, he had no plans to permit the Prime Minister’s prosecution for graft in Defence deals.

There are several explanations current for Giani Zail Singh’s backing out of the presidential poll. There is the report that Indira Gandhi’s well-known Private Secretary R.K. Dhawan who had been consulted by the Giani, made it clear to him after a quick calculation that the Congress-I dissidents’ strength would not get him the majority over Venkataraman since the Opposition was not prepared to back him en bloc. There is also the speculation current in the Capital that Giani Zail Singh made a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Rajiv and the other Congress-I leaders who had rushed to talk him out of his plan, and these included Buta Singh. Bhajan Lal and Rajesh Pilot, the personal record of each of whom hardly warrants the conclusion that their appeal to high moral principles brought about a change of heart and mind in Giani Zail Singh.

Even if the immediate threat over the presidential poll challenge was somehow averted, Rajiv Gandhi’s crisis has hardly blown over. The Congress-I Working Committee met the day after the panic, that is, on June 22. While every face entering the meeting was sombre—only natural after the humiliation suffered in Haryana—there does not seem to have taken place an uninhibitedly candid appraisal of the stunning poll debacle. Most of the members touched such issues as the organisational weaknesses of the party, the neglect of the anti-poverty programme, the underplaying of the strong attraction of Devi Lal’s campaign against the Congress-I, and such other peripheral issues. Some members raised the significant point that Rajiv’s economic strategy of liberalisation and open-door for the multinationals created the public image about the Congress-I being a party of the rich, not bothered about the problems of the poor.

What was however extraordinary was that barring some passing references to the Opposition campaign about the Defence deal kickbacks, there was no forthright recognition of the gathering public impression that Rajiv Gandhi and his circle are directly involved in the scan-dals around these deals, and that all the laboured explanations have only reinforced the impression that something was being deliberately held back from the public. Whoever has covered the Haryana poll campaign would vouch for the devastating impact of this rather unsavoury image that has come up in the last few months about the Rajiv circle in the eyes of the public.

So far the Congress-I leaders have not got over their inhibition to discuss this boldly and frankly with Rajiv Gandhi himself. Their hesitation bordering on timidity has so far held them back from telling him all this, though most of them confide it in private to their trusted friends. In their eyes, Rajiv Gandhi’s vote-catching appeal, which was his strong point two years ago, has gone down irreparably, that he is becoming a political liability than an asset for the party. All available indications suggest that Rajiv Gandhi is himself unaware of the magnitude of the crisis that faces him.

Without severe self-introspection, Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress-I can hardly be sure to have been out of the woods. And unless Her-culean efforts are made, and that too, without delay, the ouster of the Congress-I in UP and Bihar will be only a matter of few months. The proposed Victory Rally by the Lok Dal in New Delhi next week—which some wooden-headed among Rajiv’s Ministers thought of banning, a step which would have led to bloody clashes and further slump for the Rajiv Government—would be the starting point of the Lok Dal’s mass campaign for the removal of the effete Congress-I Ministry in UP. Bahuguna is no mean factor in UP politics. And now reinforced by the Lok Dal Jat base plus his traditionally stable base among the Muslims, there is little doubt that he would be able to muster sufficient popular support in UP for not only the removal of the discredited Vir Bahadur Ministry but also for the holding of fresh poll there without delay. The Gujarat 1975 precedent will be there to strengthen the Opposition case. And if UP falls, can Bihar be far behind? Already Jagannath Mishra is getting restless to the point that he was reportedly ready to back Zail Singh’s still-born project to fight the presidential poll. What is almost sure is that if the Dubey Ministry falls in Bihar, there is no possibility for any Congress-I Ministry having a stable base, particularly when neighbouring UP could not be able to hold out. On the periphery, Rajasthan and Orissa are shaky.

This grim scenario does not certainly hold out for Rajiv Gandhi a trouble-free prospect in the coming weeks and months. Once the bastions on the Gangetic basin begin to fall, could he have a peaceful regime particularly when the spectre of Bofors, its Italian ammunitions plus the German submarine deal—not to speak of the Fairfax and all that—promises to loom larger and larger as more details are unearthed by relentless investigators. Downhill descent in politics is never smooth: avalanches are frightening for any leader with a fast-declining prestige.

All this involves hard work for the Opposition. The euphoria over the Haryana poll sweep can hardly on its own carry it forward. The struggle against the Rajiv Government has no short-cut. Those who were excited at the pros-pect of quickly overthrowing Rajiv Gandhi by ganging up with Giani Zail Singh, were dreaming of reaching their goal without generating mass political action. For a few hours, some of them, particularly those belonging to NTR’s TDP, the BJP and a section of the Janata, had conjured up the prospect that in the company of Zail Singh and a handful of dissenters from within the Congress-I, they could bring down the Rajiv Government. For one thing, would it be a wholesome prospect to have a thoroughly unscrupulous person like Giani Zail Singh as the President for the next five years which are likely to be the most turbulent for the Republic?

Granted that Rajiv Gandhi had collapsed with the Giani’s victory, where would have come the mass sanction for any regime that might have been installed with his connivance. A palace coup is no way of getting rid of any democratically elected government. This was precisely the reason why the Left parties had earlier warned Zail Singh against dismissing the Rajiv Government. In 1977, the Janata Party came to power after a sweeping victory at the poll: in 1979, Charan Singh could come to power through intrigues within the Janata but bereft of mass sanction, and so it could not last. The lesson of all that experience makes it abundantly clear that the ouster of the Rajiv Government has to come through heightening the conscious-ness of the public about the undesirability of its continuation.

The Communists had a further reason not to be hustled into supporting Giani Zail Singh’s move. The forces with whom he could have brought about such a constitutional coup are basically no different in their outlook on issues facing the nation from that of some of the stalwarts who have so long exercised decisive influence in the Rajiv camp and have been responsible for debilitating its mass base. They are equally committed to the installation of a free-market economy as the Rajiv establishment is. Rather in foreign affairs, they would go further to demolish the edifice of the nation’s tested foreign policy: if this policy has not been strengthened under Rajiv, there is no reason why it should be handed over to forces which want to scrap it or reverse it.

The Communists could not possibly have entertained such a prospect beyond the Rajiv Government. They have of course made common cause with all Opposition forces in combating the wrong policies, postures and actions of the Rajiv Government. But they are equally alert in not promoting to power what they consider as Right-wing forces, which by the Left view would be harmful for the country. Hence the firm Left stand against having been swept off their feet into backing Zail to get rid of Rajiv.

The Left understanding of the Indian crisis today is that the struggle against the present Congress-I regime is not going to be a short-shrift operation, and it requires painstaking endeavour to rouse mass consciousness at every level, because in the communist view, any advance reinforced by mass awareness alone can be enduring, nothing else can.

It is with this view in mind that the Left persuaded the bulk of the Opposition forces to choose a fearless, intrepid crusader for human rights and social justice in the person of V.R. Krishna Iyer as their candidate for the presiden-tial poll, which in the Left view, is not just a stepping stone to instant power but provides an opening for a nationwide political campaign for preparing for greater battles ahead.
Not just today, but tomorrow or the day after tomorrow—that is the perspective with which the 
Left expects the democratic forces to build the road to real power for the common humanity of this country.

(Mainstream, June 27, 1987)

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62 Privacy Policy Notice Addressed to Online Readers of Mainstream Weekly in view of European data privacy regulations (GDPR)