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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 20 New Delhi May 4, 2019

‘Congress-free India’ is a Mortally Dangerous Slogan

Sunday 5 May 2019

by D.S. Nagabhushana

Another General Election for the Lok Sabha has come. The Narendra Modi Government of the BJP and its allies in the last five years have raised so many controversies and so much of ruckus that no other government in the past few decades has. The reason for this being that the Modi-led government has functioned very differently from all other non-Congress govern-ments, including that led by Vajpeyee. It has tried to steer the nation and discourse of Nationalism in a completely different direction. Without recognising this, without discussing its pros and cons, just a discussion on successes and failures of its general governance, our choice in the coming elections cannot be decided. Not that these are not important, but in today’s situation there is something more crucially important than these things,

A few days back, a BJP spokesperson said something very interesting about the Congress in a television talk show. I was taken aback when he said that the Congress, which has such a glorious history, is being ‘strangulated by the dynastic politics practised by the Nehru-Gandhi family’. Oh, the BJP at least is acknowledging now that the Congress is a party with a glorious history! If we do not understand the under-currents of this significant statement in the new narrative of Nationalism being built up by the Modi-led government, you cannot go beyond the literal meaning of its ambitious slogan ‘Congress-free India’. If we are calling our freedom struggle a nationalist struggle, it is because it led to the formation of a new nation of a definite form and character. Before this, India was just a ‘country’ in different forms and States.

Modi’s BJP, which has set out to construct a narrative of its own Nationalism, has no history of any nationalist struggle as such to fall back upon. Hence, it is building up its brand of nationalism around hatred of the ‘other’— the other religion, the other country etc. But this brand of Nationalism has played out fully in the form of street vandalism and mob lynching during the last five years and the party has come to know that this has now started earning the wrath of common man in the absence of any kind of promised ‘achhe din’. So in search of a kind of ‘dignity’ and goodwill for its brand of Nationalism it has become imperative for the BJP to incrementally appropriate the nationalist narrative of the Congress through gradual and clever moves. They have carefully put to scrutiny the secular character of the Congress and its various moves in this regard in the post-Independence era and has presented most of them as suspicious. And then they have picked up those parts which they have endorsed as above suspicion for appropriation. This they have done after a realisation that the masculine Hindutva of Savarkar is not sufficient to build an alternative discourse of Nationalism that was attempted by the RSS till now.

In a sense, there has always been an effort to sanitise the Congress from its secular ideals and convert it back to Tilak’s saffron Congress. This well-thought-out effort reached a critical moment when Godse touched Gandhi’s feet before firing at him. But this effort could not continue because of the strong influence of the values of dynamic Hinduism that was spread by Mahatma Gandhi. The Congress, in the later years, began to slowly liberate itself from Gandhi’s legacy and became a party of oppor-tunist politics only to go steadily downhill in the eyes of the people. All the anger that the people began to accumulate against the Congress was taken advantage of by the well organised cadre-based RSS-driven parties, first the Jan Sangh and then its enlarged version, the BJP. Yes, the Socialist leader Lohia in the 1960s had formulated a strategy called Non-Congressism that had advocated a politics that is beyond the Congress. But in due course, it was realised that Non-Congressism was not really the politics of non-Congress parties, but only the politics of different versions of the Congress party, as most of the leaders of these parties, including the Communists and excluding the Jana Sangh, were only disgruntled Congressmen of one kind or the other! The Congress was a movement against Imperialism and hence it was based on a large and all-inclusive philosophical ground, but when it turned into a political party, it disintegrated into several parties over the years with their own ideologies. Gandhi, in his great wisdom, wanted the dissolution of the Congress when India got Independence, but that was rejected by the stalwarts of the Congress who had their sights elsewhere. The product of that opportunism is the nouveau nationalism of the BJP, an experiment that is dangerous but gaining ground substantially.

There is no point in blaming history. This new experiment of cleansing the Congress of its pollution of secularism and then appropriating it has reached a vital stage with the hijacking of Madan Mohan Malaviya, Govind Ballabh Panth and then Sardar Vallabhai Patel into it BJP legion. That is how the BJP, with its slogan ‘Congress-free India’, is trying to gobble up a political tradition itself. Helplessness of the Congress at this is striking and also is of its own making. But we have to remember that the Congress doesn’t merely mean a political party, it is a huge political family, an umbrella under which all kinds of cousins, uncles and aunties live and do politics of certain Congress kind only—both good and bad, of course with mandates of their own. It is also a great tradition that was built on the sacrifice and the mass struggle of our elders. Hence what ‘Congress- free India’ means ultimately is this: there will be no real alternative to the BJP. This is such a scary situation. Let the Congress go to hell and reinvent itself at its will. But what about us, the people? Our civil rights? Our own little and varied religious and cultural traditions? What is and where is India without these?

We must note that it is only as a part of this project of ‘Congress-free India’ that attempts of interference and degeneration of major constitu-tional institutions of the country, as also the judiciary in the last five years have began by the Modi Government. We must also recognise the blunders committed through several ill-conceived economic decisions. Most importantly, the sufferings of farmers and small enterprises, corporate appeasement, ecological damage, migration of the poor, record unemployment, the increase in the assets of the rich as well as their numbers, war mongering in the name of patriotism, vigilante goondaism, mob lyncing etc. A Governor, under this dispensation, knowing fully well that his own Central Government has failed to control the situation in Kashmir, gives a public call to ban Kashmiris and their products and yet continues to enjoy the comforts of his constitutional post! Is this what is called a stable and efficient government?

Because of waywardness of the Congress politics a rootless, but prosperous middle class has emerged and now it is Modi who is pampering it. This new class in its endless hunger for comforts and consumption has lost the awareness of the values of democracy, tradition and civil rights. It is this middle class that is the custodian of all communication infra-structure now and is determining the direction of political discourse. Its only concern is stability for its uninterrupted and unlimited prosperity, which it thinks will be provided by Modi. Hence they are ready to sacrifice everything else for this.

True, the Congress is now weltering with all its legitimate and illegitimate progeny. But we must think what it means today to allow this whole gamut of a political tradition with a great history to fend for itself for survival and go with Modi’s BJP. The Congress is not just the Congress party. And Hindutva is the erasure of the tradition of a dynamic and nurturing Hindu Dharma which has protected the country all these years with its ingrained secularism; today it is committed to destroy the complete political value system. We must be careful, we must not facilitate permanent damage to our body politic by resorting to short-sighted political moves. This is not the time to think of frivolous issues. We have to exercise our voting rights with caution this time. 

P.S.: It is hoped that the Congress party will reinvent itself well before the first phase polling starts, at least as a party of some consequence in these elections. Its election manifesto smells fresh and seems to be very innovative. But it should start a new age of its own by coming out with a sincere apology to the public for all its follies, both political and economic during its last term as the leader of the UPA.

(An English translation of the editorial of April issue of a Kannada socialist monthly. ‘Hosa Manushya’ (meaning The New Man’)

[Translated by Deepa Ganesh]

The author, the editor of Hosa Manushya, a socialist monthly in Kannada, is a well-known socialist thinker and literary critic; he is a retired Station Director of the All India Radio.

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