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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 24 New Delhi June 1, 2019

The Congress at a Critical Juncture

Saturday 1 June 2019, by Barun Das Gupta

The humiliating defeat the Congress suffered in the latest Lok Sabha elections has faced it with an existential crisis. The truth is that as a parliamentary party trying to come to power through elections, it stands nowhere before the combined might of the BJP, RSS and other organisations of the Sangh Parivar. The challenge is not just political. It is also ideological. During the past five years, the Sangh Parivar has been successful in polarising Hindu votes on communal lines.

As the election results show, a large section of young voters in the age-group of 18 to 28 has voted for the BJP. Narendra Modi’s perfervid appeal to them to remember, at the time of casting their vote, the massacre of the CRPF jawans at Pulwama and the surgical strike of the IAF on a terror base at Balakot, deep inside Pakistan, has greatly sated Hindu hubris. The benefit of providing cooking gas connections, the construction of toilets, the stand against Triple Talaaq of Muslim women are also factors that went in favour of Modi and the BJP.

It is what is loosely called the traditional “Idea of India” that has been brutally challenged by the BJP. It is the pluralism of India which has come under attack. This pluralism is being sought to be nullified by the majoritarianism of a single community—the Hindus. Jawaharlal Nehru is passé. The social reformers of the nineteenth century are passé (recall the vandalisation of Vidyasagar’s statue in a Kolkata college by the self-appointed champions of Hinduism). Even Swami Vivekananda is passé.

Recall the ringing words of Vivekananda in his famous speech at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893:

“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: ‘As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.’”

Does this find any resonance with the religious jingoism which the Sangh Parivar is preaching day in and day out in the name of Hindutva? Let us recall the prescient words of Mahatma Gandhi. On January 29, 1948, a day before he fell to the bullets of a Hindu fanatic, he wrote in his Last Will and Testament:

“Though split into two, India having attained political independence through means devised by the Indian National Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form, i.e., as a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine, has outlived its use. India has still to attain social, moral and economic independence in terms of its seven hundred thousand villages as distinguished from its cities and towns. The struggle for the ascendency of civil over military power is bound to take place in India’s progress towards its democratic goal. It must be kept out of unhealthy competition with political parties and communal bodies. For these and other similar reasons, the A.I.C.C. resolves to disband the existing Congress organisation and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh under the following rules with power to alter them as occasion may demand.”

The Congress has to realise that it has, indeed, “in its present shape and form, i.e., as a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine outlived its use”. The task facing it today is not governing the country but saving the soul of India. It must get rid of the stereotyped way of thinking of fighting elections, winning some seats and losing some, finding itself in and out of power, but primarily concerned with gaining and retaining political power. In the vastly changed political landscape of today, it must cease to be a mere instrument of power but transform itself into an instrument of social change.

This is easier said than done. It needs the courage to break out of the old mould, realise the nature of the challenge it is facing today and devise ways and means of facing this challenge. The Congress has to realise that the massive victory of the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is not due to a sudden surge (‘wave’) of mass support for Modi or the BJP. It is the culmination of a long process that the RSS has been painstakingly engaged in for decades. It has been able to infect the majority of the Hindu population with the virus of communalism and communal hatred.

Turning the tide will not be easy. It will be an equally painstaking struggle by the secular forces and this struggle has to be perseveringly waged without any let up, without expecting immediate results. The Congress is expected to lead this struggle. The Congress has to go to the people and treat them not as potential voters for the party but as votaries in the cause of secularism and democracy. The Congress has to address itself primarily to the younger generation and inculcate in them the values of democracy and secularism with the same zeal that the RSS has been inculcating in its followers the ideal of Hindutva.

How far and how deep the virus of communalism has spread can be gauged from the victory of Pragya Singh Thakur at Bhopal. The case against her for her alleged involvement in an act of terrorism is still there. Then during the poll campaign she openly said that Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was, is and will ever be a patriot to her. In spite of this shocking statement she could defeat Congress candidate and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh.

The Congress should take the initiative to bring all anti-communal and anti-fascist parties and mass organisations on a common platform. It will be like the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) of Burma founded jointly by the Communist Party of Burma, Aung San and U Nu (who later became the UN Secretary-General) in 1945 and which existed till 1958. The AFPFL was a political alliance comprising several very different political parties held together by the leadership of Aung San and, after his death, by U Nu. The formation of such an umbrella organisation is the need of the hour in India today.

The primary task of this body will be to defend democratic freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of the judiciary, the freedom to impart modern, scientific education and the freedom of the individual to be loyal to his religious belief. In the five years of the first Modi Government, school textbooks were altered in States ruled by the BJP. Names of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and their role in the freedom movement were either totally removed or bought down to the minimum. Though pseudo-science was preached by those in government, pseudo-science did not get into textbooks. This time the entire educational system will come under a severe and systematic attack. The history of the freedom movement will be falsified and re-written in line with the Hindutva ideology. Future generations will not know the contri-bution of Jawaharlal Nehru in the field of science and technology, of the role he played in transforming India.

Today there is a string of research institutes spread across the length and breadth of the country. Future generations will not know that these were founded by Nehru with the help of Dr Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar. The prestigious Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was founded by Nehru in 1958. It is this organisation which helped Modi to take the credit for India’s successful shooting down of a satellite on the eve of the elections.

The Indian Institutes of Technology are the pride of India. Does Modi know that it was under the guidance of Nehru that the first IIT was set up as early as 1951 at Kharagpur?

Today, Modi can tell Pakistan that that its threat to use nuclear weapons against India does not daunt us. India, too, has the “nukes” and these are not for showing during the Diwali festival. But he will never admit—perhaps he even does not know—that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who secretly asked Dr Homi Bhaba to start research for “making the bomb” when reports reached him that China was already trying to make the bomb.

Nehru passed away in May 1964. China made its first nuclear test in October 1964. For the record, Nehru made the cryptic observation: “We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war—indeed I think we must develop it for the purpose of using it for peaceful purposes. Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way.” (Bold type mine—B.D.G.) Does Modi have a sense of gratitude for Nehru?

The Congress should be proud of the Nehru legacy. It has nothing to be apologetic about. While the Sangh Parivar will try its best to obliterate Nehru’s name from the textbooks and from public memory, the Congress will have to aggressively propagate Nehru’s ideals and ideology. Nehru’s ideology beckons us to the future. The RSS ideology pushes us to the era of darkness and ignorance. Today it is more an ideological than a political struggle in which the Congress should try to draw in as many parties, organisations and individuals as it can. Our future is at stake.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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