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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 1, December 20, 2008

For a New Crusade

Sunday 21 December 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The fortitude with which the people of India have been putting up with the bankruptcy of the country’s political leadership has few parallels in history.

Particularly for the last three years, politics has been vitiated by such extraordinary incompetence and unbridled corruption that one has no difficulty in asserting there could be no future for this nation if its destiny has to be controlled by those who are today strutting about on its stage. From Sanjay Gandhi to Kanti Desai and then on to Suresh Kumar, these have become the loadstones of our political life. This is not a question of whether Emergency was better than Janata Raj, for Emergency will always remain a disgraceful chapter in India’s struggle for democracy. That does not make the Janata Government’s long catalogue of sins—of both omission and commission—any more acceptable than a bunch of crooks and cranks in preference to burglars and cut-throats. The regime that permits the killing of Harijans can hardly claim to be a defender of democracy just as the perpetrators of yesterday’s Emergency have no authority to be the defenders of the under-dog tomorrow.

The restoration of formal democracy that the Janata Party could claim about this time last year was essentially the achievement of the angry electorate which overthrew the Indira-Sanjay Raj. The record of the last twelve months makes it abundantly clear that the governance of this great and far-flung nation can hardly be possible by a motley of disparate elements, any more than by the caucus that preceded it. These twelve months are littered with corpses from Belchi to Hyderabad, and are studded with the misdeeds of the rapacious gentry in the countryside to the hardened criminal gangs in the city. The dastardly murder of the Chopra children is a warning about the collapse of an establishment which no amount of reward announcements and excitement over Billa and Ranga—yet to be proved as the heinous perpetrators of the crime—can conceal. Ominously, the civilian administration stands discredited; even the credit of catching the alleged assailants has to go to the Armymen.

The incompetence of the government—already established by its inability to bring to book the culprints of the Emergency—is matched only by its enormous capacity for in-fight in which all the dirty linen are openly exhibited. By itself this piece of exhibitionism is as perverse as the stinking corruption and sordid porno that it claims to expose. Today the worst aberrations, both personal and social, have become the daily fare of politics in this country.

What is inexplicable is not the aberrations or their exposure, but the forbearance—seemingly limitless in volume—of the people of this country, acquiescing in such ignominy. Rumblings of discontent can be heard—sometimes sporadic, sometimes organised—whether in the voicing of demands for a better deal for the Harijans or in the clamourings for adequate relief for the flood-hit people. But these have not yet become so powerful as to shake the government. For one thing, the economic distress despite all the mismanagement has not yet reached the point of desperation.

Economic discontent by itself does not necessarily lead to political revolt or revolution. There has to be a tangible political quantity on which the common millions can repose their trust and confidence. This is not a mere question of winning votes, cashing in on the prevailing discontent. This is a question of transforming the very order of things, bringing about a basic change in the situation. From discontent to anger, and on to action—there is no short-cut to this process.

Well-meaning politicians today think that perhaps the situation could be saved by some patch-up arrangement—a reshuffle or a token move against corruption—so that the country need not lapse back into disorder. Some are found to be hoping to bring about the unity of all sections of the pre-1969 Congress, which, in their view, can help to stem the rot: this plan assumes the coming-together of all shades of Congress culture from Chandra Shekhar, C.B. Gupta and Jagjivan Ram, on the one hand, to Chavan and Swaran Singh, right up to Urs and Chenna Reddy, on the order. Despite Nanaji Deshmukh’s denial, the name of Sanjiva Reddy figures in these calculations. There are other elements in both the Janata and the Congress that are anxious for Left unity to act as a rallying point for all democratic forces.

There are, however, misgivings which are growing with every passing day, that such arrangements will not be able to deliver the goods. Those who will be left out of any such combination—whether it is the RSS on the one hand or the Sanjay caucus on the other—can, in the prevailing climate, bring it down.

In a crisis of crumbling values, the knocking up of a parliamentary majority, however impressive, cannot help. Indira Gandhi was commanding an overwhelming parliamentary majority in 1971 and yet finally went in for the Emergency. Morarji Desai’s massive majority support in March 1977 can no longer ensure the stability of his gaddi.

The game of politics cannot be confined within the four corners of parliamentary precinct. When political leaders are discredited in the eyes of the people, the credibility of the system to which they are attached, can hardly be kept intact. Such a rare situation faces our country today. If five years ago, only a handful of the Left were referring to the inadequacy or the irrelevance of the present political system, today thousands, if not lakhs, have been openly talking about the need to replace it. There is a perceptible groping towards examining the basic issues in our socio-political set-up. Amelioration of the condition of Harijans, for instance, will not help unless the curse of the caste system can be boldly tackled. Not the worker’s participation in the management but the worker’s control over industry. Not the embellishment of the educational structure but the overhauling of the entire set-up, its content and outlook as well. Not periodic announcement of new employment programmes but actual restructuring of the economic order which can eliminate unemployment altogether. In other words, the demand for what the academics would call institutional changes is no longer confined to the radical intelligentsia but seeping down to a very wide spectrum of national life.

In this welter of confusion following the breakdown of the value-system that emerged since the independence of the country, there are pathetic attempts at saving what has gone beyond repair. In all earnestness, some people feel the urge for a campaign for a cleaner public life which will turn out to be as effective as a bucket of water to put down a forest fire.

There are others claiming to be revolutionaries who seem to see in the Gita the prototype of the struggle for socialism. If indiscriminate iconoclasm is wrong—such as the decimation of the statues of national leaders in Calcutta some time ago—the glorification of the past, however picturesque it may sound, is not only unmitigated philistinism but a spur to obscurantism. One more sign of the incapacity of a good segment of the existing political leadership to instill new values; in rebound some of them, at least, seem to be peddling orthodoxy. In contrast, the Marathwada riots have brought out the calibre of such revolutionaries: how many of them have actively resisted the riots that broke out against the naming of a university after India’s distinguished son, Ambedkar, just because he was a Harijan?

To change the complex reality that is India is a superhuman task in the best of times. In the crisis situation that we have entered this becomes doubly so. At the same time, experience is inexorably teaching millions every day that the status quo has to go. At such a moment, any attempt at harking back to the past, to paint the picture of the ancient times as a golden age, amounts to a betrayal of the revolutionary urge. When values are crumbling down, new values have to be instilled. And these have to enjoin the elimination of social inequities, and spread among the masses the consciousness that if the present order is proved to be unjust and corrupt, the old one was no better; inevitably the need for a new set of values has to be felt, and with it has to be accelerated the urge for building a new social order.

It is commonplace to hear that if the present political actors disappear, there is no alternative set of people to take over. If we go by old criteria, then this is a valid proposition. But the entire political set-up is in such shambles that the old standards no longer work. The steel-frame of administration—the civil servants, the police and the armed forces—is not intact; the political leadership, whatever its complexion, no longer commands its unquestioned loyalty. It is at such moments in History that new leaders are thrown up. It is only necessary that such leaders come out of the vortex of the present uncertainties, aware of the historic role as the welders and builders of a New India.

One year ago it appeared that an understanding among the parties of the Left on the basis of the existing premises would mark an advance, and hence there generated the urge for dialogue among the leaders of these parties. The experience of the last one year, rich and varied, makes it clear that mere rapport or even rapprochement among the leaders of the parties of the Left—however desirable that may be—cannot by itself take us far. What is needed is more fundamental. Without an in-depth examination of various aspects of the Indian reality—going to the roots of different social and political malaise—it is not possible to reach a unified understanding of the reality itself; and without such a unified understanding there can be no significant unity in action.

This involves more than political action, it demands ideological endeavour. The philosophy of the ruling elite—getting discredited day by day—still grips in thraldom large sectors of our intelligentsia, even those who claim to fight that elite. To combat that philosophy and to replace it by one that is socially enduring, one that inspires the working millions pointing to their emancipation from wage-slavery, is a task which can no longer be avoided by the Left if it is worth its name. The days of pyrotechnics are over.

The task that faces the forward-looking forces today is formidable. This struggle is really for a new social ethos. The fight is to defeat not only the philosophy of the exploiting classes but the gimmicks of many of the leaders of the Left. But this is no longer as difficult as it would have been even three years ago. Disenchantment with the system has been spreading fast; in this, many have contributed—from Indira Gandhi to Morarji Desai, from Bansilal to Raj Narain, not to speak of their progenies and parasites, their courtiers and astrologers. As the process of disillusionment overtakes many more millions every month, the road is cleared for the entry of a new consciouness, the consciousness that without building a new social edifice this nation cannot survive, and the opportunity for building it is here and now.

Irrespective of political labels, thousands have to come forward to start such a crusade. And as it starts, many more legions, so long unknown to each other, are bound to join from far and near, until all of them march on in a mighty pilgrimage for a new politics, for a new social order.

With humility but with determination, Mainstream pledges to participate in this new crusade as it steps into the seventeenth year of its modest but purposeful career.
(Mainstream, Annual 1978)

Is there a place where a rich man’s feast
- Is not the cause of a poor man’s hunger?
- Is there a place where knowledge thrives
- Without fearing the lion of social taboos?
- Is there a place where the delicate flower of art
- Is not trampled by the demon of caste?
- Is there a place where freedom does not surrender
- To the cruel sword of the tyrant king?
- Is there a place where a forlorn orphan
- Pricks a fond parent with guilt,
- As he fondles his own little one?
- O But, tell me if you have
- Seen such a place on earth
- There shall I go and live.
— Gurram Jashua

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