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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 10, February 21, 2009

Time for Basic Approach

Monday 23 February 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty

Few politicians seem to understand that history does not really repeat itself. The current preoccupation of the leaders of different Opposition parties bears this out.

The chieftains of these parties are today engaged in a strenuous exercise in the hope of repeating their miracle of 1977 when they were forced by the Emergency to gang up and form the Janata Party that eventually ousted Indira Gandhi from power. If we look at the personalities involved in the present round of hobnobbing and pow-wows, we find almost the same lot that sought Jayaprakash Narayan’s blessings to launch the Janata venture which ultimately ended up in a disaster at the hands of the same Indira Gandhi this very week in January two years ago.

There is no doubt some excitement over the latest three-cornered moves by the Lok Dal, Janata Party and BJP; after many a hurdle they have only agreed on some public postures which might give them a feeling of hanging together: Charan Singh’s rally at Bhiwani is matched by Atal Behari Vajpayee’s padayatra in Mainpuri district. And even to arrive at this mini-unity among these three parties, a mountain of labour had to be gone through.

What next? Would or could this be the starting point of a new crusade against Indira Raj? The Janata Party chief, Chandra Shekhar, is interested in roping in whatever has remained of the Congress outside the Indira fold. But the Congress-S chief, Sharad Pawar, will have trouble setting his own depleted house in order if he is found to be rubbing sholders with the BJP. At the same time, Chandra Shekhar is aware of the danger that his moves for unity of the Opposition may bring dividends for Vajpayee or Charan Singh if he has to join hands with them without having Sharad Pawar on his side.

If this is the beginning of the so-called unity of the Opposition, one wonders what this new combination would do with regard to Bahuguna and Chandrajit Yadav, not to speak of Jagjivan Ram, since the entire unity operation makes it abundantly clear that all this is meant to ensure that there should be minimal vote splitting among themselves when they challenge the Indira Congress at the next elections.

What is worth roting is that all these Opposition parties are not unified, each within its own camp. The Janata Party has to reckon with the dissent of men like Moraraji Desai. The BJP has to take into account the attitude of its RSS component. The Congress-S has yet to forge a unified understanding within its own shrunken camp. Even Charan Singh’s Lok Dal is not a cohesive political entity, despite the Herculean efforts of Madhu Limaye. With the absence of discipline writ large in the record of each of these parties, who can vouch for their being able to put up a single candidate in the constituencies they would be contesting at the next elections? So, with internal dissent on one hand and the bid for unity on the other, the Opposition presents indeed a confused and confusing picture.

Equally striking is the fact that in the matter of a common programme, there is no understanding among these Opposition parties. The single point on which they are heroically trying to come to a common platform is how to defeat Indira Gandhi’s candidates at the next election. The point that seems to be missed by these self-styled veterans is that in 1977, they could pull off an impressive electoral victory because of the prevailing resentment against the Congress Raj which had clamped down Emergency. No such over-riding consideration, negative or positive, is going to influence the voter tomorrow.

It is definitely true that disillusion has set in, in many areas, over the mass expectations that accompanied Indira Gandhi’s return to power. From inflation to social oppression to breakdown of law and order in some of the supposed strongholds of the Congress-I—all these are undoubtedly items that touch off popular discontent. But discontent has not yet grown to the point of large-sclae unrest, though potentials of it can be discerned in some pockets. Large-scale unrest, by itself, does not lead to the toppling of a government unless there is a credible leadership to galvanise it.

As for credibility, these superannuated Generals of the Janata days have very little by which to stake their claims. Compare their position today with what it was in 1977 when they had sought the vote of the electorate. At that time, they were considered as good as, if not better than, Indira Gandhi’s team. They also could cash in on the farily widespread discontent over the Emergency misconduct of the government. Besides, they could exploit the personal pull of Jayaprakash Narayan. Today, most of these Opposition leaders have to bear the unenviable burden of their miserable record in the Janata Government. Both individually and collectively, most of them came out as far inferior to the Cabinet that Indira Gandhi had presided over during the first phase of her Prime Ministership. On top of that, the inner squabblings within the party in power in the Janata days hit the headlines and ultimately brought about its downfall.

Unity in therefore not a mere question of statistical computing, but the generation of confidence in the masses about the capacity and competence to rule. The Opposition parties have yet to prove to the voter that together they can provide a better government than that provided by Indira Gandhi.

Even on the count of corruption, the record of the Janata Raj is as formidables the one held by the Indira Raj. There are reports that the Opposition parties have been preparing hard to produce an irrefutable indictment of corruption under Indira Gandhi. This indictment is expected to be launched in the Budget session of Parliament which begins next month. When it is presented to the President, he is expected to confront the Prime Minister with it, and over this issue, Sanjiva Reddy is supposed to resign and the storm will break over Indira Gandhi’s head. This scenario has been the talk of the Capital for more than a month: it has come out in the press and has gone uncontradicted. With the type of small-town personality that Sanjiva Reddy has always been, it would not come as a surprise if he exploits such a contrivance to settle old scores with Indira Gandhi, particularly when he is convinced that he has no chance at all of extending his tenancy in the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Such a situation can certainly put Indira Gandhi into a difficult pardicament. Her recent attacks on the Opposition moves for unity are being interpreted by her critics as indicative of her worrries about such a possible development.

Such a development may end up with something much more serious than what the Opposition leaders are prepared to bargain for. Whether Indira Gandhi, out of panic, will take any rash step as she did in 1975 when she opted for the Emergency, is yet to be seen. But there is no doubt that the normal political process, already under strain, will certainly break down if the Opposition’s sudden crusade against corruption is crowned with Sanjiva Reddy’s gimmicks of the type now being talked about. When devalued politicians, with blurred vision and an abundance of frustration, go in for desperate steps, they sometimes bring down the very mansion which they have the ambition to occupy. History is replete with glaring instances of misadventure brought about by politicians unaware of the explosive situation around them. Hitler, for one, came to power largely because fo the follies of pettifogging politicians preceding him.

There are a hundred and one issues on which each and every political party in the country can indict the government of the day. But eloquent denunciations or some constitutional sensation cannot rectify the situation. Most of the maladies that afflict the India of today demand serious rectification at the basic level. Can the atrocities on Harijans be stopped without touching agrarian relations and the die-hard caste system? Can communal riots be stopped without combating the feudal outlook that besets us? Can unemployment be reduced, not to speak of being eliminated, without restructuring our socio-economic institutions? Can the yawning economic disparities be reduced without changing our socio-economic priorities? Can corruption be eliminated without an all-out war on black money, and can black money be put out of circulation by mere fiats from the Supreme Court which does not debar advocates of black money grabbers from appearing before the august judges? A point is reached in the Indian scene when hard decisions have to be taken, where soft options can only help to accentuate the malady.

This basic approach is no doubt not easily appreciated by many politicians who cannot see beyond the glittering array of various vested interests which they either serve or are beholden to. What is infinitely disconcerting is that the Left establishments in our country have given up this basic approach except mentioning it as a ritual in their seasonal political resolutions. In their practice, they follow the very badly beaten path of the conventional politician; their campaigns, their calculations, their assessments seem to be all glued to the one and only objective—how to win at the ballot box, and all tactics and strategy have to be fitted to that single objective. The fact that the overwhelming mass of our working class, poor peasantry, agricultural workers and our radical intelligentsia are still left untouched and unorganised after three decades of independence is eloquent testimony to the bankruptcy of the Indian Left which in its early years lacked neither in distinguished-looking leaders nor in dedicated cadres. But the Indian Left forgot that outside the precincts of parliamentary politics, they have a world to remould—the world of India’s teeming millions, impoverished but expectant.

Currently, it is significant that one of the points of difference to have cropped up between the two Communist establishments is on the question of the BJP. The CPM has made all-in unity of Opposition parties the be-all and end-all of its present politicis, and so it is ready to join hands with the BJP to overturn the Indira Raj. The CPI, on the other hand, would not touch the BJP with a barge pole, as it is a communal party. Both have their own logic, but in the wider perspective of hard realities facing this country, how irrelevant is this clerical disputation! Neither the ouster of Indira Gandhi by a new variant of the Janata nor the excommunication of Vajpayee is going to bring salvation to the working masses in India. Had there been a powerful mass movement led by the Left today—unencumbered by the compulsions of parliamentary pirouetting —how different would have been the political landscape of this country!

Time has come when political forces anxious to uphold the interests of the basic masses
have to seriously evaluate their own record against the background of the unrealised expectations of those very basic masses. It is only when they become aware of their shortcomings that they can overcome them. The time for bold reappraisal has come, however agonising it may turn out to be.

(Mainstream, January 9, 1982)

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