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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 20, May 2, 2009

The Giant is Awake

Saturday 2 May 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty

Politics in this country has been passing through a cleansing process. The imprint of mass consciousness can be seen even in the jungle of petty factional moves and manipulations.

New wind is blowing through the corridors of power; its warmth could be felt even in the sophisticated political labyrinth of New Delhi, in the instant reactions of the common man to the Supreme Court verdict against the Presidential derecognition of the princes. The hoary-headed judges may look down with contempt upon the plebians at Chandni Chowk, but no political power—call it paramountcy or whatever you like—can be established in this country today without the authority of the Chandni Chowk.

This was the impression that one carried as one watched the mood of the multitude at the Judges’ verdict. The vetoing of the princes’ derecognition is not judged by constitutional niceties but is taken as a new challenge. If one has to go by the impact of the Supreme Court verdict on the mass opinion, one cannot help noticing the growing popular impression that if any changes in the present set-up have to be brought about, then one has to be prepared for encountering the resistance of the highest judiciary in the land.

If the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Constitution is equated with the upholding of the status quo in the popular mind, there is little doubt that the forces of change would demand, in ever larger number, the changing of the role of the judiciary itself in the Constitution, or, at least, its authority to resist social change.

If one has to go by the public reaction in the Capital to the Supreme Court’s verdict, there is an unmistable urge for doing away with all roadblocks to change. The princes, as they are, are nothing more than a minor irritant, and yet the fact that their ill-gotten privileges and purses could get the protection of the law while the right to shelter is denied to thousands at the very doorstep of the august Court, cannot but leave behind its bitter, if not cynical, trail so far as the common man is concerned.

In a sense, the big issues of today are the consequences of our unfinished revolution of yesterday. If the transfer of power came without a shattering revolution, it has also left behind unwholesome legacies which have to be removed, one by one, if the mass urge for social change has to be accommodated.

The princes could have been summarily derecog-nised on the very morrow of Independence, and they had no staying power to put up a fight—a fact which makes Sardar Patel’s deal with them all the more indefensible. If the judiciary is found today to be unaware of the compulsions of social change, that too has to be traced to an out-worn British concept about its role, although in Britain, its role as a bastion of conservatism has long been recognised.

It was the same liberal innocence that led the leaders of independent India—even the far-sighted Nehru—to let the ICS steelframe continue, the steel-frame which in later years became another outpost of toryism in this country.

Mass radicalism, recognised as an inescapable reality in the 1967 General Election, has been accelerated with every major political development ever since. The pronounced Left-ward swing in the 1969 mid-term poll, the nation-wide popular support for Sri Morarji Desai’s ouster and bank nationali-sation, the enthusiastic acclaim for Smt Gandhi’s daring crusade against the Sydicate, the sweeping success of the Indira Congress and the equally spectacular debacle of the Syndicate and its allies in most of the poll contests since then, right up to the Kerala mid-term election—all these are milestones in the fast-growing political consciousness of the masses.

After the dramatic Congress reverses at the poll in 1967, the so-called public-opinion specialists and self-styled political analysts characterised the mass mood as populism, as a mere desire for change after two decades of uninterrupted Congress rule. But what has happened is more than populism: it is the heightened political consciousness of the broad masses that has gone far ahead of the level of understanding of the parties and politicians. If populism had been the essence of the new upsurge, the antics of the SSP leadership—at least the more vociferous section of it—would have made them supreme; but actually they find themselves not being the masters of their own house.

Much more than populism, more than a desire for change for change’s sake, are involved in the complex pattern of Indian politics today. The giant has awakened aware of its own strength. And that is why many of the issues which were matters of interminable debates for over two decades—in which the Left demand was countered by a smug show of so-called pragmatism—have been disposed of by prompt, almost summary, decision, as has happened in the case of bank nationalisation and the derecog-nition of the princes. In other words, what was so long confined to the programme of the Left has suddenly become part of the order of the day for the entire nation. This is not due to populism but the radicalisation of the mases.

And this phenomenon is not confined to the frontiers of this country. Recent general elections in Ceylon, and much more strikingly in Pakistan, have shown how the millions have been reacting, and how rapidly is their outlook getting radicalised.

Pakistan, so long regarded as a political backwater of Asia, has shown that more than populism has gripped the masses: had it only been populism, there the mullahs should have won against the Martial Law. Bhutto may be a political demagogue, but it is of no little significance that his anti-capitalist demagogy could win the day and not the anti-communist diatribes of the Jamaat. Neither military dictatorship nor the parties of the Right can browbeat or hoodwink the masses any longer.

This Left-ward swing at every election in recent times in Asia—significantly noted by the London Times—has a relevance for our country as well. For, nothing else can explain the survival of Smt Gandhi in power and the ignominious collapse of the Syndicate.

There was no dearth of seasoned political operators among the Syndicate leaders. In fact, they used to take credit as the Organisation men of the Congress, and they did have vast experience of running a well-oiled party machine. And yet at every step they have tripped and toppled. Their latest fiasco at Lucknow and the revolt in Gujarat—with many more in the offing (can anybody vouch for the location of Dr Ram Subhag Singh tomorrow?) —make it clear that the Syndicate leaders are today unaware of what the masses have been groping for.

A grand alliance of the Right has no future in the setting of today unless the parliamentary set-up itself is scrapped. It is this realisation which inpels Sri Manubhai Shah, the shrewd politician that he is, to leave the sinking ship, and its unawareness makes a Don Quixote out of Sri Nijalingappa.

It is not that the Syndicate has not got the backing of Big Money or competent politicians, but what they lack is the realisation that the mass mood today is bent Left-ward and not towards the Right. Had it not been so, the Jana Sangh with its RSS strom-troopers should have by now established its Hindu Rashtra on the Gangetic basin instead of the wildfire of peasant struggle for land.

This mass mood is missed not only by the Syndicate and its Right allies, but by many of those who claim to fight them. Inside the Indira Congress, this inability to gauge the new temper among the common people leads a good section of the leadership to think and act in the time-honoured style of the political functionary. The hesitation to go ahead with long overdue land reforms; the chicken-hearted scare in dealing with Big Business when it indulges in corrupt, anti-social practices; the old habit of wallowing in caste politics as it seen so glaringly in Bihar: and the ancient pastime of managing defections through various allurements that some of the UP leaders are found to be indulging in—all these can never help to consolidate the mass base of the Indira Congress.

Plethora of platitudes has ceased to be a substitute for actual implementation of the promised radicalism. To the extent the Congress leadership fails to realise this, it will help to debilitate the party iself. Radicalism has ceased to be mere playing the heroics from the platform: it is measured today in the mind of the common man by the yardstick of actual performance.

With their awakened consciousness, the masses have much to teach the Left in our country. No longer can the gimmicks of arid anti-Congressism fetch dividends in terms of votes at the poll: many in the SSP ranks have realised that Sri Raj Narain with his easy access to Money Bags has ceased to be a political asset. And the Communsits have yet to join hands with all the forces that stand for democratic advance: the full significance of the Congress split as a consequence of the mass awakening has to be grasped in the wider horizon of national politics and not confined to the hinter-land of Kerala. The Left consolidation loses much of its relevance if it keeps aloof with Brahminical disdain from the newly awakened democratic forces that the anti-Right stand of Smt Gandhi is capable of mobilising.

In a sense, the anarchist extremism of the Naxalites is an index of the inability of our Left to interpret the new sweep of mass consciousness before the youth in terms of revolutionary advance. Instead, their death-defying abandon is being frittered away in romantic revolutionism, missing the tremendous potentialities of the mass radicalisation that has fast been taking place before our very eyes. They have yet to learn that the guidelines of our revolution have to be found in the experience of our organised masses set in motion, and not in the Thoughts and diktats of some far-away Chairman.

Against this rich tapestry of living history, the judgements and pronouncements of those quarantining themselves from the salubrious infection of the demos sounds of little consequence. When the makers of history are wide awake, the cobwebs are not going to frighten them.

(Mainstream, December 19, 1970)

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