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Mainstream, VOL52, No. 22, May 24, 2014

The Avalanche and After

Friday 23 May 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The following pieces, written by N.C. in December 1970 (before the 1971 mid-term poll) and March 1972 (after Indira Gandhi’s resounding success in the State Assembly elections), are being reproduced here to draw the sharp and glaring contrast between the political situations prevailing in the country 41-42 years ago and now when there is a visible Rightist upsurge after Narendra Modi’s extraordinary victory at the hustings [ensuring absolute majority for a non-Congress party (the BJP) in Parliament’s Lower House for the first time in our post-independence history].

(Mainstream, December 19, 1970)

As Smt Indira Gandhi and her lieutenants bask in the glory of the Congress recapturing lost strongholds in different States and reinforcing the ramparts in others, they have good reason to be elated at the brilliant success of the entire electoral battle—its strategy of alliances, its tactics in outwitting the adver-saries, and, above all, the timing of the operation itself. In fact, the marching steps of the jawans entering Dacca guaranteed in advance Smt Gandhi’s party seeking the mandate of the electorate so soon after the liberation of Bangladesh.

This, however, does not mean that the voter has no discrimination nor perspicacity in choosing his representative, as Acharya Kripalani has bewailed in an article in the current issue of an illustrated weekly: the Acharya, even before the traumatic collapse of the Grand Alliance, has heroically tried to prove how backward is our democracy compared to Uncle Sam’s, since our millions are under the spell of a charismatic leader. And so the masses should be maligned for having rejected the Kripalanis and their tribe.

The Acharya apart, it is but natural that the masses have felt elated at the liberation of Bangladesh. It is a matter of pride for the entire nation, and naturally, the first to get the kudos for this achievement would be the Government, and inevitably the party in power cannot but reap the harvest at the poll. Incidentally, Smt Gandhi suffered heavy reverses in the 1967 poll after a spell of Ashoka Mehta-Subramaniam-L.K. Jha politics of bending to the US pressure; and after five years, she has swept the polls with all her powerful indictment of the US policy towards this country. One more evidence of the strong anti-imperialist attachment of our masses.

Along with the euphoria over Bangladesh’s liberation, there is no visible sign of glorifying the brass-hat. The pathetic state in which Pakistan finds herself under the dispensation of the Pentagon-propped Generals has discounted any such possibility; though one does hear strange voices, as that of the retired Maj. General Som Dutt who, writing recently in a weekly under the editorship of a former Foreign Minister, has demanded a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee: “Not only would the military viewpoint be placed before the Government but the Committee would have conveyed to it the political considerations on the issues under discussion”—a rather outspoken demand that the Service Chiefs should have a say in political aspects of national security.

While the electoral avalanche in favour of the Congress makes it clear that Smt Gandhi has won a memorable victory, it would be incorrect to confine its significance to the impact of the Bangladesh liberation. There have been other factors which have contributed to the sweeping success of the Congress. It is to be noted that this was the first large-scale electoral trial of strength at the State level for Smt Gandhi’s party after the Congress split in 1969. How disastrous would have been the fate of the Congress had it tried to avoid the split could be seen from the virtual liquidation of the Syndicate as an all-India political entity in this election.

Equally refreshing has been the severe trouncing that the parties of the Right, both the Swatantra and Jana Sangh, have received at the hand of the electorate. The Jana Sangh, mushroooming into a political force since Nehru’s death, has been cut to size—one more testimony to the robust secularism of India’s democracy. This was demonstrated in the mid-term Lok Sabha poll, but significantly enough, it is much more pronounced this time. In other words, the Bangladesh liberation has been effected with such sound political approch that the disintegration of Pakistan could not be cashed in at all by Jana Sangh; if anything, it has strengthened the anti-communal outlook of our people.

This is demonstrated also by the reaction of the Muslim voter. It is undeniable there has been a lot of confusion among a large section of Indian Muslims over the emergence of Bangladesh. Banking on this, the parties of the Grand Alliance—as also the CPM—took up the demand that the so-called Bihari Muslims must be allowed to come into India from Bangladesh, and this was climaxed by the notorious “Bihari Bachao” convention. But the poll verdict shows that the Muslims, by and large, could not be misled by such clap-trap slogans, and they voted according to their political choice.

While the progressives have reasons to be happy at the collapse of the Right challenge, it is a tragedy that a Left party of standing like the CPM should go down so ignominiously in this electoral battle. With all their fulminations about the elections having been rigged through high-level conspiracy, the CPM leaders cannot escape the judgement that they have allowed themselves to fall out of step with a national outlook: whether over their peculiarly ambi-valent stand on the question of Bangladesh liberation, or their raging campaign that West Bengal would not suffer the Centre’s persecution, they have missed to strike the national chord. There is pride in our common people that our country has helped a neighbour to throw off the yoke of an offensive military junta. Similarly, no part of the country will think of weakening it merely because of having been neglected; rather it would raise its voice louder in laying claims before the Centre, the sign of the abiding strength of this democratic republic. In terms of the fundamentals, the CPM leadership has missed that the same laws of dialectics which have made Pakistan weak to the point of disintegration, work for the strengthening of the Indian Republic, since the motive force of history is mass awakening and its assertion in political life.

A by-product of the election verdict is the lesson that mere strength at the organisational level bereft of correct politics can never strengthen a political party. Had it been so, the Jana Sangh and CPM, with party apparatuses much superior to that of the Congress, would not have found themselves in their present predicament.

One of the factors which may have helped the Congress gain such massive strength in most of the State Assemblies seems to be the widespread disillusion among the masses at the ineffectiveness of various types of coalition governments—whether Left-led United Front or the motley crowd that formed the so-called Samyukta Vidhayak Dals, mostly under the Rightist leadership. The aversion to the Left-led United Front has come mainly because of the CPM’s sectarian intolerance, and as it so happens, the States, where the Left could lead the United Front Ministries, are the very strongholds of the CPM. The repudiation of the CPM-style United Front came first in Kerala and is now complete in West Bengal. At the other end, the different varieties of the SVD Ministries emerged basically as the conveyor-belts of the Rightist parties, particularly of the Jana Sangh; the antics of the Socialists could not hide this ugly reality from the masses.

As a rebound has come the electorate’s striking preference for strong one-party govern-ments in the States. There is realisation that if the radical promises made by practically every party have to be implemented, then it will be necessary to have strong governments; and no strong government can emerge from the coalitions of the type that the country has seen since the 1967 General Election. This is not to say that the concept of the United Front has been found unsuitable for the Indian soil, but it does imply that the experience of multi-party coalitions or the United Front as practised in this country so far, has yet to earn the applause of the masses. This indeed is no mean loss for the Left.

In the emerging situation, the Left has therefore to work out its strategy skilfully basing itself firmly on the experience provided by the developments in this country. It will be a futile exercise in super-sectarianism if Left parties, now crippled or induced in stature, decide that the first task is to demolish the Colossus that the Congress appears to be, under the plea that unless this monolith is broken, there could be only dictatorship as Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sri Madhu Limaye would perhaps like us to believe, or neo-fascism as Sri Ranadive may diagnose.

Such an approach misses the very essence of the populist upsurge that the Congress has mostly reflected in our history. It has never been a monolith, and less so today. Within it are ranged both the forces of advance and of reaction. In the period ahead, the battle over issues will be fought out inside the Congress itself, with the Right elements pulling it in their own direction, while the Left within will have to strengthen its ties with the Left outside, so that the direction of development points towards a radical social order.

This is not an entirely new type of struggle that the Left in India will have to fight.This was the struggle that the Left waged in the thirties in the context of the fight against foreign imperialism. Today, in the changed context of a fight for a better social order, the same streategy has to be taken up with this difference that the promise for a Left-ward move is far brighter both in terms of the mature consciousness of our own people and the alignment of forces abroad.

The avalanche of the Congress victory at the poll is therefore not a thing to scare the Left, as Sri Gopalan seems to fear, but presents a new challenge with tremendous possibilities for all progressive forces uniting and taking the nation forward. 

(Mainstream, March 18, 1972)

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