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Can Congress follow Indira’s 1969 plan to revitalise itself?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in New Delhi
Published : Sep 18, 2019, 1:59 am IST
Updated : Sep 18, 2019, 1:59 am IST

The Congress cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds anymore.

Sonia Gandhi (Photo: ANI | Twitter)
 Sonia Gandhi (Photo: ANI | Twitter)

Sonia Gandhi has at last called for agitational politics all the way to the villages and small towns. It is an excellent idea, but agitations do not flow from the leader’s command.

It is not that agitations are not going on. The resolute people in Niyamgiri are doing what they can to save their sacred mountain and its resources from corporate depredation. The frightened electronic media recently airbrushed the march of a million Dalits through Delhi. They were hiding from public view the image of a downtrodden people spiritedly reclaiming their democratic space. Farmers are marching, and laid off workers are regrouping. Ordinary Kashmiris have been shut out to the world, but news filtering through the impervious lockdown reveals a people who are up for the fight. But it is useful to also remember that when residents of a southern coastal village were agitating against the installation of a controversial nuclear plant in their midst, the Congress PM of the day had called them foreign agents. The same Prime Minister, when the world had abandoned George W. Bush as a liar who invaded Iraq over a manufactured ruse, revealed his abiding love for the US president. The Congress cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds anymore.

Ms Gandhi reminded her younger party members that together with their jostling on social media, a more real fight was also necessary. In making the call, the ailing leader offered many of her non-Congress supporters rare hope. However, an equally challenging malaise lurks within the Congress, which probably triggered Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as president of the party. This is a long-festering problem. It presents itself as right-wing lobbies that have swamped the Congress from its inception, before independence. These people share more with the fascist Hindutva worldview than with their own ties to Nehru, leave alone Mahatma Gandhi.

There was Vasant Sathe, for instance, who was a leading Hindutva fan within the Congress. He threatened to resign from the party if it opposed the installation of Savarkar’s portrait in parliament. Savarkar’s seminal views about Hindutva form the basis of right-wing Indian thought today.  And while the old guard is not entirely bereft of the Hindutva virus, more recently, several younger Congress leaders openly and loudly supported the smash-and-grab moves the government has made in Jammu & Kashmir.

What is the remedy? The answer lies to some extent in how one approaches the Indian reality. Not long ago, Ms Gandhi almost complained that the Congress was increasingly seen as a pro-Muslim party. Would she have felt apologetic if the Congress were to be perceived as a pro-Dalit or a pro-Sikh party, which it is not? There is some lurking guilt within the leadership or rank bad advice from status quo-hugging advisers who by habit are hesitant to rock the boat, in this case a potential gravy train. But the boat has been beached and it is time to accept it.

Indira Gandhi grasped the need to change India’s reality, as did Nehru, under the circumstances that obtain even today. This year, on Nov 12, it would be 50 years since Indira Gandhi left the Congress, or better still, she was expelled. She had concluded that the Congress had been taken over by a pro-rich cabal of a distinctly reactionary disposition. She saw how this frailty had delivered the victory to the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal state alliances that included, opportunistically, the communists and the Jan Sangh under one quilt. She outmanoeuvred her opponents, split the party, joined hands with pronouncedly progressive ideologues, and went on to win the 1971 elections with a thumping majority of 352 in a Lok Sabha of 518 seats. As for Nehru’s brand of upright politics, a sample came in 1954. Congress MP Seth Govind Das moved a resolution in the Lok Sabha for a total ban on cow slaughter, which Nehru rejected. When Das claimed a “large majority of the party” was in favour of the resolution, Nehru’s response was characteristically upright: “I would rather resign than accept this nonsensical demand.”

In July 1949, Nehru said that “Kashmir is a world question”. And he said he was for mediation and against war. What is the problem with that statesman-like stand today? Would it not be better that the Congress stood by agreeable principles and lost power than to live with the ignominy of losing both?

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: mahatma gandhi, indira gandhi