The time has come to get rid of all the encrustations that adhere to every political party that has been in government, where decisions, indecisions, inaction and actions track the course of manoeuvrings and meanders that were calculations to serve a limited, specific, often time-specific purpose. Over a month after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, hundreds of protests, over 25 deaths and innumerable injured, the confrontation is neither showing signs of subsiding nor is it cowed by the stout declarations of home minister Amit Shah that he will not budge an inch on implementing the law.
This is not a political impasse that can be negotiated through complicated calculations of advantage and profit. It is a political moment, stretching into the foreseeable future, of a coalescing of forces, spontaneously combusting to assert their identity as Indians, born after 1947, when choices had been made and futures finalised. The assertion of the under-40s is extraordinary; it is something that no one has ever seen before. The generation that has been described as narcissist and depoliticised seems to have found a reason for becoming political and articulating its choices, through participation in protests, posters, slogans, songs and videos, all shared through the social media, creating a universe within which “the people who can be identified by their clothes” are marching with other people who too can be identified by their preferences.
Just as much as the regional parties that are now coalescing around the idea of rejecting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the exercise of listing who is a citizen through the entirely inefficient process of the National Register of Citizens, which has hopelessly failed in Assam, the Congress too needs to find its way out of the maze in which it is trapped.
The regional parties in power in the states have been called upon twice to stand against the exclusionary principles and targeted anti-Muslim measures of the BJP-NDA government armed with its 303-seat majority in the Lok Sabha; once by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and now by Kerala CM Pinrayi Vijayan. Ms Banerjee sounded the tocsin; and Mr Vijayan has joined battle by suggesting that the joint resolution passed in the Kerala Assembly by 139 to one in a House of 140 seats should be adopted and passed by the other 11 non-BJP majority state Assembles as well.
The call is not a mere gesture of defiance. It is a resolve to defend the values of the Constitution, its basic structure. It is a call to protect the idea of diversity and secularism that underpins the idea of fraternity, the last but not least promise that the people commit themselves to in the Preamble that prefaces the details in the Constitution of how this is to be done. The letter to the chief ministers of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odhisa, Jharkhand, Puducherry, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab, curiously leaving out Chhattisgarh, is simple; it requires the states ruled by the anti-BJP Opposition to defend the basic tenets of the polity which form the cornerstone of India’s democracy.
While the non-BJP states need to act, and do so decisively, setting themselves on the road to a confrontation that has no precedents and will be unfamiliar, it is the Congress Party that needs to figure out how it will exist as the biggest party of them all. Its size and footprints put it on the forefront. Its vacillations reflect its insecurities and uncertainty on issues and its responses are invariably partial, hesitant and inadequate.
The Congress has reduced itself to playing on the backfoot in every confrontation with the BJP. Clearly the burden of its “70 years in office”, albeit inaccurately described by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, plunges it into nervous confusion. It seems often enough to make it a sort of near scientific observation that the Congress Party prefers to serve as the BJP’s handmaiden and not a significant and powerful party with a past that is as varied as the history of the 135 years of its existence.
The moment calls for simplicity. The moment is one when political parties have to choose about being with the BJP, or against it. The past is the BJP’s weapon that it wields to weaken every party that has ever been in power. The noisiness of its attack and the aggression it displays has certainly stupefied the political class. The fact that the BJP has also been a party of governance, with all the failures and flaws that strain the credibility of other political parties who have also been in power, seems to be forgotten. The Congress, in particular, scuttles away every time the BJP uses the 70-year gambit to demolish its credibility.
It is not enough that the Congress in Kerala and in West Bengal have joined forces with the ruling Opposition party. In Kerala, the resolution asking for the repeal of the CAA and NRC was originally proposed by the Congress and was adopted and supported by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its Left allies. In West Bengal, the Congress has shared a platform with the Trinamul Congress. In Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party has called on Capt. Amarinder Singh to convene an all-party meeting to reject the CAA, NPR, NRC and defeat the BJP’s politics of instigating division and encouraging strife. The Congress needs to spell out exactly how it intends to take the fight forward and what it proposes to do. It has to lead from the front lines.
For the regional parties in opposition to the BJP, or at least not friends with the Sangh Parivar, it is a matter of survival. If each of them separately and all of them collectively do not resist the relentless pressure of the BJP to conform to its plans for a majoritarian state, the parties will be systematically decimated. With extinction facing them, this is the moment for the regional parties to make a last stand. The Congress, on the other hand, is a necessity for the BJP, for the time being. Its existence or rather its history justifies the BJP’s agenda of establishing the majoritarian state, now that it has a 303-seat majority in the Lok Sabha. The choice the Congress needs to make is between being the punching bag of the BJP, and packing its own punch.