It is interesting that the monumental win of the BJP — or, more specifically — Narendra Modi — in the Lok Sabha election has not been accompanied by calls for the resignation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president by that party’s customary, supposedly liberal critics or its traditional baiters invoking the principle of accountability. That would have been in order.
Their call, however, is for the death, destruction and denigration of the Congress and its winding-up or elimination as a platform for legitimate politics.
This is catechism of a strange sort. Even in its utter defeat, and notwithstanding the party’s obvious handicap caused by the long-hovering cloud of dynasty and its glaring organisational shortcomings, it is evident the Congress remains the sole brand and totem in the whole country for the idea of a tolerant, secular and (in a very poor country) welfare-oriented India, although frequently flawed in practice due to deviations from its core principles.
Arguably, with its all-India vision, even a badly weakened Congress — as in its present form — is needed more than any regional, sectional, or caste or class party to confront a ruling dispensation whose base rests on religio-cultural mobilisation of the country’s dominant faith — a tendency that can become “democratic authoritarianism” on a good day, or downright fascistic in bad times.
The Congress alone has a message that is valid for the length and breadth of India — one which transcends classes, creeds, castes and communities to accommodate the historical spirit and the contemporary yearnings of this ancient land. This underlines the indispensability of the party to India.
The party is badly shaken. It needs to re-calibrate its message, infuse it with fresh dimensions and adopt more particular tactics to deal with the worrying realities of our present.
Fundamentally, these are: The emergence of the era of “nationalism” — another name in our context for the domination of communal politics that could severely impair social cohesion in the foreseeable future; and two, the serious theoretical lack of grasp of developmental economics and developmental processes on the part of the governing entity, which is likely to lead to the expansion of poverty.
In its politically exceedingly rewarding 2014-19 term, the NDA government has offered little evidence that it can get down to the task of strengthening the material basis of life in the country.
Were the Congress to disintegrate at such a juncture, the field will be open for the consolidation of rabble-rousing tendencies and regressive forces in India that seek to arouse people around egregious notions of ancient greatness without having the an idea of how to take the country forward in the modern era. “New India” seems a name for such a consolidation.
To crave for the demise of the Congress in these conditions on any grounds whatever is spurious intellectualism or elaborate deception. It is to secretly celebrate the triumph of the winners of the Lok Sabha election — to be one with those who have been striving for a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, which is practically a precondition for the emergence of a Second Republic in India.
Given its ideological underpinnings, such a “republic” is likely to be an entity that buries the pluralist, democratic legacy of the freedom struggle and imposes a uni-dimensional, jackboots-type order in which the immediate sufferers will be the poor and the religious and cultural minorities, but in the end, the country itself will be sought to be negatively re-birthed.
Such a new order — based on a value-set antithetical to the living practices of the inter-connected community life of India — will be our ruin and deserves to be resisted.
Any forced death of the Congress — let us remain in no doubt — can be the cause and trigger for widespread disorder as unrestrained, cadre-based, self-righteous and proto-fascist elements will then likely seek to leave their stamp on society on the basis of extra-constitutional force under the gaze of an indulgent and monopolistic state authority.
A weakened Congress may not on its own be a bulwark, but it is likely to be the only natural voice to speak out — as Mr Gandhi showed in meeting after election meeting across India — as an India-wide force.
In 2014, the Congress was hit by a deepened anti-incumbency of 10 years. In 2019, the story was quite different. The party was hit again (along with practically all other parties) — but this time by a well-oiled machine which used public institutions (with dominant sections of the media being a crucial ally) that looked the other way as pernicious group activities unfolded.
The storm of Hindu Rashtravaad — carefully tended to for five years — was unleashed at election time, producing a result that was truly extraordinary in its intensity and scope, and one that is not amenable to normal analysis. At such a time, curiously, high-profile television gurus are asking for the Congress to go and die.
Cut to 1984. The Congress, the ruling party then, stormed the election with more than 400 seats in Parliament on the back of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, a history-making event not unlike the gathering of the Hindutva gale-force of 2019. The BJP was reduced to two seats in Parliament. The mighty fell. And yet, no pundit then instructed the saffron party to commit hara kiri.
That would have been idiotic. So is it utterly opportunistic and foolish, and also calculated to please the establishment, to demand the winding up of the Congress and ask it to opt for self-condemnation and death, as some liberals are doing?
Nonetheless, Mr Gandhi will be committing a serious mistake if he fails to follow through on his decision to resign, and retracts from his earlier insistence that no member of his family should automatically follow him as party chief.
The Congress does need a new idea — and that must be to shore up a new party structure under a non-dynastic philosophy. Let party factions — built around interests or ideology — fight it out in elections instead of bickering in a patronage system. A renewed party will be a stronger party. The change of party leadership after a serious poll reverse is another name for accountability, which was the Congress way once. In this context, accountability equals democracy.
Not choosing that course will thrill the Congress’ opponents as it will make the party more vulnerable to criticism, especially from young Indians who have not known the strengths of the past decades. Mr Gandhi has no equal in the Congress on the basis of individual and political qualities. But in order to strengthen his party, he must be the guiding hand for change....