When the focus of the country’s intellectuals, activists, journalists should be on the immediate challenge before us particularly the issues of agrarian sector and farming communities who have been protesting against the three farm bills, ‘liberals’ and ‘seculars’ seems to have now been obsessed with the Gandhi family. The fulminations of Ram Chandra Guha, an elite brahmanical secularist, against the Gandhi family will neither help secularism nor democracy. The best, it will help the BJP and Hindutva who he claims to despise so much. And Ram Chandra Guha kind of people are more dangerous and do more damage to democratic polity than Arnab Goswami and his ilks could as their ideological traits are well known and they are committed to that.
I am not here to speak about the decline of Congress but if you do an honest analysis of the situation, it is not merely Gandhi family, it has to do a lot with political debate getting highly poisonous and intoxicated in the past twenty years. Sonia Gandhi faced a hostile ‘intellectual class’ along with the Sangh Parivar related to the issue of her birth. After the formation of UPA-1, she tried to lead it from the backdoor but played mostly the role of a guiding force reminding the government of the day, its duties towards the citizens and some of the best bills were passed in the Parliament during that period.
When the Congress Party came back to power in 2009 i.e. UPA-II, a large number of BJP leaders had felt that their political career was over. Congress leaders too became too arrogant to speak to their workers and files would move at the speed of bullock cart. The biggest failure of Congress there was its mishandling of various issues. Anna’s movement could have been dealt with in a better way, followed by Nirbhaya. The media had by then turned against the UPA as communication with the media and people was the last strategy of Congress party.
The Telangana issue, the Land Acquisition issue and then Anna and Nirbhaya issue actually discredited the government. Coal Block and other issues of corruption and the Sangh Narrative became more powerful. If you see the leaders who were at the helm of affairs doing all this were Pranab Mukharjee, Kapil Sibbal, Gulam Nabi Azad and P Chidambaram were in most the committees formed by the government and its responses. Will these leaders take responsibility for the downfall of the Congress. Manish Tiwari was the Minister for Information and Broadcasting but look at his contribution. Nothing. He was arrogant enough to not fight the election. They only felt that they had no responsibility towards the party. Who brought the FCRA changes shrinking the NGOs and civil society work. It is Chidambaram. Today, Congress need civil society when the government has made the laws more stringent but you can not blame Sonia Ganhi for the same. The problem is that Congress never did an analysis of its governanace model in UPA I and II. It should have actually done a performance check and monitor their work. Today, those who faiiled Congress shamelessly are actually tell us how they are ‘concerned’ about its decline. Question is whether merely Gandhis are responsible for this or there is a collective failure. It is the Congress politics which believed in personality cult as they got benefitted from it but India is changed now. Modi phase will remain for some time but will not work. It is working because it is a combine effort of many things. Congress must learn that India is now aspiring for a truly collective federalism and only that spirit will take us further. Even at the regional level parties will have to democratise more.
Congress’s decline started in the 1980s and I have written about it many times. It is because India is going federal and regional aspirations are coming up and none can stop it. States don’t want a decision to be taken at the center and India will have to develop better mechanisms to develop a cordial relationship among the States. Secondly, since emergency time and with the notoriety of Sanjay Gandhi, Congress was being despised by the minorities. The Delhi’s 1984 riots and Congress’s continuous defence of those participating in the alleged riots alienated a big number of Delhi’s Sikh population. Rajiv Gandhi’s Shah Bano Act, Narsimha Rao’s failure to protect Babari Masjid and subsequent riots alienated Muslims from the party.
The failure of the Congress Party in handling the Mandal Commission issue properly resulted in erosion of faith by the Dalits and OBCs. Narsimha Rao government’s attack on reservation and rabid ‘liberalisation’ did its work further. Congress had lost all the major segments which brought it to power. These segments, Muslims and Dalits had left with the Congress. Farmers voted according to their zones. There were many Congress leaders during Indira Gandhi’s time which hailed from these communities.
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar changed in the post Mandal era. It was these two states which were giving Congress the biggest power but since 1989, Congress’s ground completely lost from this region.
It is no doubt that BJP, Jan Sangh and RSS are organisations to protect the interest of the Brahmanical Social Order but most of the Savarnas supported Congress as they felt it could keep their ‘interest’ safe. It was committed to that but after the Mandal report, the Savaranas understood it clearly that Congress cant protect their interest and slowly started shifting to BJP. Congress however, never learnt any lessons and continued to attempt to woo SC-ST-OBC Minorities on one side and refusing to build a strong independent leadership from these communities.
The fact is if Congress had Mandalised itself then many of the current day ‘dissenters’ would not have found a way to go to Rajya Sabha. It would have been people who have linked with the community and public. Now, these ‘liberals’ who are mostly coffee table friend of many of the ‘dissenters’ feel that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are responsible for this ignore this vital fact that the power games with in Congress are so powerful that a leader like Arjun Singh who was far superior to many including Pranab Mukherjee, the highly eulogised man, got isolated because he was considered to be ‘eyeing’ for the prime minister’s post. Even when he was given a relatively lightweight Ministry of Human Resource Development, it was he who fought for the reservation issues in higher education and ensured it was implemented. It was Arjun Singh who went to Ayodhya after the Babari Demolition despite Prime minister Narsimha Rao not enthused by his visit.
The brahmanical lobby within the Congress has been upset because Rahul Gandhi has been trying to implement those changes. It has to be understood that no single leader can make any party victorious. BJP is not winning elections just because there is a Modi and his carefully crafted image but because of ‘well oiled’ party machinery, money, ED-CBI and their shameless misuse as well as various other factors. Congress also engaged in dirty tricks during its hey days but Sonia Gandhi and Rahul can’t be blamed for that.
To say that Gandhi family has become the biggest threat to democracy and its survival is a new low in the public discourse. Tomorrow, you will say Mayawati is the biggest threat to Dalit rights or Akhilesh the biggest threat to rise of farmers. If Congress party has become a private limited company, as Ram Guha says, then all those intellectuals should join hands and form a new party with Congress dissenters. Obviously, BJP would love that. This is not the time for such ridiculous arguments. Chandra Shekhar remained lifelong in politics and could become prime minister for a short period. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister in mid 1990s while he was in politics since 1960s. Most of the old veterans became ministers and chief ministers after one to two decades and even if they have not become Prime minister or chief minister, none ever questioned their legitimacy. Can’t Gandhis be in Politics ?
The way Ram Guha was saying things it looked like he wanted Gandhis to leave India to ‘protect democracy’ ? What a joke ? How can you decide about someone else. Why are the liberals so bothered about a party they never liked. The ‘ideological’ mind of Ram Guha says that many ‘good people’ left Congress and joined ‘BJP’. If they were good looking then I don’t mind but if they are truly secular, they won’t join it. There is no doubt that Congress remained a party of Brahmanical elite which refused to change as per times when Savarnas have ditched it. It still feels that one day these caste Hindus will return to it and ‘gaddi’ will be reserved for them while still thinking SC-ST-OBCs as foot soldiers of the party which is not possible. The best thing for Congress party would be to keep changes as per regions. Stop behaving as B Team of BJP bring new faces and credible ones, give space to marginalised and speak their issues.
Ram Guha said that Gandhi’s were inconsistent and made ideological compromises. Frankly Gandhi’s basic politics have been above these but they don’t want to be seen as anti Hindu. Things have changed and poison is more powerful today. Nobody could ever dare to say Nehru as anti Hindu despite his so strong secular credentials but that was caste and being a ‘Pandit’ he was respected for his world view. Indira Gandhi too remained powerful but the Sangh narrative always questioned her marriage etc. Rajiv Gandhi actually liked by the RSS very much and they supported many of his initiatives but if Congress is feeling hollow it is because the biggest strength of the Gandhis have become the biggest weakness of the party. The Gandhis worked beyond narrow caste and communal interest but today they do not have any core constituency. Every leader has his or her core constituency based on his or her caste or other identity. Congress’s Hindu identity has gone to BJP. BSP, SP, RJD, DMK, Akalis, NCP, Shiv Sena have their core constituencies and that is why they are surviving. BJP is working to snatch those core constituencies from them. A non Yadav, chief of SP or RJD or a non Savarna of the BJP would not be able to attract or enthuse the core constituencies in India.
The crisis of our democracy is different. It is not Gandhis. It is that electoral system which only helps the ‘dominants’. The day Dominants were with the Congress, the system helped the Congress and today all the dominant forces are with BJP and it is helping them. Secondly, India has changed. People are aspiring for participation. They need representation. Leaders have to speak to people and good that Rahul Gandhi is using social media which is important. These are the only ways to reach people apart from mass mobilisation but the main point is that Congress should become an umbrella organisation for providing space to all the secular social justice forces. Every Congress worker and associate must have a fierce commitment to democracy, social justice and secularism. It must respect collective spirit and federalism. I can bet that BJP’s challenge will only be met through collective federalism. The attempt to ‘homogenise’ India for the purpose of helping one or two corporations will fail ultimately.
Ram Guha has every right to critique Gandhis but he can’t give them ‘ultimatum’. India’s focus should be on fighting for democratic polity and in collective spirit. India aspires to become more federal and that is why so many regional parties are coming up. They will have to show statesmanship and work together. One man, one market, one party show will fail. Expecting Gandhi’s to do ‘miracle’ without strengthening the collective spirit is again looking for a ‘national’ figure to counter Narendra Modi whose success is not his own but a collective work of so many forces, volunteers of RSS, loyal media, loyal voters and now the government machinery too but this is a phase. This can only be countered by collective federalism and inclusion of the most marginalised and minorities in the structure. So-called ‘national’ parties will have to work along with other regional parties on an equal basis and give and take relationships. Ofcourse, all forces must have a common minimum programme. Fight is to protect the idea of India as enshrined in our constitution and Sonia or Rahul leaving the space will not help the ‘secular’ forces or democracy in India. Let them remain where they are. Suggesting that the Gandhis have become the biggest threat to the survival of democracy is cleverly changing the goal post from the ruling party to the opposition which BJP always wanted and Guha has only done that. BJP and Modi have already made media focus on Gandhis and Congress and not on their failure to protect democracy, minorities, SC STs and farmers. Ram Guha has only added to what Arnab Goswami and likes are doing. Maybe Guha can tell us who is his ‘ideal’ hero of the ‘seculars’ who he think can lead the Congress party ?
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity