India and Indian democracy have been passing through difficult times. A many –sided effort is needed to check the decline and take effective steps to protect democracy, plurality, harmony, equality, justice, environment and livelihoods. Public spirited intellectuals, like various other sections of society, can contribute much to this effort, if they are suitably humble and polite, do not try to overreach and do not try to play too overpowering a role.
One of the many levels at which efforts are needed is to try to improve possibilities of unity of various opposition parties. Now unfortunately various leading opposition parties in India have more than their share of problems. If this was not the condition, then the ruling party , with its many limitations, would not appear to be so powerful today. Nevertheless , in order to overcome the bigger problems posed by the ruling combine ( at the national level) to Indian democracy and plurality ( not to mention economy and environment , justice and equality) , the task of strengthening these opposition parties must be attempted and the task of promoting the unity of various opposition parties should also be attempted, in fact should get a lot of priority. With the same aims, any new political parties that are launched are also welcome if they contribute to strengthening the overall democratic opposition devoted to bringing change for the better using peaceful, democratic processes.
Public spirited intellectuals, known for integrity and understanding and preferably not overly identified with any single political party, can contribute in many meaningful ways to this. For example they can help in preparing a common minimum program based on constitutional precepts of equality, justice and democracy. They can help in removing needless misunderstanding and suspicions. They can use their goodwill and respect to bring people together.
Unfortunately two recent trends have moved away from such a constructive role and are instead harming the cause of strengthening opposition party and unity. One trend is that of attacking the Congress Party excessively. The second trend is that of excessive criticism aimed at the Gandhi-Nehru family within the Congress party, criticism which at times has been so strong that it is almost an assault. This should be avoided.
There is much that has gone wrong with the Congress Party in recent years. Nevertheless it has its strengths even today and these are not confined just to its glorious past. This is the only opposition political party which has a reasonable presence all over the country. It is still the ruling party, despite all the recent problems , in some important states ( like Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Punjab) and would have been the ruling party in some other states ( like Madhya Pradesh ) if not deprived of this opportunity in dishonest ways. It is a part of the ruling coalition in other states ( like Maharashtra and Jharkhand). It is the number one opposition party in some other states. Surely a political part with such an important presence, despite many recent setbacks, should continue to be a very important part of the democratic, constitutional. peaceful opposition, but this important role of Congress is sought to be denied by some critics, who in the process harm and do not help the cause of democratic opposition.
Then there is another trend of specifically targeting and denigrating the Gandhi-Nehru family within the Congress Party, sometimes to the absurd levels of arrogantly demanding that its three more politically active members should all immediately leave the Congress Party. This is clearly an over-reach of the role of the non-partisan public intellectual in party politics. This role should be subdued and constructive, polite and humble, not arrogant and shrieking like it tends to be while making such demands.
There are many, many in the Congress, perhaps a majority of its members, who want the three to remain in the Congress Party and play an effective leadership role. There are also several competent and capable Congress leaders who, while wanting the three to stay on, also emphasize the need for important democratic reforms within the Congress. The Congress should handle these differences within the party well and public spirited intellectuals can contribute to this, thereby also strengthening the overall cause of strengthening the democratic opposition. Another contribution that they can make, and the various leaders of the Congress Party including leading Gandhi-Nehru family members should provide the space for this, is to help the party in having clearer and more consistent policy.
Then there is also the big challenge of the unity of various left parties on the one hand, and then promoting their unity or a better working relationship with the Congress or other opposition parties . The public-spirited intellectual can contribute to all such processes in a constructive way, while taking care to be guided always by the principles of communal harmony and unity, justice and equality, environment protection and democracy. Ultimately, these principles are supreme and the strength of the polite and unselfish, non-partisan and humble, public-spirited intellectual is in using these principles for helping to advance a principle-based democratic opposition in these troubled and difficult times of our country.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist and author whose work has been recognized in the form of several prestigious awards and fellowships. He has served in the past as Honorary Co-ordinator of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Honorary Chairperson of Jan Hith Trust, Honorary Chairperson of a Program for Homeless Persons. He has contributed around 9000 articles in Indian and foreign newspapers and journals, as also several poems, parables, novelettes and short stories, apart from writing over 400 books and booklets in Hindi and English.