Neerja Chowdhury under an appropriate title, “Can Didi become the Dada of national opposition? Mamata has advantages, but her disadvantages are more formidable”, had expressed her views on the current situation at the national scene in Times of India of 3 June 2021
(https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/can-didi-become-the-dada-of-national-opposition-mamata-has-advantages-but-her-disadvantages-are-more-formidable/ ), which I found to be very timely and I wanted to further supplement her views for wider debate and national discussion. Such write ups have timely value as the situations keep on changing very fast. There have been further desertions in the Congress since then but the matter of opposition unity still remains relevant. It is undoubtedly a difficult situation. Even if efforts are made to unite Opposition parties under Shard Pawar the Congress would still contribute in vote spilt in triangular contest. I wish to add a solution to this PROBLEM. Not that I am dissatisfied with the working of the present national government but there must surely be an alternative which is the spirit of any democratic form of government. And the initiative rests with none else but with the India National Congress the only national party which Jan Sangh subsequently turned into BJP the only other party occupying the same status notwithstanding electoral losses. Jan sangh or the BJP did not have much acceptance in Southern States and so the regional parties came into existence to give a fight to the Congress in the electoral field. And then with the downfall of the Congress in 1962 and with the experiment of SVD (Samyukt Vidhayak Dal) governments formed in several states the trend continued except when the Congress gained strength after 1971 due to its spectacular role in the creation of Bangla Desh as a separate nation. The trend got soon reversed due to faulty policies of the Congress, electoral gains due to the sympathy wave following the tragic death of Indira Gandhi being an exception. The Congress was faced with leadership crisis more following the unfortunate death of Rajiv Gandhi when it appears badly shaken Sonia Gandhi had almost decided to call it a day and handed over the charge of the Congress to Narsimah Rao and Sita Ram Kesri. The Congress failed to pickup and there were experiments with short term governments between 1996 and 1999.
This gave a fertile ground to BJP to present itself for the first time as a national alternative before Indian voters. Tired of UPA scams the voters preferred NDA and the BJP on its own formed the first stable non-Congress government at the Centre. Atal Behari Vajpayee trained in the post independence value oriented policies of his predecessors would have got a second tenure in 2004 but internal rumblings and ambitions of his trusted colleagues within the Party made him disgruntled .With his failing health he was forced to talk of tirement and retirement. Sonia Gandhi in the meantime had also overcome of the shocks of tragic deaths in her family and under persuasion of her own family and the Party cadre came forward at the national scene to lead the Congress party. Her coalition alliance, the UPA, gave an unimaginable defeat to the BJP and the Congress came back to power at the Centre in 2004. Despite the popular belief and pressures not only from her own party cadre but from several leaders opposed to her she took one of the wisest decisions not to head the government and instead handed over the power to Manmohan Singh, a non controversial gentleman with proven administrative capabilities. With every one surprised at her sacrifice it got the Congress back to power in the next election in 2009.With Manmohan Singh’s own health problems notwithstanding the cronies within the Party going out of the way to help Robert Vadra, son in law of Sonia Gandhi, (besides getting involved in many scams like, the 2G spectrum scam, Commonwealth Games scam, coal allocation scam, Satyam scam, Adarsh scam, Cash-for-Vote scam and Chopper scam) resulted in the defeat of the Congress in 2014.
The BJP also had in the meantime been able to locate the younger elements of proven abilities. Human memory is too short and brought in at the Centre Narender Modi three times Chief Minister of Gujarat who would not have been perhaps able to repeat the performance at the state level. Full of energy and with qualities of oration Modi first acquainted himself with national problems by undertaking tour of the country from south to north and from east to west as BJP’s “Prime Minister face” and then put forward his own assessment and conditions for full time plunge in politics at the national level leaving for good his tested grounds in his home state. He put into background the oldies in the Party and got into fray the known and unknown younger elements. With the Congress men having got involved in internal dissensions and lack of established leadership within the Party the result was resounding victory of the BJP at the national level and the unstable and opportunistic leaders from within the Congress crossing over to the BJP. Not awakened to the realities and lack of any clear policies from the Congress side the BJP appeared to have won the country. The trend continues even after debacles in some of the states. With same positions in the next elections it is the time for the Congress to get awakened, get rid of the opportunistic cronies and provide to the nation a viable alternative to chose from because it is still the Congress and none else which can take the initiative. Sonia Gandhi as the Congress President should invite all Congressmen who had left the Party not on ideological grounds but having felt neglected. She should hold a National Convention and address some such type of letter to people from within and outside Congress and put forward her own suggestions for the future office holders of the Party. Tentative format of a letter which Soniaji may address to former Congress men and women, like Sharad Pawar, Mamta Banerjee and others, for unified approach to defeat BJP in 2024 national election to protect the idea and spirit of India. The same letter may also be released to the press. The content of the letter should be as suggested here by the student of Indian politics.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters,
You are well aware of the situation at the national level and I do not propose to recall all that has happened during the current decade. The Congress Party has been one and the only party for the last 135 years which has dominated the national scene. We have acted as one family and it is natural to have differences in such a big family. The differences have come into open several times in splitting and subsequent reunion and resolution of differences. If you look back the first split in the Congress dates back to 1907 when Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Krishan Gokhle; both Congressmen chose to adopt different methods to fight the Britishers. Since their goal was the same both factions reunited soon. United we fought the British, the mightiest power on the earth at that time. I would not waste your time by recalling many more such instances. My only purpose to peep into history is to tell you that by united approach when we can drive out the mightiest power out of our Country why can’t we change the present directionless and arbitrary government at the Centre. Let us take a resolve at this meeting to forget our past differences and come together as national alternative to the present government at the time of next parliamentary elections because my fear is we are for the worst time ahead. Subject to your approval I would suggest a new format for the Indian National Congress. While I may continue to be associated with you as National President, Let Mamta Banerjee who had parted with us for reasons better not to go into be the Congress President with Sharad Pawar as the Vice President and the following General Secretaries:
Akhilesh Yadav, Tejeswi Yadav, Priyanka Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Jyoti Raje Scindia,Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Anand Sharma, Badaruddin Ajmal, Navin Patnaik, Jairam Ramesh, AK Antony, Kirti Chidambaram and any other names which may be proposed at the Convention.
The Congress Working Committee be constituted by election or consensus. They would plan a fresh constitution for the party and prepare an Election Manifesto and decide to meet every month for the time being.
The rest I leave to you. You would always find my or Rahul’s door open for any consultation and help. The sooner it is done the better is it”.
Dr. H.A.S Jafri is a former Pro-Vice Chancellor and Registrar of Aligarh Muslim University. He is a retired Professor of Political Science from AMU. He also served as a Member of Rajasthan Public Service Commission. He can be contacted at (M) 9557832703 or at [email protected]