Thunder without Showers?

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There can be little doubt that the two recent events that have caused most stir and grabbed most attention are Ghulam Nabi Azad’s letter of resignation from the Congress after an association for nearly fifty years and the Adani group’s precipitate bid for hostile take-over of the NDTV.Both have lessons for the defenders of democracy in their mortal struggle for survival.(Assuming that there is such a determined fight.)

NDTV bosses Prannoy and Radhika Roy have always cherished and taken pride in the trust they have earned with their commitment to professional integrity of their journalism. Indeed they have not flinched from airing content that presaged better electoral prospects of the BJP even when their liberal audience felt uncomfortable. They have hosted talk shows where BJP spokesmen’s lung power cut short sober reasoned arguments of proponents of saner views.There were times in the past when their anchors even flirted with the illiberal consensus of the comfortable liberal elite as when an anchor on a visit to America elicited from Yuppie Indian migrants there the common sense wisdom that reservation impaired merit.It has gone out of its way to allow controversial public figures to defend themselves against bitter and vehement criticism of the public.All in the name of unbiased reporting.Whether that improved their stocks with the pesky rulers is anybody’s guess.

However it has also to its great credit given space and prime time for the last several years to sharp-witted,well-informed and canny newswatchers who tear to shreds various false pretensions of the present government and dissect its policies to reveal their serious and often obvious defects.

This is what the powers that be find hard to stomach and even dangerous.They had unleashed their hunting hounds at it0p,and there is no need now to name them,0 but it survived the attack after a doughty fight, luckily.Perhaps that set in a mood of complacency and it failed to watch its rear.The loan it had secured from an obscure company under conditions that rendered it vulnerable was the weak link in its armour.The world of business is dominated by cronies of the government and they have returned the favour they enjoy by mounting the type of attack most familiar to business ferrets.It is going to be a tough fight with chances loaded against the target and unless powerful friends rally to its aid,one does not see how it can come out the winner.Imagine a scenario where these voices fall silent and you can realise the impact of such a loss.

That is to say,fascism has put all its foes on notice,those aware of their threat as well as those who have preferred to look away.A no-holds-barred fight,all the guns blazing and all the quarters resounding with the crackle.All adherents of democracy are now called upon to forget their differences and make common cause.The few ramparts left standing must be rallied round to quell the fury of the attack.Tempting immediate prizes must be resisted if they lead to rifts with allies.

Do we see anything like that on the ground?Sadly,no.Petty quarrels and feuds,grouses and resentments,divide the forces of freedom.The great masses are angered by price-rise, unemployment,rising signs of despotism and tyranny.But they can still be mobilised on vicious castes,religion and regional issues to be diverted from the great battle on those fundamental issues.

The Supreme Court has been goaded on by the extent and degree of public outrage to act on certain issues.To that extent we are lucky.But as many have wistfully remarked such relief has become uncertain and in any case crucial issues remain in the back burner.Over all there is marked hesitation in confronting the aggressive and intolerant executive in a decisive manner,short of which the collapse of democracy seems so much more possible.Other institutions have surrendered without a fight.Unless the common people are roused from unconcern and drugged hysteria there is little hope of a reversal of conditions.

Can there be such a decisive change brought about by the mighty sinews of the united masses,like the primordial churning of the oceans of Hindu puranas? We have seen several such unbelievable tidal movemens of common masses overthrowing oppressive regimes in the last two decades,but each time they had led to return of old powers under new wrappers,thanks to a lack of political direction.There must be a clear idea of at least what is not to be tolerated at the seat of government and unreserved unity on that score.And an organized will however loosely bound together.

What most political parties here seem to have missed is that the tremendous economic and political upheaval of neo-liberal globalization has decimated the their traditional bases.For example the bastions of the so-called organized sectors of labour have been shrunk thanks to large-scale relocations,automation and shifts as well as renewed attacks by aggressive capitalist states.Vast masses of labourers working on contracts,petty vendors and shopkeepers, construction workers,low-paid salesmen and saleswomen, struggling agricultural workers,struggling lower middle-class families on their last legs etc.are now part of what Thomas Piketty calls the Precariat.And it is they who form what we call the working masses today.Extremely vulnerable,seething under deeply felt but poorly understood oppression, they are as much recruits for murderous frenzy against minorities incited by fascists as robust candidates for resistance battles against the enemies of the people.While fascists know how to tap into their power,democrats keep them at arm’s length.Long accustomed to dealing with other kinds of people with other methods of politics leaders of the Congress for example had settled into bureaucratic and feudal methods of politics,and these simply do not pay any dividends any more.Their distinguished services to their party in the past,their prestige won as responsible functionaries in party and government don’t qualify them any more to play a vital part in rejuvenating the party under the challenging new conditions.

Rahul Gandhi can hardly get any help from them in enlarging the party base and instilling necessary discipline. Perhaps he should have relegated them to the margins with more grace and respect.Or better still,given them offices and responsibilities suiting their abilities without involving them with party reorganization.Like for examle lliaising with other parties or as pary spokesmen in crucial public debates.Their brains and expertise are assets to be used when needed.But they too should not cherish any illusion that their abilities alone will win voter loyalty.

Rahul Gandhi had begun his political career with an unfortunate sense of entitlement with little experience. He had been assigned responsibilities quite above his capabilities.But he has come a long way and shed many of his immaturities.His enemies no longer find it easy to dismiss him as ‘Pappu’,and he has posed searching questions at the Prime Minister that have gone unanswered.

But he signally lacks the experience of the rough and tumble of real politics,and is yet to find his touch with the crowds. While trying to replace stolid old guard with energetic young hopefuls he has floundered.His choice of Siddhu in Punjab misfired as this particular Young hopeful did his best to sink the prospects of the party.If he goes about this business like this the party will end in an even greater disaster.He had better chance of success if he picks and chooses some ofà his trusted comrades from the ranks than from his own background,which might confine him again in a sterile feudal bureaucratic cage and prevent him from wielding true leadership.He must pick and choose his allies in the same spirit.

‘Bharat Jodo’ is a welcome initiative.But it will work only if along the route people come and join the March carrying banners and placards against price rise,lack of jobs,police high-handedness,aimless communal violence and mad hatred,growing insecurity and threats to peace and amity.But it will fail in its mission if it does not strengthen resolve to resist the enemy and unite the people,and turn only into an empty gesture.If on the other hand he awakens people to an urgent need to fight for protectiin of democracy and inspire a steely resolve not to yield before danger,Azad’s accusations will then lose much of their sting.It is his implicit hesitation to stand with the common man and fight implacably to defend the dignity and the right of the people to food,health,education and freedom to move freely and speak their minds that keep him from the strong support he needs.If he still hesitates someone else will have to step in. Time now to cross the line.And decisively.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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