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Congress Must Come Back

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The answer to Zoya Hasan’s timely question “Does the Congress Have a Future?” (EPW, 6 May 2017) is a thumping “yes;” if only the party frees itself from familial fetters and oleaginous oafs that surround it. Hasan’s article deserves wide reading because it throws light on the current political scene in India.

The decline of the party is a certain pointer to the decline of the family-based feudalistic political class that is becoming somewhat anachronistic in a globalised world. Indians are becoming more and more disillusioned with politicians of all ideological hues.

The real issue is how to understand our democratic exceptionalism and sustain it in the midst of all-round intolerance of every conceivable sort and forge ahead on the path of progress. Democratic exceptionalism refers to a certain pride in India being a democratic polity surrounded by a host of theocratic and non-democratic regimes. Athens, for example, prided itself on its democratic exceptionalism. Here then comes the question of individual freedom as an inalienable value that should be preserved at any cost rather than religious freedom as conventionally understood or secularism as a politically convenient instrument. Otherwise our democratic exceptionalism stands in danger of extinction.

There is a growing tendency on the part of intellectuals to debunk the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) recent victory as symptomatic of “Hindu” nationalism. Such peevish descriptions are pernicious to the core. Have not non-Hindus as well as Hindus who are far from hard-core Hindu sympathisers voted for the BJP? Pray what is Hindu, Muslim or Christian about nationalism? Jinnah was as much a nationalist as were Tilak, Gandhi or Nehru. Did not Jinnah defend Tilak in court against charges of sedition? Nobody called Jinnah a Muslim nationalist then or Nehru a Hindu nationalist; why then call the genuine sentiments of millions of Hindus, “Hindu nationalism,” thereby attaching a certain odium to this noble sentiment, nationalism?

Hindu-bashing has become a symbol of intellectual progressivism, in the process, raking up avoidable acrimonies. Is it not strange that Indian intellectuals have no qualms in being called Marxists, Leninists, Trotskyists or Maoists—all progressive labels—but being called a Hindu, is regressive or troglodyte?

Hasan’s call for rejuvenation of the Congress makes eminent sense and is timely. She has rightly pointed out that it faces a structural dilemma on several fronts. She might as well have added another cause: the unbearable burden of supine sychophants and lupine lamentations of the gerontocratic guard. The Congress must rejuvenate and re-emerge as a viable alternative if only to act as a check on the authoritarian tendencies of the ruling party at the centre so as to ensure a vibrant and vigorous democracy.

This has become a historical necessity as the possibility of a third alternative in the form of a ragtag of small parties is likely to remain just that.

Hopes of the left parties as a strong alternative have as good as vanished considering their pitiful struggle for survival. The sad decline of the leftists in India who were on the forefront in championing progressive causes is due mainly to the ideology’s iron-clad grip on their understanding of India’s complex political problems, blind as they were to the ground realities. There is a lesson in their decline. Foreign ideologies whatever their romantic lure just cannot substitute home-spun ones. Marx, Mao, Lenin and Stalin, therefore have remained intellectual curiosities rather than idols to emulate. This is because the leftists have rarely made any efforts to understand ground realities in India. The fact remains that the leftists in general and particularly in India have been a fairly honest and fiercely non-corrupt lot. If only their ideological gullibility were tempered by rationality and they forged a strategy backed by a correct understanding of political culture in the country, India would not have to witness the sad spectacle of the decline of leftism as a political force.

The Indian state is certainly in “an internal siege.” A number of factors contribute to this—growing violence, lawlessness, political opportunism, vote bank politics, religious fundamentalism, rising economic inequalities and economic challenges such as inflation, unemployment and fiscal deficits, the rise of local nationalism pose a big question mark before national integrity. The challenge is to forge a strategy that strikes a neat balance between individual liberty and the requirements of national security.

Therefore, the anomie that grips the Indian state is very much endogenous. Exogenous factors have only abetted it.

S R Kasbekar

Mumbai

Updated On : 16th Jun, 2017

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