A young man described himself as a dejected Muslim, and punctured the sharp analysis that was under way about the Uttar Pradesh defeat. The venue was a well-appointed seminar room at the India International Centre. Why don’t we show our outrage like they do in America, the young Muslim wanted to know. People in America are out on the streets fighting for the refugees, Latinos, Muslims, blacks, everyone. One US citizen was shot trying to protect an Indian victim of racial assault. Why are Indian opponents of Hindutva so full of wisdom and analysis but few, barring angry students in the universities, take to the streets?
It’s not that people are not fighting injustices. From Bastar to Indian Kashmir, from Manipur to Manesar, peasants, workers, college students, tribespeople, Dalits; they are fighting back. But they are vulnerable without a groundswell of mass support like we see in other countries.
Off and on, political parties are capable of expressing outrage. A heartbreaking scene in parliament is to see Congress MPs screaming their lungs out with rage, but that’s usually when Sonia Gandhi is attacked or Rahul Gandhi belittled. Yet there is no hope of stopping the Hindutva march without accepting the Congress as a pivot to defeat the Modi-Yogi party in 2019.
It’s a given. The slaughterhouses may or may not open any time soon, but an opposition win in 2019 is easier to foresee. It could be a pyrrhic victory, the way the dice is loaded, but it is the only way. Will the Congress join the battle without pushing itself as the natural claimant to power? Without humility, we may not be able to address the young man’s dejection.
Like it or not, there is no other opposition party with the reach of the Congress, even today. Should we be saddled with a party that rises to its feet to protect its leaders — which it should — but has lost the habit of marching against the insults and torture that large sections of Indians endure daily?
A common and valid fear is that the party is vulnerable before the IOUs its satraps may have signed with big league traders, who drive politics in India today.
If religious fascism is staring down India’s throat, there’s someone financing it.
The Congress needs to ask itself bluntly: who chose Mr Modi as prime minister? It was the same people that chose Manmohan Singh before him. The fact is that India has come to be ruled by traders, though they have neither the vision nor the capacity to industrialise or modernise this country of 1.5 billion. Their fabled appetite for inflicting bad loans on the state exchequer is legendary, though they have seldom measured up to Nehru’s maligned public sector to build any core industry. (Bringing spectrum machines from Europe and mobile phones from China for more and more people to watch mediocre reality shows is neither modernisation nor industrialisation.)
The traders have thrived by funding ruling parties and keeping their options open with the opposition when necessary. It’s like placing casino chips on the roulette table, which is what they have turned a once robust democracy into. If there’s religious fascism staring down India’s throat, there’s someone financing it.
The newspapers won’t tell you all that. The traders own the papers. The umbilical cord between religious regression and traders has been well established in a fabulous book on the Gita Press by a fellow journalist; same with TV.
Nehru wasn’t terribly impressed with them. He fired his finance minister for flirting with their ilk. Indira Gandhi did one better. She installed socialism as a talisman against private profiteers in the preamble of the constitution. They hated her for that. The older Indian literature (Premchand) and cinema were quite a lot about their shady reality — Mother India, Foot Path, Do Bigha Zamin, Shree 420, to name a few.
At the Congress centenary in Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi called out the ‘moneybags’ riding the backs of party workers. They retaliated through his closest coterie to smear him with the Bofors refuse. The first move against Hindutva’s financiers will be an uphill journey. The IOUs will come into play.
For that, the Congress must evict the agents of the moneybags known to surround its leadership. But they’re not the only reality the Congress must discard. It has to rid itself of ‘soft Hindutva’ completely, and it absolutely must stop indulging regressive Muslim clerics as a vote bank.
For a start, the West Bengal, Karnataka, and Delhi assemblies will need every opposition member’s support in the coming days. The most laughable of the cases will be summoned against the unimpeachable Arvind Kejriwal, a bête noire for the traders, whose hanky-panky he excels in exposing.
For better or worse, it is the Congress that still holds the key to 2019. Even in the post-emergency rout, the party kept a vote share of 41 per cent. And after the 2014 shock, its vote has grown, not decreased.
While everyone needs to think about 2019, the left faces a more daunting challenge. It knows that the Modi-Yogi party does not enjoy a majority of Indian votes. However, the majority includes Mamata Banerjee, who says she wants to join hands with the left against the BJP. Others are Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, most of the Dravida parties and, above all, the Congress. The left has inflicted self-harm by putting up candidates against all these opponents of the BJP — in Bihar, in Uttar Pradesh, in Delhi. In West Bengal and Kerala, can it see eye to eye with its anti-BJP rivals?
As the keystone in the needed coalition, the left must drastically tweak its politics. It alone has the ability to lift the profile of the Indian ideology, which is still Nehruvian at its core, as the worried man at the Indian International Centre will be pleased to note.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2017