“Tera saain tujh mein, jyun pahupan mein baas/ Kasturi ka mirig kyun phir phir dhoondey ghaas.” (The musk deer foolishly searches for the fragrance from its own body in the surrounding grass.) Someone should have read the mystic poet Kabir’s 15th-century verse to Rahul Gandhi as he wondered aloud last week whether the Americans would ever pay heed to the plight of democracy in India. Really? Are the Americans going to change India’s destiny or should it come from its own people?
“I don’t hear anything from the US establishment about what’s happening in India. If you are saying partnership of democracies, I mean what is your view on what is going on here,” Mr Gandhi told former US diplomat Nicholas Burns in an online conversation. There had been a “wholesale capture of institutions” in India, the reluctant former head of the Congress party complained. This was the not first time Rahul Gandhi had (futilely) turned to the US for help in India’s domestic troubles. WikiLeaks had quoted him as telling an American ambassador in confidence that the bigger threat to Indian democracy comes from Hindu extremists, like, he might have added, Muslim extremists threaten Pakistan. Gandhi was evidently right, but he should have been saying this to the Indian people for a more rewarding response.
There is no harm, of course, in raising the loudest hue and cry about the mauling of democracies by neo-fascist forces currently in overdrive in several parts of the world, and India is no exception. It’s rather important to highlight the brutal methods used by the current government to subdue Jammu and Kashmir. There are legitimate and well-regarded NGOs, UN bodies, including its human rights watchdog, to go to. However, it would be a stretch to believe that succour would come to the needy through this route. A truly fair deal for the besieged Kashmiri people has to be hitched to the larger struggle for democracy, for example, with the unstoppable farmers’ struggle, with Dalit and women’s movements, tribal rights, environmental fights and other battles for democracy being fought across India by the working classes.
Mr Gandhi will remember how not long ago the Congress gave a call for a second freedom struggle to save democracy from right-wing marauders. What has become of that resolve? Would the struggle be launched with foreign help or by the march of the people? In a globalised world, people should share with each other the political hazards surfacing in different countries in the name of narrow nationalism. Yet, “the wholesale capture of institutions” and much worse that may await India has never been of more concern to anyone than the Indian people themselves.
The Congress requires an urgent strategy to stop the haemorrhage of wholesale migration of its MLAs to the BJP in different states.
It is thus up to Mr Gandhi’s party and other opposition groups and definitely not for Mr Burns to work to stem the rot. Take the baby steps within the Congress. Suspend the idea of leading the opposition. Prefer instead to join it. Dreaming of becoming prime minister and saving democracy may not be co-terminus. Explain to the people the mistakes and the confusion sowed by the opposition’s self-serving quests and why they haven’t welded into a joint and durable force to change the course of Indian politics.
The Congress is fighting the Marxists in Kerala and joining hands with them under the leadership of a Muslim preacher — it has got as ridiculous as that — in West Bengal. Opposing Mamata Banerjee is a self-goal for all concerned sides. The embattled Ms Banerjee has yet again appealed to the opposition right in the middle of her election campaign to join hands at least after the state polls for a collective effort to save Indian democracy. No foreign interlocutor could give that useful advice. The US needs India instead to join the Quad against China, which Mr Modi is ready to deliver. Why would they disturb such a cosy arrangement?
The Congress requires an urgent strategy to stop the haemorrhage of wholesale migration of its MLAs to the BJP in different states. Granted big money is at play but this may not always be the main worry. I was reading an interview of a small-town Bengali shopkeeper who, having worked for the communists all his life, has switched over to the BJP. This is par for the course for thousands of former partisans in West Bengal. Give a good reason why the Congress can join hands with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra but not with Mamata in West Bengal. Which American or European can protect the Maharashtra government, run by a coalition in which the Congress is the weakest link, from predatory assaults underway to dislodge it?
Needless to say, it’s something that only the young Congress leaders need to be paying urgent attention to. Merely pleading for the restoration of democracy will not restore democracy. The main pillars of India’s secular, socialist constitution are being destroyed with the help of state power. And winning back state power for the people is the only way to undo the damage. It’s of course easier said than done. But there’s no other way.
As for the US coming to anyone’s help, its own democracy is facing a mortal threat from within. The Democrats accuse the Republicans and Donald Trump for the current pass. They are deaf to the wise saying that you reap as you sow. You can’t use the gunboat to dismantle nations and discourage your own people from loving the culture of the gun at home. You can’t berate China on human rights and court Gen Sisi in Egypt and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. Indians fancied themselves as a multicultural democracy before the advent of Narendra Modi. The US uses two yardsticks here. It supported the dismantling of a multiethnic Yugoslavia with lethal firepower but advocated a truth and reconciliation commission when it came to South Africa. Ergo: The musk is not in the grass.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2021