Non-Congressism is the answer to India’s current difficulties, says Dr Shambhu Shrivastava, who gives a historical perspective of non-Congress experiments in 1967, 1977, 1989 and 1998.
For all the confusing sounds and hype surrounding political debate today, two clear strands are obvious. One, the politics into familiar and convenient communal-secular divisions and the other is resurrection of historically valid but currently muted and rather defensive non-Congressism. The current national scenario calls for clearer vision and reasoned debate.
A serious crisis of confidence and governance has set in India today. The Congress is back to its bad old game. It is playing havoc with democratic institutions and constitutional bodies. Beginning with devaluation of the Prime Minister’s Office, to undermining the Comptroller and Auditor General, Joint Parliamentary Committee, Intelligence Bureau, to misusing the Central Bureau of Investigation and legal officers. The list is endless.
Massive corruption, rising cost of living, mismanagement and politicisation of the internal security apparatus, lax attitude towards external security and loss of confidence among foreign and internal investors, have added to the atmosphere of gloom.
Similar situations earlier saw the coming together of non-Congress forces to take the country out of the mess created by the Congress. What are the common points of non-Congress experiments in 1967, 1977, 1989 and 1998? What is comparable today and what are the lessons to be drawn from earlier experiences?
The early sixties saw the first serious attempt at a non-Congress mobilisation in the backdrop of humiliation faced by India during the Chinese invasion in 1962. A serious dent in the rainbow coalition that Congress represented since the freedom struggle was also taking place. Cases of corruption and scams by Congress ministers surfaced with increasing frequency and agriculture was stagnating. The Congress was getting unpopular and the nation was experiencing a crisis of confidence.
The main ideologue of this mobilisation was Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, who felt the only way the social and economic status quo could be broken was by ending the monopoly of Congress rule.
He propounded that the political and policy differences among opposition parties were not as serious as the crisis facing the country. No single party alone could dislodge the Congress from power despite their anti-Congress credentials and therefore, the need to put up a single opposition candidate against the Congress.
The non-Congress parties saw the point and succeeded in removing the Congress from power in nine states. These governments did not last for long but they had broken the status quo which ultimately resulted in great turmoil in the Congress which led to a split.
The next moment of confidence crisis came not long after Indira Gandhi came to power with a thumping majority with the ‘garibi hatao’ slogan. The personality cult surrounding Gandhi started the process of undermining the internal democracy in the Congress.
Inflation hit the common man and corruption became rampant. Discontent among people, particularly the younger generation and workers, manifested in the Nav Nirman movement in Gujarat. JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) led the movement in 1974 and the railways strike was led by George Fernandes (former Indian trade unionist), which was brutally suppressed. Anti-democratic instincts of the Congress led by Indira Gandhi led to the imposition of the Emergency in 1975.
The common struggle against the Emergency in 1977, saw another non-Congress mobilisation in the formation of the Janata Party and its government at the Centre, as reassertion of democracy in India. The Congress’s attempt to undermine the values of freedom struggle had been rebuffed.
The 1977 experiment collapsed within three years and the Congress was back to power. But the eighties under the Congress saw the worst shortsightedness of the party that led to the rise of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu fundamentalism.
Congress’s encouragement to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to contain the Akali Dal led to militancy in Punjab, the assault on the golden temple, the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, in which Congress leaders were active participants and are yet to be punished.
Rajiv Gandhi’s (former prime minister) decision to undo the Shah Bano judgement, by using a huge parliamentary majority, gave respectability and fillip to Muslim fundamentalism. The way Arif Mohammad Khan (former Union minister) was let down by the Congress leadership began the process of undermining the liberal voices in the Muslim community. Rajiv Gandhi was the one who performed the shilanyas (laying of foundation stone) in Ayodhya, so that the Congress could reap the benefits of Hindu polarisation.
All varieties of communalism was unleashed by the Congress in the eighties.
At another level, corruption, at the highest level in the Congress, came to the fore again. Rajiv Gandhi himself admitted during the Congress’s centenary celebrations in Mumbai that, ‘the Congress is a party of power brokers’.
A crisis of confidence set again in the country and prepared the stage for another non-Congress mobilisation under V P Singh in 1989. The Congress was dislodged from power and Janata Dal under V P Singh enjoyed support of the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party. This experiment too did not last long.
The fourth experiment in non-Congressism was from 1998 to 2004, which was reasonably successful. The reason it succeeded, while the earlier ones failed, was for three reasons: First, the National Democratic Alliance had a common minimum programme of governance agreed upon by coalition partners, unlike in the previous experiments. Second, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (former prime minister) and George Fernandes showed the way of running a coalition in India by intelligently combining the regional aspirations with national imperatives. And thirdly, democratic institutions were given due respect.
The Vajpayee-led NDA government was stable and contained inflation, created jobs and was relatively free of corruption. Overconfidence and the perception of a government catering more to the rich led to the defeat of the NDA.
The above historical perspective leads us to the present scenario. The calamitous situation today calls for another anti-Congress mobilisation. The Congress party is using ‘secularism’ merely as an excuse to cover up the right-wing shift in its economic and foreign policy, and mis-governance. There is nothing Nehruvian or socialist in the Congress policy framework today. The ‘inclusiveness’ they chant about is nothing but ‘economics of charity’ to cater to large number of people pauperised by its own policy of encouragement to crony capitalism.
It should be clearly understood that the regional aspirations can be best met in a non-Congress government based on a previously agreed common minimum programme. Arrogance of power and authoritarianism is part of Congress’s DNA. Democracy is never an indispensable commodity for the Congress. Similarly, secularism is just an instrument for them to cobble together an opportunist alliance.
How can a party which has failed to ensure punishment for killing thousands of Sikhs under its own rule, after 29 years, claim to be secular? In case of the Gujarat riots, at least a large number of people have been punished and cases are still on.
Non-Congressism is the answer to the current difficulties. An honest coalition of non-Congress parties including BJP and regional players, with commitment to strong and purposive governance is the only viable option.
Dr Shambhu Shrivastava, is the Convenor of the Samata Manch and former general secretary and spokesperson of Samata Party and the Janata Dal-United. He is also a former Member of Legislative Council, Bihar
Image: A worker looks at a Congress party flag carrying a picture of its party chief Sonia Gandhi next to flags of the BJP inside an election campaigning material workshop
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters