Where is the nation heading to?

The Free Press 22-3-2001

We require another Gandhi to embark on a new set of social reforms 

It was fashionable and quite the accepted way of looking at things to dream and work for socialistic economy till toward the end of Mrs. Indira Gandhi's tenure as Prime Minister of India. Crores of rupees were spent in setting up public sector units in the genuine belief that this would lead to economic growth and make the nation self-sufficient. It was another way of interpreting swadeshi. Jawaharlal Nehru, when at the Awadi Congress spelt out what he described as "a socialistic pattern of society" meant well. The differences between the rich and the poor had to be pared down. If private capital was not available, it was government's duty to raise it. He was bitterly criticised by some like C. Rajagopalachari who felt that Nehru had gone on the wrong track. But socialism was a heady brew. And the vast public fell a prey to Nehru's charisma, and after him to his daughter's enticing slogan of garibi hatao. Nationalise the leading banks, they are only favouring the rich, went the order. So some of the top banks were nationalised. Stop the Privy Purses to the Maharajas was another edict. So the Maharajas were overnight turned into dubious penury, and some had to turn their palaces into hotels. The rich were considered enemies of the people. They had to be put in fetters. So a Permit & License Raj was set up to control their economic activities. No doubt the Nehru Gandhi family meant well. But in the process of establishing a "socialistic pattern of society" private enterprise was shackled, corruption grew to gigantic proportions. Populism was the done thing. A Minister of State for Finance, one Janardhan Poojari organised 'loan melas' for distribution of loans to the so-called 'poor'. Crores of rupees were given away for the mere asking. Lower-level political workers got their cuts. So, it is said, did some bank managers. To this day there is no accounting of the money disbursed. The annual rate of growth was stuck around 3.2 per cent and with population growth between 2.2 and 2.5 per cent annually, progress was virtually at a standstill. It was a no-win situation. While the economies of other nations like South Korea, Taipeh and Singapore prospered, India with its huge resources and manpower lagged behind. It took coverage on the part of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao to make the first move towards economic liberation. His Finance Minister Manmohan Singh was finally instructed to liberalise the economy since then the country has moved forward in the matter of getting rid of uneconomic public sector units. It is a huge task and one has to move cautiously, but the process has begun despite protests from some quarters. The business of the government is not business, but government, a point that cannot be stressed too strongly. 

At the political level, meanwhile, certain trends are making themselves felt. One is decline of Leftist thinking, throughout the country. There has been a phenomenal rise of anti-leftist forces, for example, in West Bengal where the leftists are now on the run. A poll taken by the Marketing & Development Research Associates in West Bengal in early March shows a marked support for the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Bannerjee. No doubt the Assembly elections will give a clear indication of the public mood but one thing is clear: the state wants a change in leadership. Much. the same trend is noticeable in Kerala, the only other state where leftist-parties are in power. 

But an even more noticeable feature is the decline of the Congress throughout the country. Its slide in West Bengal is too evident to be dismissed lightly,. Pranab Mukherjee's whistling in the dark notwithstanding. In Tamil Nadu the Congress has been reduced to literally begging to be accepted by the haughty Jayalalitha against whom several corruption cases are pending in the courts. Such is the sad state to which the once powerful party has been reduced. The truth about the Congress is that it has no longer any meaningful ideology to stand on. Its socialist pretensions were blown sky-high a long time ago. With the rise. of the BJP, it tried for a time to bank on its secular credentials as a way to endear itself to the minorities which have seen through the party's pretenses and have drifted away from it. Come May, the Congress will have been out of power at the Centre for five long and weary years. And there is no possibility of its ever coming back to power again under its present leadership, and outlook. First is the issue of leadership. If the Congress has not, by now, realised that dynasticism is no longer fashionable, It has learnt nothing. There is no way the Congress can make an impact as long as it is led by Sonia Gandhi. She has to go. The last three by-elections that took place in recent times have shown the party's essential weakness. That weakness will continue to be a drag on the party's chances in the forthcoming elections as well. Admittedly there is now no other leader of any standing to lead the Congress but shouldn't that be all the more reason for the party to do some serious thinking on this score? Then there is the question of ideology. The Congress should face up to the fact that socialism and secularism have ceased to be attractive. These have been done to death; ergo, it is now incumbent on the part of the party to outline a pan-Indian ideology that takes into account the susceptibilities of both Hindus as the majority Community and the rest whose aspirations too need to be taken into account. That point was once raised by V N Gadgil some time prior to his death only to be studiously ignored. It cannot be ignored any longer. This does not mean that the Congress must attempt to be a pale carbon copy of the BJP nor does it have to adopt a modified version of Hindutva. It should even more strenuously refuse to pander to casteism which is presently the hall mark of practically all political parties in Tamil Nadu, not to mention, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. 

In pre-independence days the Congress mantra was swaraj. Under its banner it could unite all castes, creeds and communities. In post-independence days the Congress mantra was secularism and socialism. Let us face it: these mantras were effective  -  but they had their day. Now the Congress requires another  -  and just as powerful mantra  -  and this should be the immediate concern of Congress policy makers. They should note two facts of life: one is that a resurgent Hinduism is on, the march and cannot be stopped. The other is that the minorities are seeking a role within the Hindu parameter which will keep their self-respect intact even while ensuring their fall participation in the national mainstream. These two are not irreconcilables. Under Shivaji, let it be remembered, the Muslims had no hesitation in working closely with their Hindu compatriots. What was possible under Shivaji should be possible now. 

For too long the Congress has declined to accept the fact that Hindus are the majority and should be treated with respect. A Hindu who is proud of his religion, is frustrated by its decline and wants to see a Hindu renaissance is not necessarily a majoritarian, fundamentalist, communalist or fascist. For long he has been treated as if he were and that is one reason he has flocked to the ranks of the BJP. He will not return to the Congress hold howsoever calculatedly Sonia Gandhi waves her hand, Indira-style or flashes a smile at here audience. They have seen through these dreary tactics. The job of leading the Congress is essentially that of a Hindu born and bred, who knows the angst as much of the upper castes as of the middle and lower castes, not to speak of the minorities. This is one job for which Sonia Gandhi is eminently unfit, not because of any lack of will but plainly because the she can't speak to Hindus at their level. A Congress leader must be a Hindu  -  as Gandhi was  -  but has the ability to rise above caste and creed, again as the Mahatma was. And he must have a vision of an egalitarian society that does not discard the highest Vedantic norms but is dedicated to the proposition: sarve janaha sukhino bhavantu. In the thirties Gandhi could temporarily give up politics to pursue his reformist tasks. At the beginning of the new millennium, we require another Gandhi to embark on a new set of social reforms that would put to shame the Mulayam Singh Yadavs, the La-loo Prasads, the Karunanidhis and the Mayavatis. Finally, a Congress president has to seriously establish a Congress cadre at the grass- roots level. If, at a moment's notice, the RSS can summon 30,000 sevaks to do duty in earthquake-stricken Kutch, it seems a thousand pities that. the Congress  -  and the Congress Seva Dal  -  were left far behind. The Congress has presently no grassroot support of any meaningful kind. It has only an assortment of sycophants and they don't count for anything. One. thing is certain. No party can ignore Hindus as Hindus. And it is folly to presume that a Hindu is automatically anti-minority, as the Congress leaders seem to presume and to act on that presumption. For the Congress to succeed in the future, it must change its entire mind-set. Is that asking for the moon?