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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 14, March 21, 2009

Politics of Succession

Saturday 21 March 2009, by Rammanohar Lohia

Barring us, Socialists, all Opposition politics in the country today have degenerated into succession politics.

Opposition parties seem to have decided that the task of changing the attitudes of the people is far too difficult for them; or will at any rate take a lot more time than they think they can spare. The Prime Minister, according to them, is old and the Congress Party will soon have to find a successor to him. Who this successor will be is an open question—at least, so it appears.

Opposition parties seem to have made this internal problem of the Congress Party their own. They think they will be able to direct the country’s affairs their own way if they had a Congressman at the top who would be their man or at least allied to them.

The Communist Party and similar other groups are therefore backing a nominee of what they would call Left Congressmen—whoever that might be—but for the moment the person appears to be Mr Krishna Menon. They would not, however, be chary of supporting Mrs Indira Gandhi, should that choice become inevitable.

Summit Politics

The Praja Socialists, Swatantra Party and pre-sumably also the Jan Sangh are backing someone from among what they would call right-minded Congressmen, or whom I would, for the purpose of this classification, call Right Congressmen. At the moment, this choice is so entirely open that the name of Mr Morarji Desai alternates with, let us say, such a name as Mr Kamaraj Nadar, almost every other day.

This, according to me, is a most disgraceful situation. It is particularly disgraceful for those who have so long believed in radical and revolutionary politics. Summit politics is politics of intriguing and manoeuvring or getting on top somehow. Such politics is perhaps inevitable in a country like France or England, where the people are firmly set in their political convictions, almost us they are set in their religion. The Indian people are still new to their political convictions and open to change. For Opposition parties to have given up the task of stimulating change in the attitudes of the people is therefore an ignoble surrender.

Succession Gossip

Furthermore, where is the base for summit politics? Whenever I come to Delhi, a sense of overwhel-ming despair seizes me. There is no fundamental question of theory or even of enduring politics. One has nothing but gossip about succession, interlarded with spicy stories of what the Other Side has been doing in connection with money, women, or foreign relations. The worm is eating into Delhi’s heart.

I had foretold several years ago that the likeliest successor to Mr Nehru would be Mrs Indira Gandhi. That was on the basis of what I knew of the Prime Minister—who, I regret to say, at one time was my leader and teacher—and also of what was actually happening in the country and inside the Congress. The reports I have with me since then, particularly of how Mrs Gandhi came to be the Congress President, have only confirmed my prophecy. At that time I had only known the actors in the drama rather well and not how they actually conducted themselves backstage. I may add my personal reaction to it. I would prefer Mrs Gandhi to anyone else in the Congress Party, if for no other reason than this, that my morning paper would give me a pretty face to behold.

I daresay there are sections in all the parties that I have named—Communist, Praja Socialist, Jan Sangh, perhaps also Swatantra—which are distressed at this situation. They would perhaps like to do something about it and take politics to the people. But they just do not know how to go about doing it. I can talk a little definitely of the Praja Socialists, for I know them very well. Large sections of them are distressed and unhappy. But they have skated on the thin ice of opportunism and compromise so long with their leaders that any bold decision has become almost impossible for them. I guess that a somewhat similar disease has taken hold of the radical wing of the Communist Party.

Ungainly Mirror

The Indian Parliament has become a perfect, although a very ungainly, mirror of this situation. Without meaning the least offence to its position, I have to say that it hardly grapples with things of vital importance to the people. Call-Attention Notices or Adjournment Motions come up, so it seems, with a view to providing the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, with an opportunity to demonstrate how brave and wise the Government is. Continued motions on the Chinese or Pakistani aggression, without the slightest move this way or that, appear to have become endemic in Parliament. A few Socialists there are who try to raise fundamental issues, but I must admit that our party is yet ineffective—I hope only for the time being.

I have already roused a lot of anger and earned the displeasure of friends by raising the issue of the Prime Minister’s personal expenditure. Some people think that I have personal animus against the Prime Minister. That is wholly untrue. If there is one man who wishes a long life for him, that is me, although my grounds would be none too palatable to many in power today: I would want democracy in India to become so strong and compelling as one day to catch him by the scruff of the neck and throw him out of office. I have used a phrase of Mr Winston Churchill lest somebody should once again unknowingly assert that I lacked decorum: It was Mr Churchill’s classic phrase to show how the British Prime Minister is only a servant of the House.

Heavy Spending

I may have sounded fantastic to some people when I declared that the Prime Minister of this, the poorest country in the world, costs Rs 25,000 a day. But it is extraordinary that the Government has so far not come out with figures spent on the Prime Minister to refute my charge. If it thinks that my allegation is monstrous, why can’t it come out with facts and figures to demolish my point? I would have welcomed that as more dignified and honest on the part of the Government than to keep quiet over it. In that enormous jungle that is the India Government’s Budget—consisting of more than 4000 pages, almost 20 lines on each page—it is almost impossible to fish out all the items, but I would give here two sample items: The 1960-61 Demands for Grants No. 135 under the head ‘Delhi Capital Outlay’ records an item: “Replacing worn-out carpets in the Prime Minister’s House”, expenditure to the end of 1956-57 is Rs 1,05,710. Probable outlay for 1957-58 was Rs 50,000. Total expenses already made amounted to Rs 1,55,710. The demand for 1958-59 is Rs 50,000. Another item, pertaining to replacement of two air-conditioning units in the Prime Minister’s House—mind you, replacement—is Rs 20,000 for 1957-58. The Prime Minister’s kitchen is already, in a formal and legal way, part of the President’s Estate. I would not be surprised if the Demands for Grant for Rashtrapati Bhavan conceal quite a chunk of what has actually been spent on the Prime Minister’s household. I have only given some samples here. I can go on elaborating on this subject of waste and luxury at the top, as I have done elsewhere. If I had the strength of the Communist Party and the Jan Sangh, I would with my will and determination take out a procession of the people of Delhi to rouse public anger against such impermissible wastage. I must regretfully say that the influence of Mahatma Gandhi has made me non-violent, but reading these various items in the Budget makes my blood boil, although only for a few minutes in the traditional way.

Some people have tried to twist the purpose of this pinpointing on the Prime Minister’s expenses as a move on my part to deny him, particularly in his old age, the comforts needed for him to carry out his duties as Prime Minister. Far be it for me to deny him any of the normal comforts in life. In fact, I have been raising this question of the Prime Minister’s expenditure as part of our campaign to achieve good planning, right taxation, and just pricing. With such luxury expenditure, it would be impossible for India to achieve these.

On a rough estimate, I believe that Rs 2000 crores are being spent annually as super luxury expenditure by the upper classes of India, numbering around 50 lakhs. This sum of money cold be easily transferred to planning or to reduction of indirect taxation on essential articles or the abolition of land revenue on uneconomic holdings, as also for the achievement of a price policy for essential articles that would fix sale price at no more than one-and-a-half times the cost price. When I try to take away Rs 2000 crores from India’s upper classes, I might mention that Rs 3000 crores will still be left with them to spend as they like.

Dynamic Parties

The present Indian situation has made even a person like me somewhat of a coward and I am not therefore suggesting any revolutionary upheaval in the living standards of the upper classes. I only want them to become a little decent and in keeping with the people, but they would still retain their comfort and more than their comfort.

I have mentioned the Communist Party and the Jan Sangh together, and for that I have a reason. I consider these two somewhat dynamic parties, while the Congress, Swatantra and Praja Socialist Parties I consider static. Dynamism is not necessarily good in all its forms. I believe that the Communist Party and the Jan Sangh are definitely misguided in many directions. But they are also somewhat dynamic, and their membership is really desirous of radical and revolutionary changes, again not necessarily nor always in the right direction. The Communists, for instance, I would consider somewhat dynamic in relation to private property. The Jan Sangh I would similarly consider dynamic in relation to the issue of language.

If only the right-minded men among Communists and from the Jan Sangh and people like me could get together, we could perhaps cure the Communists of their mistaken beliefs on issues of caste and language and internationalism and particularly with regard to the relative sphere of privacy as against the sphere of collectivity. Without a doubt, encroachments by the State or by political parties on the privacy of the individual have become a source of concern to many sensible persons. This problem must be solved, and not by clashes alone.

Similarly, the Jan Sangh could perhaps be cured of its mistaken beliefs and practices in relation to property and the Hindu-Muslim question.

I may here add that there are two other sections which are positively harmful in their political combinations whom I still cherish for their past. They are the pre-1946 Congressmen, who have not been able to or have not wished to reach Delhi or Lucknow or Calcutta, and the Praja Socialists. I feel nearest to them in a personal way, although the Praja Socialists, for instance, in their political combinations, I detest more than any other group.

Why cannot all these various groups come together, for purposes of achieving politics of the people in place of the present politics of the summit? I must make it clear that a united front would be positively evil, for it becomes an inevitable source of dishonesty and mutual sniping among apparent friends. What I have in mind is a single party, and if necessary during the transition period, such combinations as the Price-Fix conference or the End-Caste conference or the Banish-English conference, which are non-party rather than all-party. I would also stress the importance of an intellectual reawakening among the people, starting with arousing the curiosity of the people. But I would reserve that for some other occasion, although I believe that to be the most important single point in any political activity.

(Mainstream, September 15, 1962)

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62