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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 22, May 16, 2009

End of an Era

Monday 18 May 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty

What sort of government will emerge from the election for the new Lok Sabha? This is the obvious question that is uppermost in the minds not only of the political parties contesting this election but of the millions beyond who constitute this nation as a whole.

Between the casting of the vote and the counting of the score, there is always an element of surprise, which will certainly be accentuated with the serious allegations of rigging on the very first day of the poll. And rigging, it has to be noted, can also be possible in the period between the poll and the count. One can only hope such a suicidal step would not be taken by the Establishment because this would be the surest way of destroying whatever credibility that the Government can claim.

What is noteworthy in the present case is that a large body of opinion almost takes it for granted that whatever government is formed, it would hardly be able to instill a sense of stability, and fluctuations unprecedented in this country are almost bound to overshadow Indian politics for months to come. And many are perhaps not wide of the mark when they say that the country may have to go through another General Election within a year, if not earlier.

The discredit that Emergency has brought upon the Congress will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for Indira Gandhi to retain the leadership of the party in Parliament unless the Congress margin of victory is comfortably big—a possibility which few in her own circle will venture to forecast with any degree of responsibility. In the event of the Congress scraping through with a narrow majority of seats, one cannot rule out her leadership being challenged.

Despite all the pleadings of Purabi Mukhopadhyay that the Congress should not be judged on the record of the nineteen months of Emergency, the election campaign has witnessed that the only issue that has dominated throughout is the list of misdeeds perpetrated under Emergency. If Sanjay Gandhi has turned out to be an utter liability for the Congress—so much so that even the mystifying shots at his jeep could hardly make a stir because of its lack of plausibility—it is because he has come to symbolise, in the eyes of the public, an authoritarian rule that Emergency tried to set up in this country.

Those who had calculated that the unlettered peasant in the far-flung villages would not bother about the proper functioning of a democratic set-up, have been shown up to be grievously mistaken because the taste of the Emergency raj has made him more conscious than ever before that his own struggle for a better life would become forbiddingly difficult with the denial of democratic liberties. Indira Gandhi’s Emergency dispensation brought more hardships for the under-dog, side by side with generous concessions for Big Money, while all this was clothed with fraud propaganda about prosperity for the millions. To talk of socialism while at the same time rapidly forging fresh links with the multinationals—as Indira Gandhi’s son has been permitted to do with scant regard for rules and regulations—has amounted to a vulgar display of cynicism which the ruling elite itself has not ventured to indulge in with such brazenness in the three decades since Independence.

If this election was meant to legitimise the rise of the upstarts, whether in politics or administration, in industry or information, in culture or education, it has in reality resulted in their ignominious exposure and rejection by the people, whatever may be the score of the contending parties. It is not that Reaction has its stronghold in one side alone, as some superannuated and self-seeking politicians with progressive pretensions have pompously declared in defence of Indira Gandhi. In fact, Reaction in its monstrous form has been found to have entrenched itself in the Emergency Establishment. If the Janata has its Jana Sangh, the Indira camp has its infamous caucus wielding extraordinary powers without any responsibility.

If the Congress is reduced to a minority in Lok Sabha—for which there are fairly reliable indications (provided, of course, tampering with the ballot box is not resorted to)—it does not automatically follow that there would be no government with a dependable majority. Many permutations and combinations appear to be in the offing because the collapse of the monolith that is the Congress, is no ordinary event in the contemporary history of India. It is not a question of mere defection trowards those getting office, but much more; the quest for common identity among likeminded elements on both sides of the House would be natural and inevitable. This is not only a question of form that a two-party system, in the historical sense of the term, is about to emerge; but, in content too this is bound to lead to a more viable and purposeful coming together of forces of progress demarcating themselves from the forces of the status quo—a development long overdue in Indian politics.

What now? Even without waiting for the announcement of the poll results, one can safety forecast that in the new Lok Sabha, the Opposition will be substantial and formidable, whoever forms Government, provided, of course, the rules of the game are observed. When Indira Gandhi and her advisers pushed through the omnibus Forty-second Amendment of the Constitution, they had counted on a docile and handpicked Parliament. But the dialectics of the present election have invested the supremacy of Parliament with far wider connotation totally unanticipated by the authors of the Amendment.

This week therefore sees the end of an era in Indian politics. From here onward begins a fascinating journey which will test out the mettle of every party, of every politician. There will be ups and downs, severe strains and inescapable confrontations. Now norms, new traditions have to be set, and with them, new style of functioning.

Out of this challenge shall be born political leaders worthy of this great nation, poised for far-reaching changes towards a better social order for its millions.

(Mainstream, March 19, 1977)

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