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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 52 December 23 & 30, 2023

Reflections on Indian Politics | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 23 December 2023


21st December 2023

Indian Politics never ceases to attract attention of the academic analysts. But, it is extremely unfortunate that opinions and attitudes about the course and directions of politics have been polarised among both the politicians and analysts. Let me try to reflect on the broad features of Indian Politics from the Nehruvian times to the present.

Post-independent Indian politics was largely guided by the Congress Party which occupied the seat of power, much against Gandhiji’s advice to disband the Congress Party. There were stalwarts within the Congress and outside who directed the destinies of the nation, led by Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister. Given his socialist orientations, Nehru adopted a left-of-the centre ideological position and began to conduct the affairs of the State from that perspective. Examples of that were the adoption of the five-year plans, which he borrowed from the Soviet Union. As regards, internal politics, Nehru was less ideologically doctrinaire, as his fundamental objective was to to lay the foundations for India’s industrial and scientific/ technological development. Examples of them were his decision to start heavy industries, which he called the temples of modern India, and the setting up of the Atomic Energy Commission. It was however, in the field of foreign policy that Nehru’s left-of-the-centre position manifested itself openly in the form of opposition to Colonialism, Imperialism, Apartheid etc. He crafted the policy of Nonalignment to pursue the nation’s foreign policy. As for his style of operation, though Nehru attended the Parliament sessions without fail, unlike Prime Minister Modi in contempirary times. But, he also had his way most of the times as is evident from Dr. Ambedkar’s resignation from Nehru’s cabinet on the Hindu Code Bill. Rajaji too differed with Nehru very often. But, still the silver lining of Indian Politics during the Nehru era was that he respected the Parliamentary institutions by and large. As for as the analysts were concerned, there were different stands of analysis, though one did not notice the polarisation of the sort we witness now a days.

It was however the Indira Gandhi era which saw sharp divisions in the way politics was conducted both within the Congress Party and outside. One is aware of the radicall overtones of Indira by her denounciation of her critics within the Party, supported by the rise of ‘Young Turks’. Mrs. Gandhi followed it up by the initiation of radical programmes by abolishing the privy purses, bringing about the nationalisation of banks and her ‘garibi hatao’ programme. In terms of her style of operation, Indira was authoritarian as was witnessed by the declaration of internal emergency leading to the arrest of key opposition leaders and the clamping of press censorship. She also rode rough shod over institutions by openly calling for committed civil service and Judiciary. The high command culture became conspicuous during Mrs.Gandhi’s time, resulting in her firm grip over the Congress Party. The trend towards personality cult became visible with the likes of Dev Kant Barua proclaiming “India is Indira and Indira is India”. Indira Gandhi also set up shouting brigades within her party when the Opposition tried tocreate problems for her within the Parliament. Disruptions of parliament became a feature during Mr. Gandhi’s times. The media and the academia were polarised, with the pro and anti-Indira camps articulating their positions quite overtly.

Though Rajiv Gandhi was more civil and polished as a politician, the road-roller majority he had led him to get 63 MPs suspended from the Lok Sabha on 15th March, 1989 when the Justice Thakkar Commission report over the assassination of Indira Gandhi was tabled in the House. Rajiv Gandhi too ruled with the help of a small coterie consisting of Arun Nehru, Arun Singh, Sam Pitroda and a few others. Rajiv was less ideologically driven, which is why debates in the media and academia were not strident during his term as Prime Minister.

The tenure of V. P. Singh led National Front government, which rode to power on the back of Mandal Politics was short-lived, though it heralded in a more visible manner the need for politics anchored around social justice.

The next discernible phase in Indian Politics began with the rise to power of the BJP-led NDA government headed by Vajpayee and Advani. With that began the overt phase of Hindutva polics. However, Vajpayee kept the Hindutva forces under check and endeared himself to the leaders of the 20-odd Parties which formed part of his coalitiion government. Sharing of power reduced the chances for centralisation of power and a strong ideology-driven politics. It also removed the chances for a high command driven politics. Similar was the feature of the Dr. Manmohan Singh led UPA government.

The coming to power of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in 2014 and its return to power in 2019 led to a stridently Hindutva oriented politics in India. It has also unleashed a return to the era of the high command politics, which for all practical purposes has led to centralization of decision-making by Modi and Amit Shah, with the Party President J. P. Nadda being driven to the position of a figure head. Internal democracy has been thrown to the winds, as it is the Modi-Shah duo who decide who should be made chief ministers of states, as was seen recently in the case of Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP came to power and retained power respectively. By a shrewd practice of caste-based distribution of positions, Modi and Shah have also taken care to appease the tribals, OBCs and the forward castes with an eye on their votes in 2024. The unparalleled suspension of 141 members of Parliament—the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha caved in to the whims and fancies of the government—is a pointer to the autocratic manner of functioning of the central government.

The upcoming inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on 22nd January 2024 will be exploited by the Modi Government to put the Hindutva agenda on the forefront to drum up electoral support to recapture power in 2024. PM Modi is already making repeated references to his his return to power. The aggressive use of Hindi, as seen by the Hindi nomenclature of the Bills passed by the government is a symbol of the stridency of Hindi-Hindutva politics by the BJP. In such a milieu, academic analysis/writings too are largely polarised, with independent voices receding to the background. At the larger level, fears of delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies after 2026 being used to pack the Parliament to the numerical advantage of the Hindi-belt states vis-a-vis the southern states are gaining ground. Surely, such things do not bode well for the Indian Republic, which is known for its linguistic, religious and ethnic identities.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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