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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

The Road Ahead

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The following editorial, written in the Mainstream Annual 1970, is being reproduced here as this journal completes fortyfive years of dedicated service to the nation.

Eight years ago Mainstream came into existence with a pledge which, through the stresses and strains of a momentous as well as difficult decade, it has endeavoured honestly to live up to, with a measure of success, although the goal it set before itself is still far off.

In its inaugural issue, in 1962, Mainstream took this pledge: “Faith in the people of India is our shield and armour; determination to resist all attempts to withhold the fruits of freedom from them our only weapon. It shall be our endeavour to try relentlessly to demolish the wall of misunderstan-ding, mutual suspicion and even personal pique that divides progressive sections in the country.”

As the ninth year begins, we look back upon the period that has elapsed with only a trace of satisfaction, for despite the favourable circumstances that have developed in the country, unity and solidarity of the progressive forces is still far from having been achieved, and the people’s battle against reaction has barely been joined.

With the death of Jawaharlal Nehru an era came to an end. While stability was indeed maintained somehow, the direction that Nehru had given to the country’s economic and social development and to its foreign policy was sought to be changed to suit Western interests. That it would not be easy to reverse national policies became clear to those in the ruling party who had till then remained silent because of the massive presence of Nehru; this was most clearly brought out when Lal Bahadur Shastri had to beat a hasty retreat after having declared his intention to stray away from what he described as “the beaten track”. But the Western lobby was powerfully entrenched in the ruling party as well as in the administration, and the first year of Srimati Indira Gandhi’s Prime Ministership was marked by submission to American dictates, as in the case of devaluation of the rupee, and by vacillations on foreign policy issues as evidenced by the contradictory positions taken by the Prime Minister herself.

The Congress party paid for its drift and inaction on the socio-economic front in the Fourth General Election. The massive popular discontent over the failure of the party to live up to its promises of radical economic change in favour of the impoverished majority was demonstrated in the shape of the monopoly of power of the Congress being broken and many of its leading lights being rejected by the electorate. The 1967 verdict had to be a negative one; the people were rejecting the established order without being able to give themselves a clear-cut alternative.

The emergence of United Front governments thus marked a decisive stage in the growth into maturity of Indian democracy. If the people were not able to install in power a viable alternative in the many States in which the Congress had been thrown out, it was in fact the inevitable reflection of the failure of the progressive political parties to provide an effective and purposeful alternative. Brave attempts were no doubt made as in West Bengal and Kerala, but these foundered on the rock of mutual intolerance on the part of Left leadership which should have known better. In many of the States blind anti-Congressism produced a combination of forces which included rabid Right reaction at one end and aimless Left adventurism at the other, with a whole range of shades in between. In some States the Left merely helped to provide respectability to reactionary regimes. And the mutual suspicions and jealousies within the Left—particularly the running battle between the CPI and the CPM, with the Naxalites emerging as snippers from the side-lines, and the strange combination of adventurism and opportunism that made up the directionless leadership of the SSP—retarded progress towards the cherished goal of a new social order which the people had set before themselves.

There can be no doubt that the people’s verdict in the Fourth General Election and the mid-term polls in certain States in the subsequent period made at least a section of the Congress leadership and ranks realise that neither subservience to vested interests nor inaction in relation to economic issues of vital importance to the people as a whole could improve the party’s image or strength among the masses. The Left within the Congress—which sections of the Left outside like the SSP and the CPM had treated with contempt—demonstrated to the party leadership that it could not be taken for granted. The campaign against the monopoly houses, particularly the Birlas, taken up in right earnest by Leftist Congressmen showed that once issues were posed squarely, widespread mass support could be ensured. Many parties of the Left had grudgingly to concede that the position taken by the CPI from earlier on about the progessive sections in the Congress had a substantial measure of justification.

It soon became clear to many in the Congress that its leadership could no longer play the old game of drift in relation to radical economic changes, on the one hand, and subservience to big business houses and rural vested interests, on the other. The Syndicate representing the strength of reaction within the Congress, saw that it had to fight for survival instead of ruling the roost as before. Smt Gandhi, sensing the mood within her party and among the masses, threw her weight against the Synidicate and indicated her readiness to face a split if it came. And it did come, towards the end of last year: it showed the clay feet of several top Congress leaders who, helped by an obliging monopoly press, had strutted about pretending to be giants.

Rid of the Syndicate load, the Congress has shown itself capable of some action: the nationalisation of banks and the abolition of princes’ Privy Purses perhaps provide the most striking illustrations. But it has also been clear over the past year that the Congress party has not got rid of its legacy of loyalty to vested interests. This was brought out, for example, by the way fresh concessions were granted to big business houses even after pious declarations to the contrary were made at the Bombay session of the ruling party. The long delay in the introduction of the Bill to abolish Privy Purses and princely privileges, the fact of the Left forces having had to exert enormous pressure to get the Patents Bill through after two decades of vacillation, the unimaginative if not critical reaction to the land occupation movement, the failure to nationalise general insurance despite a commitment to that effect, the tendency to treat the rabid communal organisations on the same footing as the Left extremists—these are a few examples of the inability of the Congress even now to adjust itself to the mood and the needs of the masses of India.

So far as the Left is concerned, there are indeed signs of realisation that without unity the progressive parties cannot meet the challenge of the Rightist forces. This awareness was partly created by the concerted efforts to build a reactionary axis by the Syndicate, the Jana Sangh and the Swatantra Party. But opportunism in the Left is still a strong factor; hence the ability of a section of the SSP leadership to confuse issues every time and assist the Right-wing axis at the cost of the people. Hence too the strange role being played by the CPM in the two States where it could have really played the part of unifier of the Left and stabilised United Front governments to the satisfaction of the people. Even the land movement, powerful as its impact has been, could have been very much more fruitful and impressive but for the aloofness of the CPM and the diversionary stunts of the SSP. These parties are yet to realise that socialism cannot be achieved either by opportunistic adjustments and compromises with the parties of reaction or by aggressive overlordship over other parties in a United Front.

It is high time for the progressive fores in the country to realise the historic responsibility that lies on their shoulders. The problems that beset the country demand basic changes in the entire set-up, both economic and political. If the bare necessities of life have not yet been provided for the vast majority of the country despite the riches that it possesses; if millions upon millions are every year forced into the long queues of the unemployed; if the economic disparities have been growing with the rich indulging in fabulous luxuries while the minimum social service amenities are denied to the common people; and if with their unearned and ill-gotten wealth the rich are allowed to pollute public life—then it is to be recognised that mere fringe reforms cannot change the state of things in the country. Fundamental institutional changes are called for; not only the princelings created by the British (and preserved by Sardar Patel’s unwisdom), but many of the modern Moghuls of India today have to go with the winds.

The writing on the wall is not difficult to decipher. The masses have awakened into consciousness at a much faster tempo than the political parties. This is true not only with the Congress but practically with all the forward-looking forces in the country. If the reactionary parties of the Right can still maintain a foothold in the nation’s political life, the reason for it lies in the inadequacy in understanding and competence of the Left leadership itself. It is necessary that this shortcoming on the part of the progressive forces is overcome by determined and conscious efforts, so that they can discharge the role that the masses expect of them to play.

The new situation in the country opens up tremendous possibilities for the progressive forces to unite and lead the people of India towards the goal of socialism. Such unity can be forged only on the basis of rejecting any connection with the parties of reaction and agents of vested interests and of evolving a common plan of action to mobilise the masses for the grim battle against entrenched interests of all kinds. Despite the doubts created by the conduct of some of the Leftist parties it is the hope of the common people that all the Leftist parties in the country will strive towards forging a united front against reaction. To miss the opportunity now would be no less than betrayal of the people; this is a charge to which the progressive parties cannot afford to expose themselves. This is as true of the Leftists in the Congress as those outside it.

Mainstream as it enters on the ninth year of its modest but purposeful career pledges once again to carry on with this crusade with the same single-minded dedication with which it had set out on its journey eight years ago.

(Mainstream Annual 1970)

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