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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 46, November 8, 2014

Imperatives of Secular-Democratic Unity

Sunday 9 November 2014, by Barun Das Gupta

The Congress suffered its worst ever electoral defeat in this year’s Lok Sabha elections. What has been happening since then is that the two fundamental tenets of our polity, namely, secularism and democracy, are being challenged by the ruling party which came to power after solemnly taking the oath to uphold the Constitution. Secularism is being frontally attacked. Secularists are called pseudo-secularists and appeasers of minority communalism. Democracy has not been formally opposed yet but there is no denying that the democratic space is shrinking.

There is an effort, thanks mainly to the constant and high-voltage propaganda of the electronic media, at regimentation of thought in favour of the ruling party and its philosophy. For the first time in free India’s history, Doordarshan—the official TV channel of the government—made a live telecast of the speech of the RSS Sarsanghchalak at the foundation day rally of the organisation. This blatant misuse of the sarkari media is being defended on the precious plea of the Prasar Bharati being an ‘autonomous’ body which is not controlled by the government.

The challenge to our polity is, indeed, quite grave. To battle and defeat the forces that pose the challenge, the unity of all secular and democratic forces—parties, non-political bodies and individuals— is necessary. In such a broad-based framework of unity, the support and participation of tens of millions of Congress supporters and voters, spread throughout the length and breadth of the country, is essential. Another contingent of this secular-democratic unity will be the Left.

 Will it be possible for the Left to win over the Congress-supporting masses by approaching them directly, bypassing the party and its leadership? The obvious answer is ‘No’.

Here lies a problem. The Congress suffered such a humiliating defeat because of its adoption and pursuance of the neo-liberal agenda under US pressure when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister and Manmohan Singh was his Finance Minister. That was in 1991-92.

Since then the Congress has been vigorously implementing this agenda which, to put it tersely, is jettisoning of the Nehruvian policies and concepts. Mixed economy is being given the go-by. Public sector undertakings made with the people’s money are being sold for a song to the private sector. The necessity of the Planning Commission started being questioned during the later part of the UPA-II regime. Modi formally announced its intekaal from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day.

The neo-liberal policy bred, one after another, huge financial scams that defrauded the public exchequer of lakhs of crores of rupees. Market economy made a mess of the national economy, with a run-away inflation raising prices of all commodities including food and vegetables, steadily depreciating the rupee against the dollar and increasing the current account deficit. The alienation of the Congress from the large masses of people started. It was reminiscent of the post-Emergency situation in 1977. The inevitable result was the defeat and decimation of the Congress at the hustings. It is idle to believe that a better ‘communicator’ than Rahul Gandhi to take on Narendra Modi on behalf of the Congress, would have made the result much different.

The Congress, even after suffering such a defeat, has not disavowed the Manmohan legacy. It has not rejected the neo-liberal policy. There is not an iota of evidence to suggest that a churning has started in the Congress to find out what has gone wrong. There is no indication yet that it is trying to go back to its Nehruvian moorings. The Congress President and other party heavyweights are still praising Manmohan Singh and his great contribution in accelerating ‘growth’. In fact growth is the new magic word. Nobody questions growth for whom, growth for what, growth at what cost and at whose cost?

Unless the Congress formally abjures the neo-liberal policy and all that follows from it, it will, indeed, be difficult for the Left to work together with Congress for building a broad unity of secular-democratic forces, which is the crying need of the hour. If the Congress and the Left join hands, it will be easy to persuade other parties and individuals to join it. For the Congress and the Left to come together to defend secularism and democracy, the Congress will have to live down its Manmohan past and the Left will have to give up its sectarianism and the tendency to dominate.

 To argue, as Prasenjit Bose (who was with the CPI-M till June 2012) has done in a recent article in The Indian Express, that to “ally with the Congress once again, the CPM has to ideologically make peace with the neoliberal policy framework, which in turn will destroy its very raison d’etre” and to say that “Efforts to keep the sinking ship of the CPM in West Bengal afloat merely through an alliance with another sinking ship like the Congress can lead to a bigger disaster. What the Left as a whole should aim for is providing a credible and popular alternative to the BJP in future, independent of the Congress” is to oversimplify the problem.

The Left has to understand that due to its declining strength it cannot talk to the Congress from a position of strength. It has to be persuasive rather than aggressive. Secondly, the specifics of the situation in West Bengal cannot be the sole determinant in formulating a national policy on building up a secular-democratic platform. The CPI-M and the Left as such will have to give up its myopic view of the all-India situation and disabuse itself of such absurd notions as “providing a credible and popular alternative” to both the BJP and Congress. This is just not possible in the present circumstances. Both the Congress and the Left should try to come closer and remove the obstacles in the way.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.