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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 30 New Delhi July 16, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

Sunday 17 July 2016, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

It is almost platitudinous to say that this nation has reached the crossroads. In a sense, one reaches the crossroads with every new situation. But more than in the ordinary sense, there is no denying the fact that India today has definitely reached the point which demands clear answer to the question: Where do we go from here?

Whatever might have been the immediate motivation behind the imposition of National Emergency, it may safely be stated that the first phase of this extraordinary development is over. This is the phase which has been marked by euphoria, excitement or tension—depending on the angle from which one looks at it. It is in this period that certain reforms have been reiterated as could be seen in the widely publicised Twenty-Point Economic Programme; at the same time, the compulsions of the state of Emergency have brought about certain amount of toning up of the administrative machinery, the examples of which are provided by better time-keeping of the railway and of the postal services, regular attendance in offices and factories, abjuration of work-stoppage in the sphere of production, and a sense of urgency in maintaining the public distribution system, even if its promised expansion is yet to take place.

On the programmatic plane, there is noticeable advance. From mere passing of party-level resolutions promising reforms (and in this respect, too, one can of course claim progress from the Ten Points of 1967 to Twenty Points of 1975), there is all-round exhortation by public leaders at different tiers of relevance, calling upon the flocks under their command to take up the implementation of the declared programme. From resolutions to exhortations marks a perceptible advance in commitment. For, the constant reiteration of even old resolutions—even if they do not necessarily bring about a new situation by themselves—has the merit of making a commitment more irrevocable, and later it becomes more difficult to escape from the hazards of its non-fulfilment not only in terms of credibility before the masses but of the viability of the national economy as well.

In the sphere of party organisation, there is a perceptible awareness among a larger section of Congressmen that the old-style functioning cannot go hand-in-hand with the new responsi-bilities that the programmatic assurances to the masses involve. There is groping for the setting up of the implementation machinery at different levels of mass activity, while, at least or the formal place, the need for joint work with like-minded elements such as the Communists, is more widely felt than before.

While these may be regarded as the noteworthy features of the period since the Emergency, it would be a dangerously compla-cent view of men and things if it is claimed that the very act of imposition of the Emergency has staved off the bid of Reaction to come on top. To say that the tragic denouement in Bangladesh with the ghastly killing of Mujibur Rahman and his family and entourage is the vindication of the Emergency in our country, is rather a naive and simplistic reading of a very complex situation. For one thing, the Mujib regime was run, at least from the beginning of this year, on what may be called the impositionof super-emergency with political parties dissolved, the press folded up except for government organs, and the administration immune from effective and organised mass pressure; in other words, the emergence of one-pillar regime instead of ensuring a centralised and cohesive instrument of social advance, made it possible for the forces of Reaction, both indigenous and foreign, to burrow in and bring down the entire edifice that was expected to take the country forward.

The experience of Bangladesh, no doubt, has its lessons for India. If anything, it demonstrates that the wielding of extraordinary powers, however important and necessary they may be felt by the Authority, does not per se plug all the conduits of Reaction. History is replete with instances—more telling than the happenings in Bangladesh—in which reactionary forces, outlawed by edicts, were found to have made desperate efforts at destabilisation, to the utter surprise of the democratic forces which had looked upon the demonstration of extraordinary powers as a protective shield. In a country as vast as ours, with levels of development so uneven, Reaction takes many and devious forms. To fight such a menace, much more is wanted than administrative ukase.

The surest guarantee against any inroad of reactionary forces is the need to rouse the political consciousness of the masses. This does not mean only the publicising of any programme of reforms or only rousing their expectations that the basket of reforms is to be found round the corner.

It is indeed a stroke of luck that the foodgrains production this year has been high with a very good harvest, though one cannot say the same thing about the qunatum of procutement despite all the talk of a fair deal for the have-not. Even the devastating floods have their plus point in so far as they keep the hydel plant going and thereby help to reduce the acute power shortage. The measures taken against the inflationary process—started long before the Emergency, roughly from the time the government put down the Railway strike last year—are having their salutary impact.

The present climate in the country may seem to be a deterrent against unbridled black-marketing, but the stability of the economy—on which mainly depends the capacity to hold down prices—demands many measures of a basic nature.

The prevailing sense of impatience for drastically amending the Constitution—no doubt, sometimes betraying a lack of well-thought-out understanding of its implications—can be gainfaully harnessed if it is used for rectifying the inadequacies as well as obstacles to orderly advance towards a progressive change in the balance of social forces. But such a change in the balance of forces can hardly be brought about by the mere exercise of the authority of a two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass forward-looking legislation. What is wanted urgently is, first of all, a clear perspective; secondly, the determination not to deviate from it; and thirdly, the forging of mass sanction to effect forcial transformation.

In the matter of perspective, there is no dearth of pronouncements from political leaders about their intention to bring about socialism in this country. Good intentions, however, well-meant and loudly proclaimed, are no abstitute for concrete action. When one talks aboiut strengthening the national economy—which, in our context, is an essential pre-requisite for social change—there must be no denigrating of the public sector, some elements in the close poximity of Indira Gandhi seem to be doing, the proof of which is provided by a recent controversial, though still-born, interview. Personal opinions of individuals yet holding any office of authority, it is true, need not be exaggerated beyond proportion, as one could, in oridnary circumstances, interpret the Prime Minister’s presence at a widely-noted dinner at the American Ambassador’s residence recently, as only a rather out-of-the-ordinary gesture of goodwill.

Such incidents, taken in isolation may not have raised any speculation, but when these are taken in their totality along with such striking testimonials to the multinationals coupled with pathetically wistful implorings for US aid on the part of the Finance Minister, there can be legitimate ground for misgivings about the emerging perspective that is to shape the foreign economic strategy of the government. Sri Subramaniam’s plan for setting up rural banks, with the World Bank funds but without taxing the rural rich, deserves serious note of every patriotic Congressman. Those who think that the popularisation of the Twenty-Point Progra-mme is by itself a guarantee for socio-economic advance, tend to forget that the first party to welcome it within a couple of hours of its announcement, as pragmatically realistic, was the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, then already fortified by the Prime Minister’s official assurance against further nationalisation.

It would therefore be wrong to deny that there may be room for confusion about the direction of developments. It is for the government to faithfully project its commit-ments at home into foreign and economic policies abroad. Without this, there is bound to be a lack of perspective and, along with it, the absence of the determination to hold on to a progressive one.

On the question of forging the instrument for social change, the responsibility inevitably lies, to a very large measure, upon the Congress party that is invested with political power. There have so far been in the last two months plenty of paper-work on the structure of the machinery of implementation. But the machi-nery is yet to be set up, while the out-look, the orientation and the style of work of the Congress organisation show little sign of any radical change. The Kulak lobby, about which so much was heard of in the last two years, has not been washed off with the monsoon floods; it is very much there, and if it is not fought, it will break the Congress itself and make a mockery of all talks of agrarian reforms.

From an electioneering party machine with funds available in abundance, the Congress has to change itself into a party of dedicated crusaders with the same spirit of tenacious work and self-sacrifice as it was imbued with in the struggle for independence. If it fails on this score, no amount of joint committees can save the situation.

It is fashionble on the part of many politicians to throw all the blame on the bureaucracy. What they tend to forget is that under the Emergency, when the bureaucracy has, in the natural course, been armed with enormous powers, the urgency of sustained work to set the masses in motion can be ignored only at the peril to political life itself. The drive against Black Money has been left entirely as a police action, while the virtual shelving of the enquiry into the Birla affairs has been forgotten by the Congress MPs. The PM’s warning to the officials not to abuse their newly acquired powers can be effective only if there is vigilance on the part of political forces. All these point to the urgency of all democratic forces to unite with the responsive Communists belonging to different parties together with responsible sections of the Socialists in the common task of enforcing the declared national programme.

This is the challenge of the new phase of the complex situation in our country today. Without the churning of unprecedented mass upsurge, there is not only no question of implementing any programme of reforms, but there is the real danger of reactionary forces undermining the present democratic fabric itself. If this nation has to survive, it cannot afford to be in a state of depoliticisation, but has to go in for political activity of unprecedented magnitude.

There can be no resting place at the crossroads: the nation has to go ahead, the point is that it must take the road that leads to the destination which it has set before itself.

(‘Editor’s Notebook’, Mainstream Annual Number, September 18, 1975)