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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 1 New Delhi December 23, 2017 - Annual Number

When Rahul Comes .......!

Sunday 24 December 2017

by Binoy Viswam

The mood in the Congress can be called a mood of euphoria. Congress workers, young and old, are celebrating Rahul Gandhi’s elevation to the presidentship of the Congress. They are destined to believe that this promotion would bring about a sea-change in the course of the history of their party and the nation. They have every right to be jubilant after a long period of distress and disappointment. Leaders like A.K. Antony went to the extent of drawing parallels between the happenings at the 1929 Lahore Congress and the present seanario.

It was at the Lahore session of the Congress 88 years ago that Jawaharlal Nehru took over the reins of the party from Motilal Nehru. Moreover it was at that session that the Congress adopted the goal of ‘poorna swaraj’ (complete independence). Until then, the party, founded in 1885, was demanding only dominion status under the British crown. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his own style compared it with the change of guard in the Mughal dynasty. As it often happens, debates revolved around this. Such war of words is just much ado about nothing. Matters related to policies are never discussed in such kind of debates.

People should seek answers from Rahul and the Congress on pertinent questions related to policies. The country is eager to know about Rahul Gandhi’s ideas as regards the future India, in which direction he intends to lead the Congress? Conspicuously Rahul Gandhi is silent on such serious matters, though in recent months he has been more vocal than in the past. This was not the case with Nehru. At the historic Lahore session Nehru took over the stewardship of the party in order to give a new vision to the Congress. Nehru was eager to give a new face and new soul to the Congress to transform it into an instrument to fight for poorna swaraj. In his presidential speech Nehru said;

“Brick by brick has our national movement been built up, and often on the prostrate bodies of her martyred sons has India advanced. .....When everything is changing it is well to remember the long course of Indian history. Few things in history are more amazing than the wonderful stability of the social structure in India which withstood the impact of numerous alien influences and thousands of years of change and conflict. It withstood them because it always sought to absorb them and tolerate them. Its aim was not to exterminate but to establish an equilibrium between different cultures. Aryans and non-Aryans settled down together recognising each other’s right to their culture, and outsiders who came, like the Parsis, found a welcome and a place in the social order. With the coming of the Muslims the equilibrium was disturbed, but India sought to restore it, and largely succeeded. Unhappily for us, before we could adjust our differences, the political structure broke down, the British came and we fell....

....Great as was the success of India in evolving a stable society, she failed in a vital particular, and because she failed in this, she fell and remains fallen. No solution was found for the problem of equality. India deliberately ignored this and build up her social structure on inequality, and we have the tragic consequences of this policy—millions of our people who till yesterday were suppressed and had little opportunity for growth....

.........India also will have to find a solution to this problem, and until she does so, her political and social structure cannot have stability. That solution need not necessarily follow the example of any other country. It must, if it has to endure, be based on the genius of her people and be an outcome of her thought and culture. And when it is found, the unhappy difference between various communities, which trouble us today and keep back our freedom, will automatically disappear....

.....Yet we cannot ignore the problems that beset us and that make or mar our struggle and our future constitution. We have to aim at social adjustment and equilibrium, and to overcome the forces of disruption that have been the bane of India.....We have three major problems - the minorities, the Indian states, and labour and peasantry..... I shall only repeat that we must give the fullest assurance by our words and deeds that their culture and traditions will be safe....

...For India means the peasantry and labour, and to the extent that we raise them and satisfy their wants, will we succeed in our task. And the measure of the strength of our national movement will be the measure of their adherence to it. We can only gain them to our side by espousing their cause, which is really the country’s cause. The Congress has often expressed its goodwill toward them, but beyond that it has not gone. The Congress, it is said, must hold the balance fairly between capital and labour and zamindar and tenant. We have to decide for whose benefit industry must be run and the land produce food. Today the abundance that the land produces is not for the peasant or the labourer who work on it, and industry’s chief function is supposed to be to produce millionaires. Our economic programme must, therefore, be based on a human outlook and must not sacrifice man to money.”

When someone talks about Nehru and the Lahore Congress and tries to intertwine the same with Rahul Gandhi’s ascendance to presidentship, the above words of Nehru (in fact the whole text of his presidential address) should be read and reread. Without understanding the spirit of Nehru’s presidential address at Lahore there is no meaning in making any comparison.

Needless to say, gigantic changes have taken place in the socio-political content of the country since 1929, the year of the Lahore Congress. The space occupied by the Congress has also been drastically changed. Congress under the leadership of Nehru and guidance of Mahatma Gandhi became the the biggest mass force in the struggle for independence. India’s freedom movement was the convergence of various streams of struggle committed to the cause of national emancipation. It was the Communist Party which for the first time placed the goal of complete independence before the national agenda. Workers and peasants’ movements, students and youth, organisations of young revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, the INA led by Subhash Chandra Bose, RIN Mutiny etc. had contributed to the victory of the freedom struggle. The Congress, the biggest movement amongst all, maintained some sort of a love and hate relationship with many of these movements and forms of struggles. Such conflicts and contacts also form part of the Congress legacy. At this juncture a political student may naturally ask whether Rahul Gandhi is aware of that legacy.

The Congress in post-independence India underwent a lot of changes though its class character remained basically unchanged. For several decades it held absolute control over political power. Till 1967, for two decades it had the monopoly of power. During its long history since 1885, the Congress party has witnessed several ups and downs and today when Rahul assumes the post of President the party it is down to the lowest position it has ever experienced. Challenges before the Congress as well as the nation are of grave nature. Fundamental principles on which the Indian Republic was built are under attack. The situation has become more complex as this attack is unleashed by the present ruling forces themselves. They are completely controlled by an organisation which played no role in the making of modern India, including the freedom struggle. Their ideology always remains in bitter conflict with every idea of pluralism. It is not accidental that sovereignty, democracy, secularism and socialism found its place in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. It was the natural outcome of the Indian struggle for independence of which the present rulers are consciously ignorant. That is why they are bent on suppressing the values of secularism with their concept of Hindu Rashtra, a theocratic state. Their enmity to Nehru breeds from their enmity to secularism and scientific temper for which Nehru was an ardent fighter. One of the important questions at this point of time is whether Rahul Gandhi is equipped to lead his party in this great war of ideas that is, secularism versus theocracy.

This is the moment for the Congress to do serious introspection. They should ask themselves why the party fell into such a deep crisis. Why many of its leaders, including stalwarts, left the party and joined ultrareac-tionary and communal BJP? Why did the dividing line between the Congress and BJP narrow down to such a pathetic level? The debacle of the Congress was not an overnight phenomenon. It was rather a long process due to socio-economic and ideological problems. In fact the downfall of the Congress gathered speed during the 1990s, when the party landed in the lap of globalisation. In its absolute subservience to neo-liberalism the Congress forgot its own legacy. It bade farewell to the ideas upheld by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Joining the bandwagon of globalisation, the Congress was paving the way for its ruin. The Congress governments at the Centre and in States were immersed in scams and corruptions. The party, which used to swear in the name of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru, nakedly became the advocate of corporate plunder and large scale corruption. Vast sections of Dalits, OBCs and minorities, traditional supporters of that party, were alienated. Till this day none in the Congress was dared to analyse the reasons for this erosion of their base. These gigantic failures of the Congress opened the doors of opportunity for the Sangh Parivar led by the RSS. That’s how the BJP captured political power in the 2014 elections.

During the BJP rule the country has witnessed the real face of communal fascism. As a true follower of Mussolini and Hitler, the BJP is trying to divide the nation in racial-communal lines. It has further made India a country of the hungry and poor. In the recently published Global Hunger Index, India stands at the 100th place among 116 nations. Young people of India are knocking at every door in search of jobs. Predictions say that 67 per cent of jobs will be curtailed in the coming days due to automation. Farmers’ suicides, child deaths, malnutrition etc. point to the real face of Indian development. In order to hide their failures the RSS is playing up vicious communalism in the name of faith and God. Their propaganda mills work overtime to convince the people that there is no alternative to the BJP rule. People, who cherish national values, hope for a broad platform of secular, democratic and Left forces to fight the communal menace. Rahul comes to the centre-stage in such a grave political situation. How is he gearing up himself to address these issues? Nobody expects the Congress to become a party with a Leftist character, even though Nehru had nourished such a dream in the early days. But for a revival the Congress has to undergo drastic changes. It should recapture its secular credentials and democratic ethics. For that Congress workers in general and Rahul in particular have to rediscover Nehru and carry out major policy changes. The future of the Congress depends on this, not on any peripheral medicament. Would Rahul Gandhi be able to understand the gravity of the challenges before him? Critical days before 2019 elections may provide one the answer.

The author, a former Minister of Forests and Housing in the erstwhile LDF Government in Kerala, is a member of the National Executive of the CPI.

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