Home > 2018 > Non-Congressism to Anti-BJPism: India’s Political Imperative

Mainstream, VOL LVI No 12 New Delhi March 10, 2018

Non-Congressism to Anti-BJPism: India’s Political Imperative

Monday 12 March 2018

by Vijay Pratap

Lohia’s Non-Congressism

Non-Congressism was born out of the imagination of a political leader who died on October 12, 1967 at the age of fiftyseven, when his dreams were still alive. Dr Rammanohar Lohia had put forward the idea that all Opposition groups should come together to provide an alternative to the Congress.

For Lohia, it was not an easy task for many reasons. The Congress had not exhausted all its moral and political potential. Opposition parties like the Communist Parties, Socialist Parties, that is, Samyukta Socialist Party and Praja Socialist Party, Swatantra Party, Jana Sangh were all ideological parties. At that time all the five fundamental dimensions of political work (electoral battles, ideological work, organisational work, democratic struggles and constructive experiments) were undertaken by the parties and its allied organisations almost as one organic whole. For a present-day student of Indian polity, it is very difficult to imagine how parties were much more than just an election machine. The leaderships of these Opposition groups were very committed to their respective ideological positions. It was almost sacrilegious to think of the SSP and Swatantra Party or the Jana Sangh and CPI sharing the same political platform. It required a man of Lohia’s intellectual boldness and radical credibility that the Jana Sangh and CPI were in the same Cabinets of Bihar and UP, which were led by erstwhile Congressmen, with Lohia Socialists almost acting as a bridge or translator between different ideological extremes.

There are two polar opposite viewpoints to judge Lohia’s non-Congressism. One viewpoint sees it as merely a tactical, anti-ideological move to gain political power. This viewpoint holds that this move resulted in the weakening of the ideological fervour of the Socialist and Communist Parties, giving a new-found legitimacy to the RSS-Jana Sangh. Many of the Socialists and Communists, who were part of this experiment, secretly believed or openly conceded that it was a historical blunder and both the Marxist Left and non-Marxist Left should not have entered into such an unholy alliance.

I want to state my conclusions upfront before I explain my viewpoint. If we analyse Lohia’s ideological journey as one single whole, rooted in its dynamic context and not bound by any dogmas, then the most logical conclusion will be two fold: (1) Lohia’s tactical vision had philosophical underpinnings. This line was based on sound understanding of our multilayered Indian society and limitations of various ideological sub-streams, and therefore the need for an ideological churning for rebuilding India in the framework created by our national movement. (2) My interpretation is that had Lohia been alive today his tactical line of non-Congressism would have taken the form of non-BJPism.

Before we go into the argument why the only national policy today should be non-BJPism, first let us go into some more details of the other viewpoint which does not regard anti-Congressism as mere tactical, unholy and power-seeking strategy. This view is not a rationalisation by Lohia-bhakts. If we closely examine the speeches of Dr Lohia and his other colleagues who propagated the idea of non-Congressism, then what clearly emerges is a different picture. Non-Congressism, in one sentence, was a reaffirmation of ‘Congress values’ or values of the freedom struggle. Lohia, without becoming megalomanic, was engaging with the limitations of all the parties he was attempting to bring together. For example, he was acutely aware of the narrow RSS/Jana Sangh understanding of Hinduism. While the Swatantra Party could be seen as reflecting authentic liberal values, the CPI reflecting values of economic democracy and social justice, through the Jana Sangh he hoped to inject the ideas of reforming Hinduism on issues of gender, caste, religious and linguistic diversity, instilling ideas of pluralistic/composite identities in India and also some level of self-confidence so that they come out of the seige/persecuted mentality. He was not only trying to engage with the professed perspectives and claims of nation-building of the then Opposition parties, he was at the same time seeking fundamental transformation of their visions.

After Gandhiji, Dr Lohia was perhaps the only leader who actively campaigned politically and to a large extent succeeded on many issues of socio-cultural reform. We all know how when Gandhiji was trying to unite Hindus, Muslims and all other segments of the Indian people since the 1920s, the RSS was actively dividing them on religious lines. The views of Gandhi and Lohia about reform of the Hindus were diametrically opposite to that of the RSS. Lohia reinterpreted important Hindu mythological figures like Ram, Krishna, Shiv, Sita and Draupadi, giving them new cultural meaning, redefining the sense of beauty and aesthetics, challenging the very basis of the caste system, working for positive affirmative policies for the peasant and artisan communities, OBCs, Dalits, among minorities and women of all castes. Thus he actively campaigned for a cultural and social revolution in the country.

Taking on the “hurt” psyche of upper-caste Hindus, completely contrary to the way the RSS/Jana Sangh did, he took it head-on and pleaded to annihilate the caste system totally, if they wanted not to get defeated in future. He expounded that Hinduism has to undergo a fundamental transformation regarding its attitude to gender issues, sexuality and its attributed linkages to the notion of morality, especially with reference to women. The Hindu self-definition was also sought to be changed; he called himself Aadhaa-Hindu-Aadhaa-Musalman, (Half-Hindu-Half-Muslim).

To go back to my basic arguments, if Lohia’s had been merely a tactical alliance-making, he would have maintained a tactical silence on the areas of disagreement, but he remained continuously vocal and actively campaigning on the issues he believed in even while attempting to bring together the parties as part of his non-Congressism. The present opportunistic alliances one is witnessing (where, for instance, in 2002, when Dr Shambhu Sharan Shrivastava criticised the Gujarat riots, he was removed from spokepersonship of the Samata Party by none other than George Fernandes) lead today’s commentators to view Lohia’s non-Congressism as similarly opportunistic, but that interpretation would be a grave mis-interpretation.

Why Anti-BJPism

Winding fast-forward to the present, I want to respond to the complaint of those seeking an alternative to the BJP in government and finding the Congress leadership wanting. Rahul is not revolutionary enough? But the challenge is to puncture the speed of pervasive lawlessness, pockets of authoritarianism and universal decline and destruction of institutions, erosion of professional ethics, in the name of ease of doing business actively destroying small and medium businesses, abandoning policies of positive affirmative action from premium institutions like the JNU, outsourcing the government’s responsibilities in health in a manner that it does not improve the health of the general masses but only leads to the amassing of wealth by globally networked wealthy people, government jobs being outsourced as contract jobs. The government is not saving much in this manner, only depriving the working classes of their right to minimum standards of dignified life. The UPA or Congress or NF were not perfect examples of efforts to realise this vision. But there were forces within and outside, pushing towards these goals of realising comprehensive democracy.

This (present) regime is actively seeking shrinkage of democratic spaces, by hegemonic control over these spaces whereever possible and where immediate control is not possible, their cynical destruction is being undertaken. No society can move forward with a sense of self-esteem in such a situation. Modi is actively propagating falsehood regarding our national heroes, freedom struggle and, above all, regarding our contemporary reality. Denial of composite culture, identities on the ground, encouraging violent suppression of the emergence of new, futuristic global and national identities. Many have called the present times the age of an IT revolution, and yet the kind of disrespect Modi shows for Sam Pitroda, the pioneer of bringing the communication revolution to India as a precursor to the IT revolution, and the political leadership provided by Rajiv Gandhi for this revolution, is inexplicable. In making modern knowledge societies, the communication revolution, IT revolution and good knowledge advancement, a transfer dissemination system is required. It has to be complex (encompassing pursuit of all branches of sciences, creating newer technologies, critically examining the technology’s compatibility with society) using the tools provided by philosophy and social sciences. How much our present political leadership understands these issues can be seen by comparing the content analysis of speeches and actions of Modi’s Education Minister with NDA’s own previous Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi. What the first PM and first Education Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, thought about education-culture-science-technological advancement is beyond Modi and Smriti Irani’s comprehension; that is why they speak the way they do about such nation-builders. They do not only show their poor understanding of nation-building, they also show their own megalomanic self-destructive tendencies. But these tendencies become a matter of concern for all patriotic people. Modiji has done great disservice to the pschye of young learners, who have been told that exams are like a ritual to be cracked by what is common for poor students called a kunji, the so-called made easy books that undermine their sense of imagination, enquiry, innovation and excellence.This level of simplification and ignorance, narrowness of vision and disrespect for truth by political leaders will adversely affect the future of our country for generations to come. That is why anti-BJPism is today’s political imperative.

A democratic socialist since 1968, the author is the convener of the Socialist Front. He is currently working on forging a broad front of like-minded parties and forces to defeat the RSS-BJP both ideologically and electorally.

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