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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 17 New Delhi April 14, 2018

Is a Federal Party possible?

Saturday 14 April 2018, by Kuldip Nayar

When former Congress President Sonia Gandhi said that they would not allow the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to return to power, she hinted at a joint action on the part of the Opposition. It also means that she does not want Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win a second term. On its own, the Congress does not have the numbers to pose any threat to the BJP-run government or Modi.

In all probability, as things stand today, Modi looks good enough to return to power. The three reverses in recent by-elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies notwithstanding, the BJP is capturing power in State after State and spreading its tentacles slowly but surely. Yet, the 2019 general elections are some way to go and the impending State election in Karnataka and the subsequent ones in other States later this year would be the real test to assess Modi’s strengths and weaknesses.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has taken the initiative to get the non-BJP parties together for a federal combination to contest against the BJP in 2019. To underline the Congress’ cooperation, Mamata has said that she is in daily touch with Sonia Gandhi. In fact, the leaders from other non-BJP-ruled States are constantly in touch with each other to see the possibility of a federal combination.

If you recall, the Janata Party was a federal combination. It did not last its course and fell because the then leaders, particularly the top ones like Morarji Desai and Charan Singh, were quarrelling in public all the time, much to the exasperation of the people. The then Jana Sangh wielded power because the opponents were a divided lot. Once the non-Jana Sangh parties came together, the Jana Sangh Government was reduced to a minority.

The federal combination that would come up, courtesy the top leaders like Sonia Gandhi or, for that matter, Mamata Banerjee, has to take a leaf out of the book of the Janata Party and learn to work together. The moot question would be: who among the leaders has enough support to be the Prime Minister? Once this question is settled, things will fall into place and the federal combination could survive.

The question the country faces today is: if pluralism, the nation’s ethos, is defeated which forces would come to power? The BJP is determined to divide the people. They have been trying for a pro-Hindu government in some shape or the other. The RSS, which is the mentor of the BJP, is playing its role to perfection to help realise the dreams of Modi.

This is where the new federal combination has to be careful about. It is better they come up with a Minimum Common Programme with all parties endorsing the views and aspirations of all leaders. This is just one important issue which the top non-BJP leaders have to address as the people’s interests should be above everything else.

For the idea of India, which is founded on secularism and democracy, to survive and flourish, the parties based on religion or caste should have no place in the federal combination. The danger is that the various elements would try to pull in different directions to corner power. Even individual leaders should keep the country’s unity ahead of personal or their party interests.

If they learn to live together, the warning about their disarray would be repulsed. Secularism would have gone through the fire to prove its intrinsic strength. With coalition politics inevitable in India, the best possible way to defeat the idea of the BJP or, for that matter, Modi and his cohorts, is to stay together and learn, in the process, to rule together.

The BJP cannot defeat the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi based on unity in diversity. In fact, what it has done is to prove Gandhi right. The unity of India could face the danger of separatism. Pakistan, whom I wish well, is the fallout of the mistrust in the Hindu majority. Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was once an apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity, said that he could not trust the majority, the Hindus. This mistrust is the reason why people left their homes after partition. One million were killed on both sides and Hindus and Muslims went apart further.

The RSS looks like copying the idea of division. Its philosophy is nothing but making a mockery of Gandhi’s preaching. The RSS elements did not succeed as the communal forces could not silence Gandhi. They had to ultimately kill him so as to still the same voice which the people heard and respected. I had seen the letter which Nathuram Godse wrote in defence of what he did. He avowed respect to Gandhiji but argued that the country would have suffered if the Mahatma had lived longer.

I recall one incident from his prayer meetings. I was present when, before the Mahatma started his meeting, one person from Punjab got up and said that he would not listen to the Quran. At the meeting all the three scriptures—the Gita, the Quran and the Bible—were read. Gandhi said that there would be no meeting until the objector withdrew his dissent. For days, there was no prayer congregation. It was resumed only after the person finally withdrew his objection.

Today, when the fanatic RSS guides the government in appointment of teachers, librarians and heads of academic institutions, there is little hope for merit to take over. Under the circumstances, how can a federal party fight against such elements? The danger to the nation is from those who think that since the country has 80 per cent of Hindu population, they have the right to rule.

Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel saw to it that there would be no Hindutva. They converted the then Assembly into a Constituent Assembly to have a Constitution. India is ruled today not by the 80 per cent but by the Constitution which assures one vote to one individual. Even when the Hindus are in a majority, they cannot subvert the idea of India because the Constitution is supreme.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62