As India begins the countdown to the 2014 general elections, a new discourse has started taking shape around its minority populations. It is called the ‘what about 1984’ argument. The supporters of Narendra Modi in a bid to deflect attention from his role in 2002 pogrom usually throw 1984 at his critics. The critics have lately begun responding by placing 1984 pogrom in a less grave category in comparison to 2002. The difference we are told is the political ideology – Congress is inherently secular and 1984 an aberration whereas BJP is communal and 2002 symptomatic. This unfortunate comparison means that the ‘what about 1984’ argument has unintentionally turned 1984 pogrom into an exclusive Congress problem even when it sets out to call out Modi’s anti-minority stance. The role of Hindutava ideology has been airbrushed out of the history that led to 1984 pogrom as a consequence.
In a brilliant column in the The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta (with whom I have much to disagree about reservations) calls the bluff of the “national” parties who want Indian voters to be wary of the ‘instability’ and impossibility of a third front coalition government. This argument, strangely posing itself in a nationalist tone, is unfortunately also bought by too many left-liberal intellectuals and activists who don’t want us to get out the non-choice of the BJP-Congress binary. Mehta writes:
Sometimes an ordered instability can be more productive than a comatose stability. It is said that a third front leadership is unlikely to have a national perspective. But the cringingly desperate way in which the leadership of the national parties have put their own survival above any principle makes you wonder what the charge of not having a national perspective is all about. The third front will make foreign policy hostage to regional interests. In a way, it already is. But the source of the problem is deeper. Even a supposedly national party like the BJP cannot get its act together on the enclaves agreement with Bangladesh. Why blame regional parties? The third front will be fiscally irresponsible. It is a risk, but no more than a risk with any political party. The Congress squandered the best of economic opportunities in a fiscally irresponsible way. It is something of an irony that the only Chidambaram budget described as a “dream budget” came under Deve Gowda. And many states have shown innovation in a kind of pro-business entrepreneurial capitalism and in social sector schemes. Many of the regional leaders who would make up the third front are autocrats. Indeed, many of them are. But that autocracy is more visible because the national parties can use the state structure in a very sophisticated way to further their ends. But they are articulate and engage with their constituents. In short, the constituents of the third front are as much India and Indian interests as anyone else. [Full article]
India needs a third imagination, and by constantly being told that it is not possible we are told not to imagine it. This is the argument of, as Mehta puts it, the ‘entrenched elites’, to save their privileges. The fear of the third front, of the ‘regional’, needs to be fought and defeated. We see this poverty of imagination thrown at us whether we’re talking of Nitish Kumar or Arvind Kejriwal or Mayawati by people who will do not think it necessary to subject the Congress and the BJP to similar scrutiny. This bias against the “regional” is remarkably shared amongst a lot of people across the ideological spectrum. Their bluff needs to be called.
For those of us, whom the well organized Right on the internet describes as “sickular”, the prospect of Modi as Prime Minister is unthinkable. Congress is then a reflexive default – not a party of choice. Its secular credentials too are tarnished with 1984, but its communal capitulations are opportunistic (and thus contained) unlike the BJP with its official Hindutva party plank. Moreover with all its corruption and contradictions, the Congress has always had a strong left-liberal strand, providing some space for engagement to further progressive agenda, enacting for instance the landmark Right to Information Act, NREGA and FRA. However faced with a Rahul Gandhi versus Modi contest – the former a reluctant prince leading a dithering party, the latter the decisive machismo king of no-nonsense governance – it appears that Congress has decided to move so far to the Right that 2014 looks set to become a Modi versus ‘sickular’ Modi contest.
In 2008 if you had said the Congress could revive in Uttar Pradesh you would have been laughed at. No party structure or caste base, you would have been told. In 2009, Rahul Gandhi earned perhaps the first laurel of his political career by proving critics wrong. He beat conventional wisdom by saying no to allying with the Samajwadi Party and the Congress won just 22 of 406 seats. Since then, Congress revival in UP has been taken for granted in many corners. Some pundits were predicting as many as 100 seats for the Congress this election. This speculation had a good basis: Rahul Gandhi always left crowds happy. And he flew on a helicopter addressing as many as 4 rallies a day. If you spoke to the people who attended his rallies, you’d be surprised by the amount of goodwill he created for himself. The rise in vote share despite the poor seat performance is proof for the rising appreciation of the Congress’ efforts to regain relevance in state politics. But then, what went wrong? Continue reading Why Rahul Gandhi’s Congress flopped in Uttar Pradesh→
Make no mistake — this is not my assessment. I’ve just borrowed it from our Chief Minister, the redoubtable V.S. Achuthananadan, the foremost of (official) revolutionaries in Kerala, whose memories of struggle stretch back right up to the workers’ uprising of the 1940s in south Kerala, the Punnapra-Vayalar, celebrated in communist myth and legend. In September this year it appeared as if the CPM was ready to negotiate with the protestors, but nothing has really moved. The latter have hung firm in their resolve, it requires a rather strange imagination to read that as evidence for ‘peace and prosperity’ at Chengara. The Congress has now emerged, after much slumber, with support for the struggle, and V.M. Sudheeran, one of the most popular and respected leaders of the Congress, has sharply condemned the CM’s statement (below).