Schizophrenic party at crossroads

Notwithstanding its pleasant showing in coastal Goa, Congress would do well to pay careful attention to Sharad Pawar’s forthcoming convention in Mumbai on June 10. Although he has scrupulously shunned high rhetoric, Pawar has effectively punctured the party in this critical state, taking over the bulk of the Congress Legislature Party and such traditional allies as the Republican Party of India, in one graceful sweep. As Pawar himself was the party’s only credible vote-catcher in the state, his convention will give a decisive thrust to the process of political realignment in the country as a whole. It will induce regional and small parties to end their prevarication and side with one or other major alliance in the run-up to the general elections.

Given the extremely short period that elapsed between Congress’ failure to form the government and the CWC’s decision to ignore their misgivings about Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins, the Pawar-Sangma-Anwar trio acted with uncanny speed and finesse. With hindsight, it would appear that the revolt had been brewing much longer, probably since the moment Sonia took over as chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, though not even an MP. Pawar has since revealed that this was a well-planned coup, which left him and other senior leaders no choice but to go along, despite serious misgivings. This then, would seem to have been his moment of truth for recognizing Sonia’s extravagant ambitions, and realizing that his own future in the party was bleak. Sonia’s ungainly rush to Rashtrapathi Bhavan after Vajpayee’s fall would have confirmed this assessment.

Ironically, Pawar has invoked Nehru to justify his dissent, and the events unleashed by him may fully bring out the schizophrenic nature of the Congress legacy. Under Nehru, the Congress Socialists tackled the party’s misgivings about the left-leanings of its members by driving out known communists. Nehru then seized control of the Gandhi-led Congress by disguising his communist ideology as a modernizing, socialist concern, and steadily marginalizing leaders rooted in the national ethos, such as M.M. Malaviya and P.D. Tandon. This is why post-independence Congress has been at odds with Gandhi’s legacy, and why stalwarts like C. Rajagopalachari, J.B. Kripalani and others had to part ways with Nehru, though they did not fully comprehend the nature of the experiment he had undertaken vis-à-vis Indian society in the name of promoting a “scientific temper” among the people.

Nehru’s legacy now stands divided between Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar. Sonia represents Nehru’s true totalitarian face, with its accent on the leaders’ infallibility and intolerance of dissent. This may sound surprising to those reared on the myth of Nehru’s commitment to democracy and freedom of opinion, but the record of all those who came to grief on account of differing opinions with ‘Punditji,’ gives the game away. It must be said that Nehru maintained utmost decorum in his personal dealings; hence, the acrimony that accompanied political differences in Indira Gandhi’s time did not sully his reputation. It also made it difficult for his rivals to focus and sustain an attack upon him. Sonia Gandhi, who is given to making intemperate attacks upon her rivals and shunning debate, would do well do consider this aspect of her heritage from her Indian family.

Pawar, though not a communist, has tapped on to the party’s communistic penchant for secret conclaves of like-minded people with dissenting views, who act only if and when there is a chance of success. The recent history of the erstwhile Soviet Union shows how this impregnable empire was unraveled by precisely such persons who managed to reach the top, such as former KGB chief Yuri Andropov, and his successors, Chernenko and Gorbachev.

In the post-Nehru Congress, while Chandra Shekhar is a one-man survivor, most rebellions failed for lack of an alternative vision to replace the existing system. The Congress’ most successful ‘mole’ to this day remains former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who single-handedly overturned Nehru’s stranglehold on the economy and dealt a body blow to his minority-based secularism through a tacit alliance with the BJP. Unfortunately, he lacked the courage to declare his mind even while in office, and remains to this day, unhonoured and unsung.

Sonia loyalists believe that Pawar’s rebellion has Rao’s tacit blessings. Former Solicitor-General Devendranath Dwivedi, who quit Congress in favour of Pawar, has strengthened this impression with a piercing letter to Sonia Gandhi on Pawar’s expulsion and her own prime ministerial ambitions. He pointedly states: “the question of the suitability of a naturalized citizen for the office of the Prime Minister is unrelated also to the arguments being raised with regard to the meaning and rights of citizenship… Citizenship creates eligibility and not entitlement or suitability.” (italics mine).

This is the crux of the matter. With one well-argued missive, the Pawar group has focused the arguments on the real issues involved in Sonia’s candidature, and challenged attempts to beat about the bush. Dwivedi’s departure also indicates that Pawar will calibrate the departures from Congress in the run-up to the polls, a situation that can be unsettling for Congress. Coming to the puerile arguments about citizenship rights and odious comparisons with islands like Fiji, it may be noted that none of the persons-of-Indian-origin who have acquired political office in their new countries is a naturalised citizen. The comparison would be valid if this country had a sizeable population of persons-of-Italian-origin, who were being discriminated after several generations of citizenship.

Interestingly, Sonia’s media brigade have forced a “virtual history” upon us, viz., that ours is an “assimilative” culture, formed by borrowing from invaders through the centuries – Greeks, Scythians, Parthians, Huns et al. The implication is that the Indian ‘sponge’ should now absorb Sonia as Prime Minister, perhaps also ‘assimilate’ her mother culture to our own.

This vulgar lie that our great Vedic heritage is the bastard child of foreign invasions – like Octavio Paz’ modern Mexico – must be nailed. Anyone espousing this falsehood must substantiate his claim. What have we borrowed, our science, philosophy, arts, culture, or language? The concept of dharma, karma, the four varnas, the four asramas (stages of life), the Vedas and scores of scriptures that followed in its wake? Perhaps it was the concept of mleccha (foreigner) and the shuddhi, even prayascit, necessary for dealing with them.

We deserve an answer. On my side, I offer the information that peacocks, rice and Indian sandalwood were known in Palestine under their Tamil names in the Hebrew Chronicles of Genesis and Kings. The Hittite and Mitanni records (approx. 1400 B.C.) show that Vedic gods such as Indra, Varuna, Mitra and Nasatya were in their pantheon, and Hittite numerals are Sanskrit.

In one sense, it is immaterial whether Sharad Pawar’s convention formally yields another front. The Indian political template is shifting in a manner that is fundamentally detrimental to Congress and its discredited Nehruvian ideology, to which a clueless Sonia reiterated allegiance at Panchmarhi. This is why, despite the vicious, unrelenting campaign against “communalism,” politics is crystallizing on anti-Congress lines, a situation that naturally favours the BJP. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Pawar may postulate equi-distance from BJP and Congress, but both are too canny to not realize that by virtue of opposing Congress they are being neutral towards the BJP. This is the meaning of a historical shift into the future.

The Pioneer, 8 June 1999

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