After 25 years what we see?
Degeneration of polity, a non-functioning democracy?
Or a very alive and kicking oligarchy of moneyed class everywhere?
I write this on the 25th death anniversary of India Gandhi’s death. It was a gruesome death and the anniversary truly brings out the various reflections and comments on the person and her achievements and true limitations. By any account Indira Gandhi left a deep imprint on the life of the nation and the peoples.
Pranay Gupte, the then New York Times correspondent and an author on Indira Gandhi’s assassination and very much active in the media writes on the day. He says that Indira Gandhi Raj was the apt description. As she ruled by diktat, he says. As such she didn’t respect the institutions till then held as sacrosanct by the rest of the political class, to use a current phrase.
She insulted Parliament as she insulted the persons who were equally great, if not greater than her in terms of qualities and sacrifices for the cause of India.
There was a trait in her, her gutts, much admired by her admirers and hated by her enemies.
Gupte notes that she ruled with a decisive hand and thae hand also proved her disasters, first in the imposition of Emergency and later in the Operation Blue star.
What the reflections after a long gap of 25 years bring home, afresh, is the thought that she laid down her life with the belief that what she did was right and in a way inevitable but now looked upon on the long past, the long 25 years of gap, also shows that sometimes politicians in power forget that their days would one day be numbered and end there! Rather abruptly, sometimes, why, so many times, so often indeed.
Now, after 25 years what are the lessons for us, the current practioners?
After 25 years we have a better polity, a more aware democracy, more sensitivity to the issues and the institutions? And no less the core values by which our freedom struggle and much of our post-Independent India’s polity is shaped?
It is here we have some lessons at least to draw from Indira Gandhi’s life and death, if we can put it some.
What are the lessons?
Today, India, as Gupte has noted, has developed, more better off, the more segments are economically strong and progressing faster.
Much of poverty as Indira Gandhi talked off as her chief mission is gone, though poverty of a different character is also persisting.
We have Manmohan Singh, the very learned person at the helm, in a way, has come at a time when we needed him and he had provided much needed touch of sober leadership.
But then looking hard and at different dimensions, our polity, in my opinion at any rate, is poorer and made diluted in terms of so many attributes. First, the democracy we are having is distorted. We haven’t got an elected Prime Minister. Second, we have a dual centre of power, one centered on Sonia Gandhi, the party president (she herself was not elected and continues in her post by some unasked questions) and more now; there is a new centre of power around Rahul Gandhi. All these are very decent people but let us admit and understand that this is not a genuine democratic setup or arrangement and there are some serious distortions and limitations.
One not so very happy development is that the Indian National Congress, as a party, is now very weak and even disintegrating in many of the major states, unless we take it that all the recent lections, starting from the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to the latest Assembly elections and before the by-elections in some states.
Has the Congress party become stronger or some other shape?
Of course, it all depends who asks these questions and who answers them!
By all accounts and by some objective criteria, we see that in Maharashtra, there is a new tension in the Congress-NCP relationship. There is every chance that the Shiv Sena-BJP combine could destabilise, if the NCP takes a different stand in alliance. In Haryana too the Congress is weak and Chautala and Bajan Lal could pose a challenge. In Arunachal too the Trinamul and the NCP contested and won seats, not an insignificant development.
The Congress is a party surviving for the reasons other than its inherent ideological clarity or its moral strengths.
The point is the party, with a 125 years legacy, needs to do some serious introspection. The second most important thought and reflection is that the country is becoming more politically mature, there are more parties and more regional parties and more diverse political ideologies and as such the role of the Congress party is not seen as decisive either by Sonia Gandhi or by Rahul Gandhi. These two seem to be rather unconcerned (or helpless?) to let the events dictate their roles and responsibilities and they are not taking direct roles, or moral responsibility for nurturing the party as president and the general secretary.
There is no internal mechanism whatever at present to monitor the party’s performance or assess the future challenges or draw up some ideologically-oriented thoughts and values and policies. It is in Indira Gandhi’s time that rut started to develop.
I was at that time, at that point of time (1962-1967) in and out of the AICC when Atulya Ghosh and Kamaraj were at the helm of the party. So, I can say I was eye witness to many of the happenings inside the party when some stalwarts of the stature of Morarji Desai and Gulzarilal Nanda and others, I was working under the direction of Sadiq Ali in the AICC on Jantar Mantar Road.
The point is there were some conventions and mutual trust among the big leaders then. After Indira Gandhi, there were certain changes, as inevitable. For the first few years, very few till Sanjay came in; she was open-minded and willing to respect others and willing to learn.
But once the 1969 split came about she was a completely changed person. My Oxford friend, Rudolf DeMello, was the president of the Youth Congress, I was in charge of the party pamphlets for the 1967 elections and Rudolf used to narrate to me many incidents and anecdotes. There were colleagues at the AICC, who worked with Feroze Gandhi and also one who worked with Lal Bahadur Shastri. So, I could get some authentic accounts of the persons who played decisive roles in the life of Indira Gandhi.
Once Sanjay entered the active political scene Mrs.Gandhi became more withdrawn and more secretive and her many decisions even then looked very arbitrary and more ruthless and she was showing no respect to her more senior leaders in the party. The manner in which she treated Kamaraj and Nijalingappa, I was eyewitness some incidents and I was really astonished and appalled.
Who may care to go into such details? Shankar Dayal Sharma, who was then general secretary of the party and who later rose to become the President of India, a very learned man himself. Who would believe that he took away the files from Nijalingappa, the Congress President and handed over to Indira Gandhi! Such things happened and in her fight with her senior colleagues she really “stooped to conquer”!
Now, of course the scenario if totally different.
But do we follow any norms or conventions or any sensitivity in nominating very undesirable characters to high posts, we almost don’t seem to care for either morality or conventions. The Rajya Sabha nominations have become big jokes. The nominations of those who had held high Constitutional posts to offices under the government as Cabinet minister or even our nominations for high Constitutional positions now seem to have totally down-graded the stature and the authority of the state.
Our democracy stands devalued in so many ways.
To cite the two latest undesirable developments: There are now more crorepatis, criminals and dynastic heirs in Parliament. Is this a desirable development?
There are now more unsaid pressure, gentle or through subtle corruption, of pressuring the media that is so obliging to build up the images of the Prime Minister or Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi, besides other distortions to the Indian realities.
There is no all India vision in the great political party. There are no internal elections in the party.
The Prime Minister seems to be simply uncaring for anything else except to stick to his office and office routine, as if this is one more job in his long bureaucratic career. He may not care but we, the Congressmen and women, the patriotic middle class or others ,the intellectuals and the discerning public opinion cares for and more worried as situations in some areas deteriorate.
The rise of Maoist violence and the Naxals worry a lot. The Prime Minister is not up to the mark when it comes to major foreign policy challenges. Be it China or Pakistan or even in reaching out to other major nations. The PM seems to be simply routine in his approach to, say, nuclear power. The PM is inaccessible; he doesn’t hold press meets or give any major interviews to major foreign news channels or print media.
What ideas he has of the press and its decline lately. Scandalous use of money power, calls the Hindu newspaper that exposed the media buying by candidates. In AP alone, the AP union of working journalists estimated some Rs. 350 crore to Rs.400 crore were paid by candidates to the press under what is called “Cash Transfer Scheme”. The big shame, The Hindu writes in an editorial.
The Maharashtra state then took the lead. P.Sainath exposed the whole scheme of cash transfer.
Who is to be worried? Not the Prime Minister? Nor Sonia Gandhi? Or the young Rahul Gandhi?
What the public will perceive to be their active collaboration or other?
I have nothing personally against any individual. But then, if you happen to be the Prime Minister or the party president then, it is natural to point the finger at the office holder! India is a great democracy and the world expects India to speak out on major issues.
So, it is time we go for a genuine change towards genuine democratic norms and practices. We need to elect a new Prime Minister. Poor Pranab! He seems to have been exhausted and he talks of retirement at the end of this term, after five years!
Time and tide wait for none!
The country cant be made to wait inordinately for Rahul Gandhi to prepare himself to come forward to take over. This is very unfortunate for both Gandhi and the country. Democratic norms are sacrosanct! Indira Gandhi’s Raj and her diktat is in the past.25 years is a long time ago.
And one more point of criticism of Pranay Gupte we quoted in the beginning. He concludes rather unconvincingly saying that Indira Gandhi and her family only save India and paved the way for the India n of today and tomorrow! This is too much and not many will take it seriously.
India is a great country anor kindly! There are very many factors, persons and institutions that contributed to the stable and strong and now relatively a wealthy nation. So many new heroes, young and not so young! So too the very sensitivities of the youth towards their elders. Certainly, the new dynastic heirs in politics have to watch their steps and they stand exposed for their claims and credibilities. Indian democracy, in the absence of strict accountability mechanisms and almost not and even non-functioning of the Parliament as it should have been, faces the danger of degenerating into an oligarchy and even might lead to degenerations as we find in other countries. They, as in our small neighbouring countries, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and even Pakistan and Nepal are all democracies but with so many disabilities. So, we must be extra-cautious, extra-vigilant!
Now, in the new age and millennium we want India to mature and conduct itself as a nation with great political traditions. So, let all the parties and senior leaders ponder over and let us create a more sensitive national consensus. Let us conduct ourselves with lot of decorum and refined behaviour. Let us all talk freely, openly and with all freedoms so that we all collectively join in a new consensus to elevate our democracy to great heights.
Photo : PTI