Wednesday 14 May 2014

Steps to a Congress revival

This article is almost certainly futile.

In fact, it’s futile on two levels – first, in that the advice given in it will certainly not be taken; and doubly so in that I, who am giving that advice, hope that it is not taken.

I’ll explain.

As I may have mentioned once or twice on here, India is going through an election. In fact, it’s just done going through the election, which started on the seventh of April and ended the day before yesterday as I write this – over a month from start to finish, and that’s not even including the counting of the votes, which is yet to begin.

Also, as I have said earlier, Indian politics is largely divided between two right-wing conglomerations: the Hindunazis, in the form of the Bharatiya Janata Party (“Indian People’s Party”, BJP) and its allies on one side; and the dynastic right, in the form of the Congress Party and its allies, on the other.

Now, while the vote counting will only take place, and the results come out, the day after tomorrow, one can already foresee that the shape of the final results will be a massive, enormous rout for the Congress and major gains for the BJP. The only question is whether those gains will be enough for the BJP to form a government, or whether the Congress and a bunch of other parties will manage to cobble together enough seats to somehow hang on to power. Most probably, unless all the opinion polls lie very drastically, they won’t.

Therefore, it’s more than likely that India will be under Hindunazi rule for a while. The last time was from 1998 to 2004, when they did such charming things as make astrology and “Vedic mathematics” subjects taught in universities, and came within millimetres of sending troops to join in the occupation of Iraq. And that was when a “moderate” was in charge. This time the top man is someone who’s closely patterned on Mussolini, inflammatory rhetoric and all.

For the moment, let me focus on the losing side, though. Now, as I have said over and over and over, I despise the Congress. I detest it, if anything, more than I hate the Hindunazis. As I’ve said over and over, there is nothing the Congress won’t do, no depth to which it won’t stoop, for the most temporary  electoral benefit. To my mind, the Congress deserves to vanish from the pages of the nation’s history.

But, on the other hand, there’s only one realistic alternative to perpetual Hindunazi rule, and that’s the Congress. Whether we like it or no, we have to acknowledge that. If the Hindunazis have to be put down, only an alliance built around the Congress can do it...just as they did in 2004, and unleashed the worst government this nation has ever suffered, one which made even the Hindunazis look good.


But the fact is that the Congress is in such steep decline, has lost so much goodwill and earned so much hatred, that it will take an amazing amount of misgovernance and incompetence from the Hindunazis to make it a viable choice again for anyone with half a brain. In fact, the way the Congress is going, it will simply make itself unelectable for the future to come.

But let’s assume that the Congress actually wanted to try and make itself an acceptable alternative again. How should it go about it?

We can identify a few areas that, um, could use work.

First, of course, is the absolute need to dump the dynasty. As I’ve said many times, the Congress Party, like most Indian parties except those on the far left and the far right, isn’t really a political party; it’s a privately owned family business, belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. At one time, this dynasty had a measure of respect, which would translate into votes, because this country was, and to a large extent still is, completely feudal. But that time is now past.

The Dynasty: from left, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra

The current Gandhi dynasty is a shade of a shadow of the politicians of old, such as Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi. They were evil, scheming, and thoroughly unscrupulous, but at least they were, within limits, relatively able; and they led from the front. The current dynasty comprises Indira Gandhi’s Italian-born daughter-in-law, Sonia, who is rumoured to be terminally ill, and her children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra. The presumed heir to the dynasty is Rahul Gandhi, who is so utterly incompetent that each time he opens his mouth his party probably loses ten thousand votes. His sister, Priyanka, is allegedly less of a liability, but she’s married to a man who can most politely be described as an extremely shady character, who has used his dynastic connections to get mind-bogglingly rich overnight.

Once upon a time, the dynasty used to lead from the front, as I said. But those days are gone. In 2004, Sonia Gandhi – rather than take the reins of power herself or put her princeling son in the top spot – selected a completely spineless nonentity, Manmohan Singh, as a rubber-stamp prime minister. Manmohan Singh had only one qualification for the post – he was completely unelectable and had no political base whatsoever, so he could never be a threat to the dynasty’s hold over the party. That he was also a complete and utter nincompoop was immaterial compared to that one premium virtue. Throughout his reign, as at least three books by his former aides have pointed out, he was remote controlled by the Gandhis. There was nothing surprising about that either.

Manmohan Singh: the dynasty's rubber stamp.

Today, thankfully, Manmohan Singh, who never won even a municipal election in his life, is history; whoever takes over will at least have successfully won at the ballots. But the dynasty is still hanging on, and shows no sign of ever relinquishing its hold over the party. Even now, with defeat looming, the primary preoccupation of the party is shielding Rahul Gandhi from blame for the defeat, at all costs.

Far from the dynasty being necessary to the party, as in the past – when people used to vote for it because of the ruling family, not because of the policies – it has become a millstone round the collective Congress neck. For one thing, the dynasty no longer attracts votes even in its own pocket borough of Amethi in North India. For another, in the party, how high you rise doesn’t depend on ability or even luck – it depends entirely on how much you brown-nose the dynasty, and even then the very top levels are beyond you. Perhaps if you are a complete invertebrate without a personality, like Manmohan Singh, you might become a chair-warmer; but that is all that you can aspire to. No surprise then that the Congress has seen an exodus of talent, with politicians of any ability leaving to form their own parties. If the dynasty is removed, and the top levels become open to ability and competition, not only would those people come trooping back, but others would join and rise from the ranks.

Instead, like the Titanic, the Congress is sinking on the iceberg of the dynasty, and still the band plays on.

The second thing the Congress needs to do is become secular. Now the party had a tradition of pretending secularism, but it never was really secular after the time of Jawaharlal Nehru. A creeping tendency to appeal to religious fundamentalists for votes started with Indira Gandhi, who paid for it with her life. Her son and the third of the dynasty, Rajiv, began courting both Muslim and Hindu fundies, thus indirectly opening the way to the Hindunazi resurgence that now threatens to wipe out the Congress itself. But secularism is the only way out for India, which cannot afford another series of communal conflagrations as in the 1980s to the early 2000s. Besides, the vast majority of Indians, Hindus and Muslims both, would rather live in peace with each other and focus on the daily struggle for existence. Given a genuinely secular choice, they would choose it rather than the fundamentalists on both sides, who depend on the opposite faction’s fundamentalism to demand votes for themselves as the protectors of their people.

This secularism, to be effective, has to be genuine and total. Today India is a creeping Hindu theocracy, where Hinduism is steadily intruding into all official spaces. Recently, on the basis of a “dream” by a Hindu “godman”, the Archaeological Survey of India spent millions excavating a minor 19th Century princeling’s derelict palace. All it found, in place of the thousands of kilograms of gold allegedly concealed there, were a few battered kitchen utensils. Even more recently, a book on the Hindu religion by US scholar Wendy Doniger was forced out of circulation by Hindu zealots, and the government raised not a fingertip to stop it.

These are just two instances of how this is becoming a Hindu dictatorship, even under the allegedly “secular” Congress. In order to balance the books, as it were, the Congress doled out a few sops to Muslim fundamentalists as well, such as the grant of a subsidy to those going on the Hajj pilgrimage. Also, India was the first country in the world to ban Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Without that ban, probably nobody in the world would’ve ever heard of that wretched, nearly unreadable, atrociously written book. All these token sops did was infuriate the Hindunazis, who claimed these were “minority appeasement”, which they were, of course; only the appeasement was meant for the mullahs, not for the common Muslim, who didn’t benefit at all.

The third thing that the Congress urgently requires to do is revert to its socialist past. In this I am directly contradicting the received wisdom in India today, which claims only those parties wedded to privatisation and “growth” stand a chance in the polls. But all the (limited) benefits of said privatisation and growth flow to a tiny section of the people; the upper middle and upper classes, who make the most noise and get the maximum attention of the TV cameras, but who don’t have the numbers to make a difference in the vote, even if they bother to stand in line in the summer sun to vote at all. To everyone else, including the huge number of urban poor, said privatisation and “growth” merely means unemployment and skyrocketing prices. And it is the urban poor who will be willing to stand in line and vote.

Rather like its attempts to woo the fundamentalists by religious tokenism, the Congress solution is to pursue aggressive privatisation and bandit capitalism on one hand while trying to fob off the poor with unworkable “employment” schemes on the other. All these schemes, named of course after one or the other member of the dynasty, are corrupt to the core, completely useless, but attract the opprobrium of the votaries of capitalism. And yet this was the party which nationalised banks and industries, sponsored the Green Revolution which made India immune to mass famines, and stopped paying former kings and princes immense sums out of the public exchequer as “privy purses”.

Let me add something here: the Congress will never be able to compete successfully with the Hindunazis for the affections of the business class, just as it will never be able to compete with them successfully for the right wing Hindu vote. If given a choice between the openly right wing, pro-Big Business party, and one which is fairly transparently trying to play both sides of the aisle, which would the average undecided voter choose? At least one of the two is honest about its intentions, isn’t it?

I’m not mentioning corruption, because, frankly, there’s nothing to choose between the two sides as far as that is concerned. Both the Hindunazis and the Congress are corrupt to the core, and, quite clearly, they have no real choice but to be corrupt to the core either, seeing how much elections cost these days. Anti-corruption may make for great slogans, but electorally, it’s a dead duck.

As I said, this article is an exercise in futility. The Congress could dump the dynasty, return to its socialist roots, and embrace secularism, but it won’t. It will merely continue down the path it is now following, to its inevitable end of complete political irrelevance.

As a dedicated anti-Congressite, I can’t really say I’m altogether unhappy about that, either.

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