Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why is the Congress the only national party in the country? The answer lies in the various fissures that exist in India....

I am in the midst of reading the book “India after Gandhi” by Ramachandra Guha. It’s an awesome treatise on Indian history starting from the period around independence. I haven’t read it fully yet....but the few pages I have read bring out some stark realities about India – especially India of those days – that should act as reality check for us all. Very specifically, Guha describes the fissures that existed in Indian society then – what is shocking is that these very fissures continue to divide India even now.

Guha speaks about five major fissures. These are religion, caste, language, class and even sex. He mentions that the general buzz worldwide at the time of Indian independence was that India would not be able to survive as one unified country. No where else in the world had a country been able to survive with so many contradictions built into its very composition. In those days, after the havoc caused by WW II – it was felt that a kind of a force (a force of entropy?) existed in the world....a force that naturally tended to divide things. It was a kind of a destructive force that wouldn’t let unified things stay unified. That would create big fissures from mere small strains. It was this force that had divided Europe into many small nations. In a backdrop like this, India was considered to have no hopes at all. It was expected to get fragmented soon after independence. With the plethora of kingdoms in India (which were never really a part of the country called India) making matters worse, it was considered impossible for India to continue as one country for long.

In the backdrop of all this, it is indeed amazing how India has shown to the world that so many diverse communities of people can indeed stay together. The world applauds this and respects this about India. Staying united is one of our biggest achievements. Most Indians on the other hand think we haven’t achieved enough in our last 60 years. There is so much impatience today amongst our people. Impatience is can propel a country forward. But not knowing the past from where we have emerged can lead to wrong analysis, lack of confidence and even depression. Our progress over the last 60 years can be considered either spectacular or pathetic – depending on how we read our past. Once I realized what we emerged from.....I developed a new sense of pride and confidence in what we’ve achieved.

I am upset however that we – as a society – haven’t been able to overcome the fissures that existed so many years back. To be fair, these fissures were not momentary – occurring only at the time of independence – they have existed for centuries. Indian society was never united as one like China. India was also never even a properly defined country like China. But even spite of these unique circumstances.....I do agree we could have done better. For this failure, we have only ourselves to blame. Again, the objective of this piece is not to make ourselves feel bad, but to become aware of our failure and resolve to do better in the future.

Let’s look at the fissures again. Religion is such a major force even today. In those days, it led to the division of India into two (later three) countries. Even today, we have hardly grown more tolerant. The BJP is as vitriolic in its hate agenda against the Muslims and the Muslims are as clannish as ever. It’s amazing – the book writes about the agenda of the RSS back then in the 1930s. And even today, it’s stayed the same. A host of political parties in addition to the BJP – the Shiv Sena, the various Muslim political parties – are still a fairly prominent piece of our political landscape. It’s shameful really that we cannot keep religion within our hearts and our homes.....and make it a community and political subject.

Then look at caste. The entire politics of the Hindi heartland is built on caste. In fact, it’s pretty much the same across the country. In fact, it would be fair to say that most regional political parties are based on caste logic. Whether it is the SP and BSP in UP or the RJD or the JD(U) in Bihar or the JD(S) in Karnataka.....and several other parties strewn all around the country....caste remains one of the biggest fissures in our country. The khap panchayats are another shameful manifestation of this caste fissure.

Look at language. I think that making new states on the basis of language was a prudent strategy adopted after independence. Language defines culture to a very large extent and making homogeneous units on the basis of language (and culture) is better than making them on any other basis. Culturally, a Bengali Muslim is closer to a Bengali Hindu rather than a Muslim from Tamil Nadu or Kerala. In fact, this is the logic why Pakistan’s original creation itself was flawed. How could Muslims in Punjabi-dominated West Pakistan be the same as those in Bengali-dominated East Pakistan? Today, there are fresh strains being created on religion/cultural grounds......those that we can definitely live without. The entire basis of Shiv Sena’s political existence is based on insecurity related to language and culture. Marathis are perfectly fine people; They are confident and progressive and well off.....yet the Shiv Sena frets about some imaginary exploitation of Marathis by the rest of the country. Ridiculous and shameful.

Finally, look at class. Frankly, the only valid basis for political mobilization is on the basis of class. There are the poor people in any newly-independent country and they need representation and protection of their interests. Different political parties can take up their cause in different manners. There can be many parties all focused on the poor.....each having a different belief and approach to poverty alleviation. But are there any political parties in India that represent the poor? None, except the Congress. The Left believes that they represent the poor and the middle classes – the bourgeois – but in reality, their genes are built on anti-capitalism. Their approach is not: how do we help the poor? Their approach is: how do we keep private capital out? Even if keeping private capital out harms the poor. If I be generous to them, I could possibly state that maybe....only maybe.....they started off as protectors of the poor, but somewhere down the line, they started chasing a different goal.

The Congress is the only party that welcomes Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Brahmins, Telugus, Tamilians, and Gujaratis.....all within its fold. See the approach that Rahul Gandhi has taken in UP recently. He’s fighting for the farmers – a bunch of people united only by vocation. One that is genuinely poor by class. I still think that this focus on class holds wider appeal than anything else. In a large heterogeneous country like ours, building a political party on ideology based on fissures will automatically be self-limiting. That’s why there is no national alternative to the Congress even today. The Congress may lose in the short term – to parties based on more limited ideologies – but eventually, the people of this country will realize that we need to stay united as one. That’s when the Congress will rule the country again on its own.

The real truth is that the parties based on class issues are best placed in any developing country. The Congress has been allowed a free reign on this. The Left may want to challenge the Congress on this positioning. If only they could give up their outdated economic beliefs, they could revive themselves. Now, will the nearly-decimated Prakash Karat smell this opportunity????


  1. The Cong and BJP are both "Virtual Parties"....they have no physical existence...they appear where Powers is. They are physically represented in Luytens Delhi no where else. The Shiv Sena in Maharashtra is the best best example of a Peoples party. They have functioning offices in every Nukkad. They are also there to help the people if the need arises. The listen to all people. The big parties have to build infrastructure to connect with the people.

  2. The Congress Party survives owing to the mythology it inherits and the charisma Sonia Gandhi lends to it. Of late, it has turned thoroughly opportunistic by perfecting the art of choosing and dumping alliance partners. Policy shifts are never questioned and ambivalence is the name of the game. This is not an ideal state of affairs on the part of the largest party of the largest democracy.

    Identity, and not fake unity, is the anchor of politics. If the recent election results really help a bipolar polity to evolve, then integrity, and not hypocrisy, will be needed the most. [TNM]