Drawing room discussions frequently throw up the sentiment: why do the BJP and the Congress not join hands to form a national government? In the recent past, this sentiment has come more frequently even from the political class, with former Speaker PA Sangma being the last in a long line of public figures (that includes former President, R Venkataraman) to have mooted this proposal.
At first blush, the idea appears both attractive and feasible. Fed up with political battles and divisive politics, it reflects the electorate’s romanticised dream world — a world of orderliness, discipline and rapid progress to stated national goals. It also gives them a stick to beat politicians with. After all, these are vested interests who put personal interest above national interest and want to keep the pot boiling with acrimony and chaos because it suits their personal agendas.
But the suggestion, though well meaning, has several flaws. Carried to its logical conclusion, such yearnings could spell the end of democracy. The dialectics and dynamics of opposing and countervailing political forces would be substituted with convenient and collusive formations, thereby depriving democracy of its essential element of dissent. A majority of our institutions are based on the principle that the process (to use Marxist jargon) of thesis and antithesis, frequently leads to synthesis — ie. the best available solution, in the given circumstances, achieved by the necessary tension between opposing forces. (This, incidentally, is also the principle of adversarial advocacy that is the basis of our legal system). Indeed, democracy without political parties is an oxymoron.
If one agrees with democracy — and we agree not because it is the best form of governance, but because the alternatives are much worse — then we have, willy-nilly, to agree with diverse and opposing political formations, by whatever name they are called. So even if one were to have this idealised BJP-Congress coalition, there would be a new formation that would spring up to occupy the space vacated by these two parties.
Second, the suggestion ignores both history and ideology. No doubt, there is a large consensus on several economic policies and perspectives between India’s two largest national parties. On other issues, consensus can, hopefully, be generated. But there is a real and tangible ideological difference in the origin, history, philosophy and thought process of the BJP and the Congress that constitutes a chasm which cannot be bridged. The polity may have politicised and immunised all of us to phrases like ‘secularism’, ‘communalism’, ‘inclusiveness’ and so on. But while one can forget the politics of it, one cannot ignore the fact that the philosophy behind each of these words is radically different for the two major national parties. If there is any defining division of Indian politics, if there is any real vertical watershed of Indian society, it is not whether we should or should not privatise, whether or not we should grow at x or y per cent, whether or not we should have foreign direct investment and so on, but the worldview of the BJP and that of the Congress on issues like secularism, fraternal brotherhood, the meaning of inclusiveness. Howsoever India may have devalued these phrases and bandied them around as clichés, when we get down to the basics, we find that the differences of interpretation, approach and implementation are fundamental, irreconcilable and real. In the ultimate analysis, Indian politics does redeem itself since the defining delineations are ideological and not merely personal or conveniently flexible.
Whether we agree with it or not, the vision and philosophy of a Golwalkar or a Hegdewar is and will always remain fundamentally different from the vision and worldview of a Gandhi or a Nehru. Those who believe that this is idle theorising in a world which is globalised and where parties and politicians are not moored to such antiquated philosophies need a reality check. Can they get a commitment either from Nagpur or from Ashoka Road that the occupants of those precincts have abandoned, diluted, modified or reinvented the writings and philosophies found, for example, in Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts? How many of those who propose this new coalition have even bothered to read these texts? And can any of them, after reading these texts, say sincerely and with conviction that the philosophy and thought process reflected in them does not represent a fundamental chasm as against the Gandhi- and Nehru- based Congress philosophy? And that the followers of the former have renounced or modified or even diluted their adherence to it? The answer is — and will remain — an emphatic no.
Finally, the bona fide yearnings of the polity for greater national solidarity is met not by such untenable coalitions but by diminishing the hypocrisy of our political system and by increasing issue-based support on national issues of importance. It is in this direction that we need to work. The nuclear deal and the BJP’s opportunistic stances on it is a case in point. Criticising and vehemently opposing merely because one is in the opposition is a trait that must be introspected upon.
History tells us that whenever the Congress has been in the opposition, its criticism has been much more principled and has reflected national solidarity to a far greater extent than when the roles are reversed. Our stand on issues like Kashmir, talks with Pakistan, Kargil, Operation Parakram and, most importantly, on terrorism (including the Akshardham and Parliament attacks), despite our serious disagreements on many fronts, was always much more supportive of the NDA when it was in power. It is on these issues that there needs to be soul searching and the forging of new models of consensus.
Abhishek Singhvi is MP, National Spokesperson, Congress, and senior advocate