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India needs alternative policies to prevent rise of communalism

The NaMo-RaGa cacophony is seriously eroding the foundations of Indian parliamentary democracy by threatening to replace it with some sort of a presidential form of democracy. Sitaram Yechury writes.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2013 01:44 IST
Sitaram Yechury

The NaMo-RaGa cacophony is seriously eroding the foundations of Indian parliamentary democracy by threatening to replace it with some sort of a presidential form of democracy. Indian parliamentary democracy evolved reflecting the centrality of our Constitution — sovereignty resting with the people of India. “We, the people” exercise this sovereignty by periodically electing our representatives to the legislature (Parliament/assemblies, etc) who are accountable to us. The party or a coalition of parties that commands a majority in the legislature elects its leader to form the government. A government so formed — executive — is accountable to the legislature, which, in turn, is accountable to the people. In such a scheme, any projection of an individual as the ‘prime ministerial candidate’ simply does not work as he may well be defeated in the constituency from where he/she is contesting. Recollect that even the mighty Indira Gandhi had lost an election in 1977. It is for this reason that, barring the Left parties, leaders of almost all other parties contest from more than one constituency.

Wisely and correctly, the framers of our Constitution chose the parliamentary form given India’s vast diversity and linguistic-ethnic-religious-cultural plurality. The vibrancy of a democracy in such a vast and complex social reality of India can only be possible if all sections of this diversity find representation in the organs of the State. Further, as the first Article of our Constitution says, “India, that is Bharat, is a Union of States”. In India, this bedrock of federalism can only be protected and strengthened through the system of parliamentary democracy. A variety of the presidential form as existing in the United States, France or Germany may be functionally effective in a single language-speaking country. Even in the United Kingdom, the parliamentary system is adopted because of its constituents — the British, Welsh, Scottish and Irish.

Given their preoccupation with projecting their ‘prime ministerial candidate’, both the Congress and the BJP feel that the recent convention for ‘people’s unity against communalism’ attended by 14 secular political parties and a host of intellectuals is like letting loose a ‘bull in a China shop’. The BJP leadership decried this convention as a “Congress ‘B’ team”. Some Congress leaders, on the other hand, have gone on record to state that “This move will help the BJP as it could divide the minority vote”.

Such decrying comes despite the fact that this convention unambiguously declared its objective to “strengthen people’s unity against communalism which poses a grave threat to our future itself”. The centrality of the convention was clear: for protecting the secular democratic character of the Indian Republic from the relentless assaults that are being mounted by the communal forces as the essential prerequisite for an alternative policy trajectory necessary for the progress of the country and the well-being of the people.

It is precisely this ‘alternative policy trajectory’ that both the Congress and the BJP find extremely inconvenient in their efforts to impose a bipolarity in Indian politics through the projection of contending ‘prime ministerial candidates’. On the two most important issues before the Indian people — growing economic burdens and relentless price rise and unscrupulous loot of our resources through corruption — there is very little to choose between the Congress and the BJP in terms of their policies.

Both the BJP and the Congress pursue similar policies of economic reforms that facilitate profit maximisation by foreign and domestic corporates at the expense of the Indian people. On the issue of corruption, there is very little difference between the two when they had governments. Recollect that when major corruption scams like the ones on 2G spectrum or coal allocations rocked Parliament, there was a sort of ‘match-fixing’ between the Congress and the BJP. The BJP was never prepared for a thorough discussion on these issues lest skeletons from the cupboard of the earlier NDA government stumble out.

What the country, more importantly the people, needs are alternative policies that can prevent such large-scale loot of our resources through corruption, and economic policies that marshal our resources to improve the welfare of our people rather than for maximising corporate profits. The people are in search of such an alternative.

Instead of speaking of such people’s concerns, both the BJP and the Congress seek to divert the agenda away from their policies and performance. The BJP has, once again, begun its efforts at rewriting history and (mis)appropriating national icons such as Sardar Patel. We had exposed these efforts in earlier columns (July 2, 2013). The BJP is now drawing a comparison of their prime ministerial candidate with other national leaders from Gujarat like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel. The RSS/BJP has all along denied the RSS role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Here is what Nathuram’s brother Gopal Godse had to say in a media interview, “All the brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.” (Frontline, January 28, 1994). How much of history can be distorted?

Whether the secular non-Congress, non-BJP political parties will coalesce to form a government pursuing alternative policies, only time will tell. Recollect that since 1977, all governments were formed by coalitions that emerged post-elections — from the 1977 Janata Party government to the 2004 UPA government, including the Vajpayee-led NDA government in 1998 and 1999.

Neta Nahin, Neeti Nayi.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed by the author are personal.