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Gujarat election results: No better time for Congress to reanalyse policies, politics | Manish Tewari

In Gujarat, the Congress has certainly delivered its best-ever performance since 1990. There cannot be a more opportune moment for a critical re-examination of its positions, policies and politics

GujaratElection2017 Updated: Dec 19, 2017 07:56 IST
Gujarat election results,Gujarat elections,BJP
Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat. Can the party offer a new deal to the people of India ahead of the next general elections? (PTI)

The results of the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections are not a shocker to say the least. Himachal Pradesh has stuck to the cyclical trend of the Congress and the BJP sequentially rotating in and out of government since 1990. In Gujarat the Congress has certainly delivered its best-ever performance since 1990. There cannot be a more opportune moment for a critical re-examination of positions, policies and politics by the Congress as the run up to 2019 commences in the right earnest.

The first crucial question is whether the economic philosophy of the party requires re-honing. From its Avadi Session in 1955, where the Congress dedicated itself to the socialistic pattern of society, right up to 1990 till the pillars of scientific socialism crumbled with the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union and east Europe, Congress cadres were brought up on a high-octane diet of socialism presiding over the commanding heights of the Indian economy.

When ‘a’ Congress government globalised the Indian economy by unshackling it in 1991, ‘the’ Congress Party did not translate that shift into a viable ideological hypothesis unlike Deng Xiaoping who transmuted the revision in China’s economic direction in 1976 into a succinct mantra “Poverty is not socialism. To be rich is glorious”. With one stroke, he aligned the entire Chinese Communist Party apparatus behind that tectonic paradigm shift.

The shift in India’s economic trajectory has left the Congress vacillating between doctrinal socialism and a gold rush towards a new neo-liberal economic order for more than 26 years now. Should the Congress party not clearly delineate where it stands on the issue of personal wealth generated through legitimate enterprise or entrepreneurship? Is getting rich a glowing virtue or still a noxious vice? How does it square up with building an economy for 99% of Indians who have not benefited from economic neo-liberalism?

The second is the question of neo-feudalism. In 1971, the then Congress leadership took a stout position against the vestiges of feudalism by abolishing privy purses. In recent years, crony capitalism has created oligarchs who in turn have institutionalised a new dynamic of big money through privately owned media exercising disproportionate influence on electoral politics. In addition the old feudal order has re-infiltrated the body politic systematically. Should the Congress not rekindle the spirit of 71 and exorcise politico-economic neo-feudalism from the political firmament with a reflective scrutiny of its own ranks too?

Third, on the question of secularism, should there be a sharper formulation? Secularism was a classical construct imported deliberately into the Indian socio-political environment by the founders of the Indian Republic who were acutely cognisant that there must be a clinical separation between the Church and the State especially, in a profoundly religious country such as India. Over a period of time, their ideological inheritors reinterpreted it to mean “Sarv Dharm Sambhav” (equal respect for all faiths) that really means motherhood and apple pie to different sets of individuals. Has the time not come to go back to the basics that religion is a purely private space pursuit that has no place in the political life of the nation and it should not be the recipient of state patronage?

Fourth, the question about what constitutes nationalism needs to be defined definitively? Should the Congress not aggressively articulate that nationalism means: ‘Together we are stronger’? India has place for all its people. Its innate strength lies in respecting the dignity of each individual irrespective of caste, creed, religion, region or station in life. Should it not vigorously oppose the majoritarian conception of nationalism based upon one religion that seeks to Pakistanise India?

The fifth question is whether the Congress should go back to its street-fighting roots best exemplified by the vibrancy and aggression of its mass organisations between 1977-80, 1989-91 and 1998-2004 respectively? Should it not re-internalise the talisman that democracy is a system where you support your supporters? Kept media and North Korean Television Channels would obviously twist it out of context. Wouldn’t cadres and leaders be enthused if the leadership stands steadfast with them recognising that in battle stuff does happen?

Sixth, over its long march, the Congress transformed itself into a mass movement fighting for Independence into a natural party of governance. In the process it got converted into an electoral machine predicated upon putting some people into public office from panchayat to Parliament. This sapped its ideological vitality and that is now ostensibly impacting its ability to finally breast the tape, despite being just there. The Congress must rejuvenate itself in the wellsprings of ideological clarity and couple it with a fierce willpower. Can it clinch these issues and offer a new deal to the people of India ahead of the next general elections will be the critical question that it needs to ask itself?

Manish Tewari is a former Union minister and distinguished senior fellow with the Washington DC based Atlantic Council

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Dec 19, 2017 07:56 IST