To safeguard democracy, Congress must remain true to its ideals
There is a need to rethink the party’s political platform, find new articulations, and a constructive programmatic agenda that connects us with the publicUpdated: Aug 16, 2019 20:18 IST
The Union government’s decision to nullify Article 370 and bifurcate the state of Jammu of Kashmir into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh has divided the Congress. Strong voices, both within and outside the party, pushed the Congress to support the Union government. This group argued that the public sentiment (outside Kashmir) is heavily in favour of the Centre’s actions, and that by opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will put the depleted Congress in a difficult spot ahead of a crucial round of assembly elections. This may seem like pragmatic politics in an environment where electoral victory is increasingly critical even for ideological relevance.
However, the issue must be understood from two perspectives: Ideological and practical.
First the ideological question.
A political party in a democracy must do three things. First, articulate a future vision, based on its values and objectives; second, mobilise the electorate around that vision to capture power; and third, govern if that happens, or sit in the Opposition to hold the government of the day accountable for its decisions. From this perspective, a political party is a top-down platform to mobilise public opinion. It believes that some ideals are core to the party, and common to its members and supporters, and that democratic accountability of a political party’s leadership to its members and followers is to adhere to its stated values, instead of allowing an amorphous group of “people” to define its values on an ad-hoc basis.
This is different from how democracy operates in a country wherein the electorate often has different priorities. It is thus important to ensure that the government of the day is representative of the largest section of the electorate. This is ensured by providing the option of electing a political party to power which appeals to maximum number of voters. Thus, unlike democracy, a political party cannot move Left or Right based on public opinion.
Some argue that the inability of the Congress to respond to the public mood has created a disconnect between the party and the people. This is not a correct analysis.
The truth is that the Congress has become over-dependent on institutional intermediaries such as the media to communicate with the public, instead of shaping public opinion through dialogue and discussion. Combined with some loss of credibility, counter-majoritarian positions by the Congress could be twisted, instead of making people pause to rethink the party’s stand.
These constraints have exacerbated because the Congress mostly reacts to an agenda set by the BJP, where even criticism helps the BJP, instead of the Congress. The corollary is that since the voter can only vote for one party, pandering to mass sentiment on an agenda set by the BJP may have limited benefit for the Congress.
Political parties are vehicles to acquire power for governance. Governance can never be based on a single issue. Similarly, the voter has a range of aspirations and grievances. The Congress should prioritise and politicise those issues that further its political agenda and reconnect with the public on its nationalist legacy, agenda and foundational values.
The Congress-led UPA has impressive achievements, and much to be proud of. However, despite pulling 140 million Indians out of poverty, maintaining social harmony and enacting path-breaking laws, the party does not have ownership over national issues that span across caste, region, religion, and gender divides such as inequality, rule of law and equal educational opportunity. This is a real cause for concern. There is a need to rethink the party’s political platform, find new articulations, and a constructive programmatic agenda that promotes our idea of India and connects us with the public.
It is clear that the changes that were made in Kashmir were done without consultations. Irrespective of where one stands on these changes, there can be no endorsement of the methods adopted, and it is to the Congress’s credit that it was a voice of dissent and principle. It is true that the Congress is manoeuvreing in a limited space, but any capitulation will not be a one-off step because there are more challenges in the pipeline: Kashmir, Ayodhya, Kashi, Mathura, Universal Civil Code, and the National Register of Citizens of India.
To safeguard democracy, and the idea of India itself, the Congress must remain true to its ideals.
Ruchi Gupta is All Indian Congress Committee joint secretary, and in charge of the student wing of the party.
The views are personal
First Published: Aug 16, 2019 20:18 IST