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Alliance with the people

At the Shimla ?Vichar Manthan Shivir?, while working out the strategy for the coming elections, one of the most important issues being discussed by the Congress is coalition policy.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2003 13:06 IST

At the Shimla ‘Vichar Manthan Shivir’, while working out the strategy for the coming elections, one of the most important issues being discussed by the Congress is coalition policy.

There are strong advocates of the coalition era who are convinced that it has come to stay and that our parliamentary system will have to accept this reality. Where is the need for a Vichar Manthan Shivir if we are to go for the soft option of a coalition even before the elections? We might as well have a pre-poll alliance with Mulayam Singh, Kalyan Singh and Ajit Singh in Uttar Pradesh and Laloo Yadav in Bihar and forget about any ‘vichar’.

So will there be no need for national parties in the federal parliamentary system? And should the Congress now abdicate its national party status by withdrawing from one state after another and become a regional party?

Whenever the Congress enters into a pre-poll alliance with any regional party, the people feel that it has lost faith in itself and is getting dependent on some other party. The Congress leadership in that state and the rank and file workers also get demoralised when they are told to canvass for candidates of other parties with whom the high command has made alliances.

An alliance is normally done on a barter arrangement — the majority of assembly seats going to the regional party and Lok Sabha seats going to the Congress. This is temporarily attractive but in the process the Congress loses its base in the state and becomes permanently dependent on the regional party.

The only way for the revival of the Congress as a truly popular national party is to go to the people directly with full confidence in itself and with the tried and tested pro-poor, pro-youth, pro-women and pro-weaker sections programmes and policies. Our secular and socialist credentials must be seen to the believed. Under no circumstances should we try to compromise with communal and casteist forces in an attempt to manage a vote bank. The best ‘solution’ for the Congress would be to heed the following:

<li>It should not enter into a pre-poll alliance with any other party. There is no question of conflict or ill-will for or towards any other secular party.
<li>If, at all, a pre-poll alliance should be made only with those parties which were earlier part of the Congress and which have no ideological differences with the latter. To make such an alliance easy, the Congress should not project any one person as a prospective prime minister. This question should be decided only by elected members of the Lok Sabha. Sonia Gandhi as president of the Congress has enough charisma to mobilise people throughout the nation.
<li>If the Congress does not get a clear majority on its own, it can form a coalition government with other like-minded secular forces. It should not repeat its earlier mistake of procuring outside support and thus make a mockery of democracy. It has been seen that only a coalition in which the single-largest party not only participates in but also heads the government can provide a strong and stable administration.
<li>The Congress should unequivocally take a stand that it will support the formation of smaller states if the people of the regions concerned so demand. That smaller states are administered better and develop better has now been well established. After having supported the formation of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the Congress must openly support the case of restoration of statehood to Vidarbha and Telengana as they were already approved by the earlier commission.

The other important point no doubt being discussed at Shimla is how to counter Hindutva. Even with the Congress’s secular stand, it has not really been able to counter the emotional appeal of the Sangh parivar’s brand of Hindutva.

The best way to take the wind out of the parivar’s sail is to clear the distinction between the word ‘Hindustan’, which describes Indian nationality, and the word ‘Hindu’, which describes the religious faith. The Congress has always believed in using the word ‘Hindustan’ and calling ourselves ‘Hindustani’. The Congress has always stood for the existence of a casteless and classless society. It must firmly state that it will work for the eradication of the chronic cancers of caste and class.

On the organisational side, women and youth must be mobilised at the grassroots level in a nationwide campaign for improving the living conditions of our people by assuring at least one productive self-employment or job per family. This should become the most prominent slogan of the Congress.

The Kashmir issue is still like a thorn in India’s side. The best way for the Congress to approach this problem is to categorically state that India should agree to discuss with Pakistan only the Kashmir issue in all its dimensions. This, the Congress should agree to do within the framework of the original UN resolution. It should have no hesitation in facing the Kashmir issue squarely in the larger interest of the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan. Without doing this, there can be no peace in our region.

We should also willingly send peacekeeping troops for the reconstruction of Iraq in the interest of its people. Today, the real authority is the US, which has even superceded the UN. We should, in the larger interest of democracy, agree to cooperate with the US administration in its fight against authoritarian and terrorist forces anywhere in the world. This is also in India’s national interest.

<i>The writer is a senior Congress leader</i>