Red letter day
Lal salaam Comrades!
Your tenure in government seems to have ended. How different things were four years ago. Four years ago you were faced with a unique opportunity. The ‘communal’ BJP-led NDA had suffered a surprising electoral defeat. The ‘secular’ UPA was to take over the reins of government. In a hung House, you with your 60 MPs, formed the crucial outside support to the government. At that time you smiled broadly with your hands held aloft with other leaders of the UPA. You delivered sharp soundbites on the Common Minimum Programme, on the basis of which you gave your support. With your best-ever electoral performance, it seemed as if the Communists had finally arrived on India’s national stage.
Today, four years later, where are you? The Congress government is getting ready to survive its remaining few months in power without you. Prakash Karat’s dream of the ‘non-Congress’ ‘non-BJP’ Third Front lies in tatters. Mulayam Singh Yadav with whom you once shared an anti-Bush platform has ditched you and made common cause with your dreaded Indo-US nuclear deal. The CPI has long ceased being a national party and the CPM is preparing to go back to writing stirring editorials in People’s Democracy. In a few months, A.K. Gopalan Bhavan will wear a deserted look. Even the TV cameras will switch off. Alas, comrades. You are men and women of such unimpeachable personal honesty, such depth of scholarship among so many of your leaders and sympathisers. You have stood sentinel against religious hatred and never hesitated to scream out against social evils. Yet in the end, you have scripted your own tragic drama of irrelevance.
Why did this happen? Your first mistake was that you refused to join the government or take on ministerships. You preferred to be the eternal college campus rebel, always oppositional, always agitational, but never responsible, or adult enough to recognise that in this country, managing change is about negotiating a myriad interest groups. You could have taken over portfolios like the HRD ministry or Women and Child Development where your progressive commitments and social sector expertise would have been put to excellent service of the people. But you refused to hunker down and work with processes of governance, instead you preferred to criticise from the sidelines. Perhaps you are just in love with your own youthful avatar, refusing to grow up because you cannot accept that you are no longer fiery and young. Perhaps your rage against the world is simply fury against the inexorable truth of advancing years.
Your second mistake was that you failed to realise that you are aged in a country of the young; you have failed to come to terms with the new India. Economic globalisation, despite your consistent opposition, is raging through the country like a wildfire. Like it or not, India’s young are rushing towards new opportunities with open arms. Today a constable from Himachal can become a wrestler on the world stage. A police officer’s orderly can become an Indian idol. The son of a Congress worker can build a telecom empire. The son of sweepress can set up his own fast food business. A conquering cricket team can be made up of boys whose fathers are railway mechanics and tyre repairmen. Icons of the poor like Mayawati are not dressed in rags and jholas, instead they are proudly clad in diamonds and silk, embodying the tidal wave of aspiration that every reporter sees in the dirt tracks of UP and Bihar. There are lots of things wrong with this New India. It does not have the social conscience you like, it is creating vast inequalities between rich and poor, it is pauperising traditional trades and providing little hope for those scratching out worms from riverbeds to survive.
But this New India is also shaping itself into an avalanche of upward mobility. You are trying to tame the avalanche. You have stalled pension reform, stalled banking reforms and for long stalled the privatisation of airports. You did not realise that keeping airports as a state monopoly was only preserving it as a sector for the rich. That all over the world air travel is dirt cheap precisely because it is privatised. When leaders like A.B. Bardhan say, Bhaad mein jaye Sensex (to hell with the Sensex) he pours scorn on millions of middle class Indians who invest and trade.
But what must lead you to BJP-style atma chintan is the crisis confronting you in your bastions. In Kerala you are factionalised in a way that makes even the Congress look good. In Bengal you badly misread what happened in Nandigram leading to shocking gram panchayat defeats in both Nandigram and Singur as well as recently, very important defeats for you in civic body elections. Last year, your protests against joint Indian and American naval exercises got little response from the public. This year your so-called campaign against the petrol price hike was largely ignored by the people.
Your opposition to the nuclear deal once again shows your distance from India. Sure, it’s a commercial transaction, but why is anything to do with commerce necessarily evil? Even at the height of the Cold War, 2 million Indians lived in the US. The links between India and America are so massive, that as a leading economist put it, the Indo-US nuclear deal is an offshoot of a long process of civic exchange with America, not the basis of it. You hate America, but do Indians feel the same? There are important reasons to criticise a country that bombs and invades other countries at will, but there is also the need to recognise that anti-Americanism is hardly hardwired into the Indian DNA.
No to nuclear deal, no to reforms, no to change, no to newness, no to price rise, no to America, negativism seems a reflex action. Your contempt for change, your constant lamentation, your moral righteousness are incongruous in a country shouting ‘Chak de India!’
Eleven years ago you committed the ‘historic blunder’ of not letting Jyoti Basu become Prime Minister because you were unwilling to share power. Today you have committed suicide because you did not know how to use power.
Sagarika Ghose is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN