Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Congress and its pen-pushers can’t see where the wind is blowing

Image: Courtesy Economic Times

“It (referring to the writing of US President Warren G. Harding) reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking Idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flab and doodle. It is balder and dash.”

– H L Mencken

When I read the columns by political columnists on current political scenario, with Narendra Modi-led Bhartiya Janata Party as a huge, near-invincible political force and a blabbering, confused Congress on the other side, I think this quote of Mencken fits so well on their writings. There is not a lack of intellect on their part nor is there a sudden loss of grip over the language in which they have been thinking over all these years. There is something more profound which makes their writing nowadays fluffy, baseless and shallow. It is their lack of understanding of the world they are writing about. The problem they are facing is in a sense similar to the problem India’s principal opposition party faces. 

They are out of grips from the current day’s reality and they are oblivious to the present-day sensibilities. Their pens have forgotten the ability to slide over the waves of changing times, so long they have been in absolute and unchallenged power in their respective realms- Congress in Politics and the Intelligentsia in  its shadow which remained unchanged for so long that they lost the ability to read the volatility of political world. We all know how all the esteemed analysts failed predicting the electoral success of BJP in 2014 and again in 2019. 

The Political Columnists who were supposed to be a bridge between the masses and classes, themselves moved into the Classes and became a part of the Elite, losing touch with the Masses from which they were supposed to report the undercurrents. 

Those staged series like Breakfast on My Plate – right around the time of election, basically polling those elites who start their day with breakfast in a restaurants would not tell you what the man rushing through his daily routine to make it to his office, shop and work is thinking. The entire journalistic fraternity has become a part of the social class which does not make or break the political system in democracy, rather merely reflects on it and oftentimes, benefits from it and at times, loses because of it. 

I was, of-late, watching a discussion on the current political scenario, with a theme which is common these days, on how Congress can resurrect itself as a credible opposition. Poll Analyst and an experienced reader of public pulse, Yashwant Deshmukh, in that discussion on The Print pointed out how the masses looked at the Congress as an Anti-Hindu party. An experienced and much respected journalist of  The Print Jyoti Malhotra was visibly shocked at the suggestion and could not believe it. 

Today’s The Indian Express (Sunday Edition, 17th July, 2022, same appeared in the Financial Express ) carried an Opinion Piece by venerable Tavleen Singh, in her weekly column The Fifth Column, which reminded me of the aforementioned interview on the Print and also of a sort-of meeting in which went much viral after 2019 election in which we had agitated and much bewildered Shekhar Gupta and Yogendra Yadav, blaming the electorate for making their poll predictions go haywire. The theme of the piece was again – Oh dear, how do we bring the Classy Congress back into the game?. 

Ms. Singh was last seen on Social Media kind of celebrating with his Pakistani-Origin son the violence unleashed on the streets of India by fanatic Muslims in the name of blasphemy by the erstwhile BJP Spokesperson, Nupur Sharma. It is most ironical that Ms. Singh had lost her partner, Pakistani Politician Salmaan, on 4th of January, 2011 for representing a Christian Asia Bibi in a blasphemy case. The murderer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was convicted and hanged in 2016. While the Judiciary of Pakistan did not dither and the media did not attack Mr. Taseer as Kanhaiyalal of Pakistan for having brought this unto himself due to his loose tongue, it was odd that Ms. Singh found sympathy towards the mob baying for the blood of Nupur Sharma. Anyways, coming to the article of concern titled –Bad days for Dynasties– she appears absolutely down in spirits now that the acting chief of Congress, Rahul Gandhi has again decided to go for one of his mysterious Foreign vacations. 

An upset and disappointed Tavleen tells us that in the last seven months of this year, this is the fifth Foreign trip of Rahul Gandhi. She is annoyed that the elections are approaching and Rahul Gandhi is nowhere half as serious about giving a fight to Narendra Modi as is the media. She quotes an incident from India Today Conclave of 2017, where when asked about the possibility of second-term for Mr. Modi, Mrs Gandhi had calmly and ‘haughtily’ informed the anxious intellectuals there, “No, He will not come back. We will not let him.” The reader can almost imagine Tavleen throwing ink at a Sonia Gandhi’s picture, shouting – ‘And we believed you’, hurtling herself on her bed, and sobbing between her pillows before moving to the next paragraph. 

Ms. Singh has however explained in her first paragraph that she wants Congress to be revived because despite being reduced to a family business, it remains our only national opposition party. An experienced journalist is supposed to give some sort of historical context to such claims. But then wasn’t as compared to BJP or Jansangh, Communists were a legit national opposition to the Congress at one point of time, after Congress had lived for decades in an unchallenged democratic India much in a way BJP appears today. It does not kill democracy. Opposition is necessary in democracy but it need not come from the same party which was an opposition until yesterday. One can have an entirely new Opposition, but then the worry seems much like that of the Aristocrats of Delhi after the collapse of Mughals, the ecosystem will come crashing down.

Tavleen does not want the Family to quit Congress. She simply wants them to wander away in the lawns of 24, Akbar Road, so that people cannot see them controlling the things from there. She wants the threads holding the installed puppets so thin that people might believe that the Party is now out of the strangleholds of The Family and they may vote believing it. She then slips into the usual folly of all those political commentators who have good of Congress in their hearts but have their brains floating in the clouds of nostalgia. 

They do not realise that it is not the Party which has been rejected, it is the ideology which has been rejected here. The Congress which grew up as a formidable force before Independence (not the current INC, which is a reincarnation of Congress -I), because it represented the masses who had been disenfranchised for centuries during the British rule and Mughal rule before that. They had no votes, were subjected to different taxes than those citizens who shared religious faith of the rulers. American Blacks still had One-Fourth the vote. Nehru did not understand this agony but was counter-balanced by much wiser and deeply grounded Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and the rest. 

The analysts and commentators still are oblivious to the ambitions, desires and perfectly legitimate demands of those masses who silently supported the Congress before independence with a hope for valid restoration of honour as equal citizens in national polity. Post-independence, after decades of surviving through a hopeless existence, they found an assertive voice in the BJP. Starting possibly with Indira forming AIMPLB followed by Rajiv Gandhi’s Shah Bano case, under Sonia Gandhi, this hope of Congress offering equity and equality to the majority seemed impossible and the wisened voters shifted towards the BJP. 

Tavleen suggests that Rahul Gandhi should have stayed back and studied Sri Lankan crisis closely. What could he have learned apart from the anger of the people towards the dynasty and aristocracy, of the people who do not do the hard work and want power without understanding? It would have scared him about his own existence. He represents the same lot which has been thrown into oblivion by the people of Sri Lanka, the family politicians, the woke politicians, the ones with blue blood and silver spoons. The idea of democracy is inconsistent with the idea of dynasty which Rahul represents. Didn’t Thomas Paine say “There is an unnatural unfitness in an aristocracy to be legislators for a nation.” Unless there is a willingness in the aristocrat to fight for his democratic space as a commoner from the ground, all external drama like the proposed Padyatra is of no use. This Tavleen too concedes that it will be looked by people only as another drama, as was the protests against ED Notices to Rahul and Sonia was perceived by the people.

He, incidentally has gone on holiday when Parliament session is about to commence. People are aware now and they have grown big enough to throw their arms around the shoulders of their leaders and ask questions looking in their eyes. The days of eternal gratitude are over now. 

Is BJP a perfect vehicle to take the ambition of its masses to logical conclusions in all measures? Partially yes, but not always, not in all the aspects. Still BJP remains silent on firing on Hindu processions in a state ruled by its coalition partner. Still BJP government in Maharashtra got an Engineering Graduate arrested for posting against the same Islamic pilgrimage centre which now is in the eye of storm for having links with Pakistani Terror organisation and Islamist radicals. There are possibilities of present and fears of future which requires and alternative. That alternative is not Congress with its current ideology where it seems to not be fighting for space with BJP, rather with IUML and AIMIM. The set of target voters Congress leadership has set their eyes on are not the same as BJP voters. That is where the failures lies. Political commentators and analysts want Congress to resurrect itself in the image they have imagined in summer afternoons at the JNU. That Congress cannot beat BJP and will wither and end.

An answer to BJP in electoral sense is not more Congress, it is more BJP. Pick up the sand and throw it in the air. It will show which way is the wind blowing. It is true, Democracy needs an opposition. But Democracy is not binary. An opposition to Hindu nationalist Party, is not an Anti-Hindu, Anti-National Party. It could well be a More-Hindu, More-Nationalist Party. Against BJP helplessly watching banning of Diwali, there are two oppositions possible. One that promises to ban Holi too, this is a path Tavleen and the lot suggests for Congress. Other could be celebration of Diwali on a grander scale and bringing a law which prevents such fooling around with the cultural and religious heritage of India. It could well be a party with more teeth than BJP.  

The answer to a party that complains about Hamid Ansari and his alleged Pakistan links need not be a party that defends Mr. Ansari. It could well be a Party which arrests the Bhatt boy who went on Reccee with Richard Headley.  That space is vacant. If Congress continues to be moving in the direction of a Past that no one except the aristocrats wants it to go back to, someone else will come. Remember, once Praja party was an option, then Communists were an option and then Janata Party and then Jana Sangh. Nature hates vacuum, something will come. Congress can be that party to fill the vacuum if the ‘well-wishers’ of Congress would let it. 

You do not always answer the present by looking at the Past, often best answer is to be found in the future, for that, you need to see which way the wind is blowing and accordingly set the sails. For that Gandhi family need not only appear to have released the Congress from their claws, they need to sack the Family and free it ideologically to reinvent itself with the promises for a new future for a new India. I do not mind if they fade away, unlike Tavleen. I will wait for someone else to come up. As citizens, we do need options and that option need not be Hinduism or Islamism, Nationalism or Anti-Nationalism. Politics of Binaries is not good for any democracy.

(Saket Suryesh, an author and columnist, is a popular presence on social media for his penetrating views, often disarming. A few of his books include “गंजहोंकीगोष्ठी”, “The Revolutionary Bismil” and “हिंदीकथासंग्रह – “एकस्वर, सहस्त्रप्रतिध्वनियाँ”)

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