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To Kill A Party...

FOR MANY YEARS I have said — on public platforms and in private — that the problem in India is not the BJP but the Congress. The BJP, with its origin in sectarian philosophies, is a known animal, all its bigotries like warts on its pelt. On the other hand the Congress, in whose crucible the idea of India was once born and delivered, is today a poltergeist — its shape amorphous, its intentions shadowy, its substance insubstantial. People may occasionally fear the sectarian animal and its ugly snarl, but they dread the untethered ghost more — for it scares you periodically, and is never there to be cornered for any kind of reckoning.

Wild extrapolations will for some time accompany the triumph of Narendra Modi. His competence, his honesty, his leadership, the transcendental appeal of Hindutva, the great change that has now been heralded. All manner of grand things will be imagined and attributed. The simple fact of the matter is that Modi’s overwhelming victory has little to do with any of them, and mostly to do with the triumph of a personality cult. It is a reminder to the Congress that the masses always crave leadership. They seek the determined visage, the stentorian voice — they wish to feel that someone up there knows better. If they do not see strength in the wise visage, if they do not hear the ring of determination in the wise voice, they will cleave to the unwise, as long as it exudes power and purpose.

The stupid spin doctors of the Congress who are now running a whisper campaign to blame Sonia Gandhi need to realise that maybe they got wiped out not because she made a direct assault on bigotry, but because none of them did. What they did was to show that they were not leaders in Gujarat but mere vote accountants, desperate opportunists. They wooed the bigots they were meant to fight; they relied on snatching and stealing vote banks, not inspiring and commanding them; they came not with a vision for the people or the country but with a game-plan to acquire power. There was nothing in their speech or conduct that inspired trust.

Instead of taking on the travesty of 2002 directly, and eloquently appealing to the Gujarati to see the dangers of an unjust society, they decided to play the bigotry game. Today these same strategists who assured everyone they had the whole election stitched up are running for cover, spinning further dishonesty — bereft both of power, and the lustre that comes from having stood for the right thing and fought the good fight.

In contrast the Italian-born lady at least addressed the fundamental issue, and understood that at the end of the day the moment may be about Modi but its final message is not. The final message is about contesting world views, the civilisational vision. Do we wish to travel on the miraculous road the founding fathers forged: democratic, liberal, inclusive, modern? Or are we going to careen off into jingoism, bigotry, retrograde religion, and the powermongering of political-corporate cabals? As a people do we look to becoming modern or merely prosperous? As a people do we understand that a free society, a democracy, is not just about winning elections but about creating and sustaining institutions that strive for equality, justice and fairplay?

Might is not right. Majority is not right. Money is not right. In the good society, only right is right. And we all know, at all times, the difference between right and wrong.

But here too the problem is that the Congress can no more be expected to carry the larger vision, to walk the path to the good society. For nearly a hundred years the Congress was the political umbrella for India’s liberals and progressives, the keeper of the humane flame. Tragically, it is no longer so. Its own long roster of excesses, blasphemies and broken covenants makes it suspect — even to its allies; and breeds within itself an absolute confusion about its true centre. Can anyone spell out what the Congress stands for today? (And for that matter Shivraj Patil, the spectral home minister?) After its Gujarat campaign, you could try opportunism, fecklessness, timidity.

All this bring us to the man who ostensibly helms the nation. The prime minister is both a good man and an honest man. (Which by the way Modi is not: he is a demagogue, who distorts, misrepresents, and appeals to the baser instincts.) But Manmohan Singh is not a strong man. As the challenges to India grow — communalism, inequality, corruption, Naxalism — what we will need is not just political vision but also political will. The ability to put one’s life and beliefs unflinchingly on the line. As redoubtable men of the free world have done in the past — Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, Nehru.

Else we will get another kind of strong leader, the kind that’s grown big on differences and bigotry, the kind that eventually leads his people to rack and ruin. And that list is longer still.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 1, Dated Jan 12, 2008