The political situation in Maharashtra is still in a state of flux. The Supreme Court will take the first step in bringing about a measure of clarity when it adjudicates a petition filed by the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena and sets the deadline for a floor test. The order will be be pronounced around 10.30 am on Monday.
It is quite possible that it will set an early date, as it earlier did in Karnataka, and leave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) little room to manoeuvre, given that as things stand the Devendra Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar axis does not seem to have the numbers to pull things through. But matters will become clear soon enough.
Before I get to the primary theme of this piece, I would like to see the funny side of a situation in which we have a chief minister and deputy chief minister without an Assembly to preside over. Like Pirandello’s six characters in search of an author.
Remember a man called Tony Blair? In the early 1990s, he set about transforming an ‘unelectable’ party, the Labour Party, into one that could win an election. He succeeded.
Labour came to power in 1997 with Blair as prime minister. In the process, however, Blair completely obliterated Labour’s basic ideological positions to create a New Labour that looked uncannily like its rival, the Conservative Party. In just over a decade, it was Labour’s turn to become unelectable.
The most tragic part of the Maharashtra situation is that the Congress seems to be treading a kind of Blairite path in transforming itself so fundamentally that it has begun to look not too different from precisely those whose ideological positions it has excoriated as being against the political ethos of India. The Congress’ manifest destiny should be the unwavering defence of the Nehruvian legacy. It is a legacy of civility, of embracing multicultural values, of encouraging dissent, discussion and argument, and of waging war on obscurantism.
Is this what the Congress is doing in what is undoubtedly a critical conjuncture of our nation’s history? The plain answer is: No. India is today fraught by serious, perhaps existential, problems. The majoritarian project codenamed Hindutva has assumed unimaginable proportions. In the past five years, the BJP has consolidated it to a point where it appears to be invincible. Minorities are cowering under its louring shadow.
Institutions are in crisis. Investigative agencies, statutory bodies, autonomous bodies like the Election Commission and even the judiciary seems to be dancing to its tune. Dissent and debate are routinely branded "anti-national" or "pro-Naxal". Cultural and academic freedoms are also under attack. Jingoism has fired up a wide swathe of the population. Balakot has become immeasurably more important than roti, kapda aur makaan.
Yet, it is precisely at this juncture that the Congress has chosen to throw in its lot with a party that is every bit as communal and majoritarian as the BJP. Let us always remember that the Sena’s exclusionary politics combines two binaries: the Hindu-Muslim binary and historically the Marathi-non-Marathi binary.
In the Sena’s ideal world, Maharashtra should be ruled by the Hindu Marathi, all others living in the state on sufferance. Let us also remember that when the judgment on Ayodhya was being delayed, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was one of the first of leaders to agitate for the passage of an ordinance to facilitate the construction of a Ram Temple at the then disputed site.
But this opportunistic alliance has perhaps been presaged by certain happenings in the recent past. Most recently, the Congress not only said it respected the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict, but also went on to welcome the construction of a temple at the formerly disputed site. If memory serves, the Congress has been inveighing against a temple at the site for over a quarter of a century.
Somewhat earlier, the Congress manifesto for the Madhya Pradesh elections followed the BJP by showing great solicitousness for the cow and proposed a tourist package involving tracing Lord Rama’s footsteps. In the same state, people were booked under for cattle smuggling under the National Security Act, a stringent law for preventive detention.
On the other hand, the Congress’ manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections was a truly progressive document, which promised to review laws like the one mentioned above, protect diversity of opinion and dissent, and take special measures to punish lynch mobs. But these fancy statements hardly hold water when the party prepares to join a government headed by the Shiv Sena, if that is what finally transpires.
The question is: What does the Congress hope to gain by allying with the Sena? The only gain is keeping the BJP out of office. Obviously, the Karnataka lesson has not been learnt. The chances of a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government surviving for a decent length of time is low. Then either it’s back to the hustings or, more likely, the emergence of another formation headed by the BJP.
It is unlikely that being in power is an important consideration because as the junior-most partner in the alliance its pickings will be slim indeed. We know that the BJP in its current avatar has a ruthless drive to win every election it contests and establish its supremacy over every possible state. Why should the Congress first mimic Hindutva and then this all-consuming desire for power?
From the outside, it is easy to see that the Congress as it is now is not a fit vehicle for challenging the BJP. Instead of trying to engage the party on its own communal ground, it would be far better for the Congress to sit in Opposition wherever necessary and seriously begin the work of organisational regeneration without which it will find survival itself a difficult business.
It’s time for the Congress to stand up for liberal, constitutional values and not to submit to the dark forces of majoritarianism and obscurantism.
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Updated Date: Nov 24, 2019 16:50:32 IST