Presidential Election 2017: Congress' ideological war lacks merit, just like Meira Kumar's aspirations

Any polemics on 'ideology' has been in retreat since the 'Emergency' days. This retreat was further reinforced by the 'end of ideology' discourse of Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) and later the ideology-neutral 'five-point' programme of Sanjay Gandhi. In fact, both Narayan and Sanjay had striking resemblance so far as 'de-idealising' the political narrative is concerned. During the so called 'total revolution', most of the powerful democratic and socialist-driven organisations had not only liquidated themselves, but any talk of ideology amounted to committing blasphemy. Thus, Sanjay's ideology-neutral policy got internalised in the body politic of the Congress party when Indira Gandhi, like a doting mother, said with pride that the ‘Youth Congress’ led by Sanjay has ‘stolen the thunder of the Congress party’. Since then, the dialogic firmament of India is totally different.

It came as a pleasant surprise when Meira Kumar, after being nominated by Congress for the presidential poll, started talking about restoring the 'ideological discourse'. She further wants to jettison any talk about caste or Dalit identity. She rather feels that the discussion around the presidential nominee should centre around 'merit'.

File image of Meira Kumar. Reuters

File image of Meira Kumar. Reuters

The 'ideological' thrust and 'merit' endowment together is a very formidable combination. We have witnessed a number of leaders — at the national as well as provincial level — who combined unflinching ideology with outstanding merit both during the national freedom movement and during the 70 years post Independence. Apart from front ranking leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, and others, there were also a number of leaders at lower levels who belonged to this genre, combining ideological underpinning with unparalleled ability. These ideology-driven foot soldiers built the mammoth 'idea of India'.

Even in the Opposition front, there were leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, PC Joshi, EMS Namboodiripad, SA Dange, Madhu Limaye, Deen Dayal Upadhayay, Atal Behari Vajpayee and others, each of whom were symbols of their respective ideology and ability. Narayan was a combination of deep political foundation and outstanding ability at the early stage, but later, in the process of combining political parties of different ideological hues against the Congress party, he abdicated his own ideological moorings.

It is an irony that the responsibility of resurrecting the ideology of Congress party has been given to Meira, who has been free from it since the inglorious period of Emergency. What does Meira essentially symbolise? Has she ever been an ideological anchor within Congress? Has she ever fought for any plebeian agenda? In spite of her having a larger-than-life family heritage, how could the Bahujan Samaj Party create a massive space in the Hindi heartland? Even though her Bihari sub-national identity is being suddenly extolled now, she is a mere pale shadow in comparison to Ram Vilas Paswan even on the Dalit count in her own state. Has she contributed anything seminal in the context of Bihar? In spite of her Welham, Miranda House and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) background, has she delivered or written any memorable treatise? Was she proud about her social heritage? Why does she remain apologetic about giving a spin to the presidential election around Dalit? Is she not a beneficiary of ‘positive discrimination'?

Her entry into IFS has not been through open competition, nor has her election to the Parliament — five times — been through any general category constituency. She was elected as speaker essentially to endear the Dalit constituency symbolically. What has been her contribution as the first woman speaker of the Parliament? Has she excelled the benchmark created by earlier Speakers like GV Mavalankar, MA Ayyangar, PA Sangma or Somnath Chatterjee?

At best, she can be compared with speakers of inconsequential track record like GMC Balayogi or Manohar Joshi. Does merit include educational endowment alone or does it also include the construct of a social outlook? In this backdrop, it can be said without qualm that the contribution of K Kamraj, an English illiterate, was much more than that of C Rajgopalachari, the ‘wisest’ man of the country, in shaping the then modern foundations of the Madras state. Ultimately, it is the pro-poor thrust that democratises a society. One may ask if or not Merira has ever associated herself with this trajectory. One may also note that she has not given space even to the offspring of her own sibling, Medhavi Kirti, in the Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation.

In the Dalit politics, there are four types of leaders: first, there are faceless and nameless leaders who quietly associate themselves with the Dalit and proletarian movement. They are also the main storm-troopers of Left and radical movements. Secondly, there are a group of Dalit leaders who quietly adopted the Gandhian path, again faceless and nameless.

Thirdly, we have a group of leaders who fought for the Dalit empowerment incessantly. They are not interested in ‘office’ per se, but they want ‘power’ and ‘space’ in the 'state system', emanating out of empowerment. This trend was initiated by BR Ambedkar and climaxed under the tutelage of Kashi Ram. Both Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram fought the ‘state’ and its entrenched leadership frontally.

Finally, fourth in the list are leaders who vied for position and compromised at any length to remain in office. Normally, they are co-opted by the state or the ruling elite. They will invariably stand for status quo, both in the realm of social as well as economic democratisation.

Jagjivan Ram initiated this trend in Indian politics. He was first assigned to fight the peasant movement of Sahajanand Saraswati, as a leader of agricultural labourer in the thirties in Bihar. However, the peasant rank could not be broken.

In post-independence period, Ram was the principal architect of the state system, which prevented democratisation and promoted status quo. The suffix of ‘Babu’ underlined the elite co-option and changelessness. In the matter of probity, he was a pale shadow in comparison to other members of the cabinet in the era of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai. He had no compunction in supporting the resolution of Emergency and leaving the Congress party at the very first opportunity.

In the matter of 'accumulation', he was part of the folklore. Twice he was denied the highest position in the country, for non-filing of income tax and wealth tax for ten years. Meira in some sense is the grotesque symbol of this fourth brand of leadership.

Can Congress hope for its ideological resurrection through nominating her as a presidential candidate in the 2017 Presidential Election? Ram Nath Kovind, the nominee of NDA, may not be nationally known, but his tenure as Governor of Bihar is an indelible signature of probity and seriousness for higher education. He appears to be more authentic than his Congress counterpart.

The author is member secretary, Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna

Updated Date: Jul 07, 2017 18:29 PM

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