State of a party

State of a party

State of a party

The transformation of Indian National Congress, from an umbrella organisation representing the plurality of India and every shade of political opinion, to a party dominated by dynastic politics, is amazing. The party inherited the rich legacy of freedom struggle, laid the foundations of parliamentary democracy, and set about the task of nation building with concrete programmes of action with a promise of redistributive justice.

When Indira Gandhi split the Congress in 1969, it was the dawn of centralisation of power that reached its nadir during the Emergency. The loss of power in big states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu jolted the party and ushered in an era of coalitions. Over the years, the Congress has metamorphosed into an outfit with pro-rich orientation, ignoring the egalitarian goals of its founding fathers.

Congress after Indira provides a perceptive analysis of changes in policies and programmes that shaped the Congress from the Rajiv Gandhi era, ushering in complex social changes. Zoya Hasan, political scientist and professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, traces the major shifts in economic and public policies between 1984 and 2009. She attributes the Congress’s decline to multiple factors. These include the party’s refusal to take a firm stand on secular issues and ambivalence on liberalisation. Prof Hasan argues that Rajiv Gandhi lost a chance to reform the party. His enactment of the Muslim Women’s Act to nullify Shah Bano judgment was a retrograde step. The reopening of the gates of Babri Masjid to allow shilanyas undermined the party’s secular credentials.

These two moves paved the way for communal polarisation, strengthening the politics of identity. The havoc caused by L K Advani’s rath yatra, Babri demolition, and the Centre’s inaction, all helped the rise of BJP. She says the Union cabinet was a passive spectator to the PM’s dithering. “Narasimha Rao’s opportunism betrayed both the pluralism and secular ethos of his own party.”

According to Prof Hasan, the Congress’s failure to ensure inner party democracy contributed to its downslide. For years, the party has been functioning with nominated representatives. Many recommendations on party re-organisation have been shelved. She says the “contradiction between the primacy of the dynasty, and the need to revitalise the party through internal democracy”, prevented the emergence of a credible second tier leadership. What counts is loyalty. She notes that Sonia Gandhi’s close aides and advisors lack mass appeal and hail from the Rajya Sabha.

It is an ideal setting for power brokers and rootless leaders to hold sway. The political expert also analyses the impact of economic reforms and the government’s obsession with high GDP growth, reversing the earlier thrust on distributive justice. She laments that the neo-liberal policies of the Manmohan Singh government have only widened social disparities, aggravated by the tentacles of crony capitalism and corruption. What the nation witnessed was only jobless growth. She believes that the government’s primacy remains promotion of the private sector that has a larger influence in the shaping of public policy.

Implications of the Indo-US nuclear deal and India’s strategic partnership with the US are discussed in detail. She argues that it marks a radical shift in the foreign policy. Prof Hasan notes the Congress’s reluctance to take up minority-specific welfare schemes and its inaction on the Sachar Committee report. She concludes that the Congress has “no ideology, only strategy”. The irony is that “Congress politics has been captured by the rich, but is sustained by the poor in the age of globalisation”. However, she finds the Centrally-sponsored poverty alleviation progammes like the NREGA offer some solace to the neglected masses.

It is a sympathetic treatment of the state of Congress now. Prof Hasan’s prognosis is that the pluralist character of the Congress is its selling point, and that it can regain lost ground only through party reforms to strengthen its social base. She relies heavily on newspaper reports in the absence of any official records on the party for the period. She even quotes one journalist who figures prominently in Radia tapes. In-depth studies on political parties are rare in India. Congress after Indira fills this void.