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Ram Guha must know: Sonia, Rahul leaving space 'won't help' secularism, democracy

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*

When the focus of the country's intellectuals, activists and journalists should be on the immediate challenge before us, particularly on issues of agrarian sector and farming communities protesting against the three farm bills, 'liberals' and 'seculars' seems to be more obsessed with the Gandhi family. The fulmination of Ramchandra Guha against the Gandhi family will neither help secularism nor democracy. At best, it will help BJP and Hindutva, whom Guha claims to despise so much.
The decline of the Congress is clearly isn’t just the responsibility of the Gandhi family. It has to do a lot with political debate getting highly poisonous and intoxicated over the past 20 years. Sonia Gandhi faced a hostile 'intellectual class' along with the Sangh Parivar related to her birth. After the formation of UPA-1, she tried to lead the party from the backdoor, but played mostly the role of a guiding force, reminding the government of the day of its duties towards citizens. Some of the best bills were passed in Parliament during that period.
When the Congress returned to power in 2009 and UPA-II was formed, a large number of BJP leaders felt that their political career was over. At this point, several Congress leaders became too arrogant, refusing to speak to party workers. Ministers would move files at the speed of a bullock cart. The biggest failure of the Congress was mishandling of various issues. Anna Hazare's movement could have been dealt with in a better way, followed by the agitation around Nirbhaya. A big section of the media had already turned against UPA.
The Telangana issue, the Land Acquisition issue and then the Anna and Nirbhaya issues discredited the government. Coal blocks and other issues of corruption began being highlighted. The Sangh narrative became more powerful. Leaders at the helm of affairs were Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and P Chidambaram. Will they take responsibility for the downfall of the Congress? Manish Tiwari was minister of information and broadcasting. But his contribution was next to nothing. He was so arrogant enough that he didn’t was to fight an election.
These leaders felt that they had no responsibility towards the party or society. Who brought the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) changes, shrinking NGOs’ space and civil society? None other than Chidambaram. Today, the Congress needs civil society more than ever before when the government has made the law even more stringent. One cannot blame Sonia Gandhi for this.
The problem is that the Congress never analysed its governance model of UPA-I and UPA-II. It should have actually done a performance check and monitor their work. Today, those who failed the Congress are actually telling us how they are 'concerned' about its decline. The question is, whether Gandhis alone are responsible for this, or is it a collective failure?
Congress politics has believed in personality cult as its leaders have benefited from it. But India has changed. The Modi phase is here to stay for quite some time. The Congress must understand that India is fast moving towards collective federalism, though to take this forward, regional parties will have to democratise themselves. In fact, the Congress' decline started in the 1980s. A main reason for this is, Indian polity began showing signs of going truly federal, with regional aspirations beginning to become increasingly important.
Ever since the Emergency days, with the notoriety of Sanjay Gandhi, the Congress was despised by minorities. The 1984 Delhi riots and Congress' continuous defence of those participating in the in the progrom alienated a big number of Delhi Sikhs. The Shah Bano case and Narsimha Rao's failure to protect the Babri Masjid and subsequent riots alienated Muslims even more.
The failure of the Congress in handling the issues highlighted by the Mandal Commission resulted in erosion of its Dalit and OBC base. The Narsimha Rao government's wobbly reservation policy had its own contribution to make. All of it together worked as a major reason for the Congress losing major segments which brought it to power. Muslims and Dalits left the party. Farmers voted according to their zones. Several Congress leaders during Indira Gandhi's time hailed from these communities.
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar changed in the post-Mandal era. It was these two states which were giving Congress the biggest support. But since 1989, the Congress lost its ground completely in these states. No doubt BJP, its parent party Jan Sangh and RSS are organisations which have sought to protect the interests of the Brahmanical order. But most of the savarnas supported the Congress as they felt it could keep their 'interests' safe. But after the Mandal report, the savaranas found that the Congress can’t protect their interests and started shifting to BJP.
BJP can be countered by collective federalism and inclusion of most marginalised sections, including minorities, and their structures
The Congress never learned any lessons and continued its attempt to woo SC-ST-OBC-minorities, even as refusing to build a strong independent leadership from these communities. Had the Congress Mandalised itself, many of the current-day 'dissenters' would not even reached the Rajya Sabha.
Yet several 'liberal' intellectuals, who are mostly coffee table friends of many of the 'dissenters', feel that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are responsible for the current state of the party. Things reached such a point that even leaders like Arjun Singh, who was far superior to many, including Pranab Mukherjee, a highly eulogised man, got isolated because it was thought he was 'eyeing' for the Prime Minister's post.
Even when Arjun Singh was given a relatively lightweight Ministry of Human Resource Development, it was he who fought for reservation in higher education and ensured it was implemented. It was he who went to Ayodhya after the Babri demolition, despite Prime Minister Narsimha Rao not so enthused by his visit.
The Brahmanical lobby in the Congress has been upset because Rahul has been trying to implement several major changes in the party. The future of the Congress depends not on one leader. BJP is not winning elections just because of the well-crafted image of Modi, but because of the 'well oiled' party machinery, money, ED-CBI and their shameless misuse. The Congress also engaged in dirty tricks during its heydays, and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi can't be blamed for that.
To say that the Gandhi family has become the biggest threat to democracy and its survival is a new low in the public discourse. Tomorrow, if you will say Mayawati is the biggest threat to Dalit rights or Akhilesh the biggest threat to rise of farmers, who would buy that argument? 
If the Congress has become a private limited company, as Guha opines, then he and his fellow travellers should join hands and form a new party with Congress dissenters. BJP would love it. This is not the time for such ridiculous arguments. It looks like he wants Gandhis to leave India to 'protect democracy'.
Why are ‘liberals’ so bothered about a party they never liked? The 'ideological' mind of Guha says that many 'good people' left Congress and joined 'BJP'. If they were so good looking and if they were truly secular, why did they they join a communal party? He does not seem to have any answer. Yet, he says Gandhis were inconsistent and made ideological compromises!
No doubt, Gandhis don't want to be seen as anti-Hindu. Yet, they have tried to work beyond narrow caste and communal interests – this at a time when the Congress is fast losing out of its core constituency. Congress’ Hindu identity has gone to BJP. BSP, SP, RJD, DMK, Akalis, NCP and Shiv Sena have their core constituencies, and that is why they are surviving. BJP is now working to snatch away these core constituencies from them.
Given this framework, the Congress should become an umbrella organisation for providing space to all the secular social justice forces. Every Congress worker and associate must have a fierce commitment to democracy, social justice and secularism. It must respect collective spirit and federalism. BJP can be challenge only through the spirit of collective federalism. The attempt to 'homogenise' India for the purpose of helping one or two corporations will fail.
Guha has every right to critique Gandhis. But how can he he give them 'ultimatum'? India's focus should be on fighting for democratic polity and collective spirit. India aspires to become more federal, and that is why so many regional parties are coming up. They will have to show statesmanship and work together.
One man, one market, one party will fail sooner or later. Expecting Gandhis to do 'miracles' without strengthening the collective spirit is looking for a 'national' figure to counter Narendra Modi, whose success is not his own but a collective work of so many forces, volunteers of RSS, loyal media, loyal voters and now the government machinery.
This can be countered by collective federalism and inclusion of the most marginalised sections, including minorities, and their structures. So-called 'national' parties will have to work along with other regional parties on an equal basis in a give and take relationship. Of course, there should be a common minimum programme – fight is to protect the idea of India as enshrined in our Constitution.
Sonia or Rahul leaving the space will not help either 'secular' forces or democracy. Let them remain where they are.
---
*Human rights defender

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