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A fossilised conservatism shatters - The Pioneer

Sandhya Jain ()
March 20, 1998

Title: A fossilised conservatism shatters
Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 20, 1998

Even as political pundits prophesy further instability as a
result of the electorates' fractured verdict, a discerning eye
can observe. some positive trends beneath the surface. To me, it
is significant that while the Congress has declined as an all-
India party and the Bharatiya Janata Party has not yet fully
taken its place, the idea of India has taken root on a sub-
continent basis, and is not linked with the fortunes of any
political party. I would go so far as to say that today a sense
of nationhood binds us as never before, and even and as we wait
for a government to take charge at the Centre, we do not despair
that another poll may await us two or three years down the line.

Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's success in securing an invitation from
President KR Narayanan despite his splintered victory comes in
the wake of a succession of events, not least of which are Mr
Sitaram Kesri's dramatic resignation as Congress president, and
Mr Chandrababu Naidu's stoic refusal to feast on the tensions of
Indian society a la his Left Front friends. By shedding his past
ambivalence towards the BJP, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister
has accepted that, given the peculiar crossroads at which the
country rinds itself, he and his party bear a special
responsibility to provide it with a legitimate, and viable
government. Accordingly, he has shed the sterile Leftist
rhetoric that has so long clogged the nation's arteries (no doubt
at some cost to himself). and is bearing his cross with grace.

Mr Chandrababu Naidu's pragmatic approach has not merely imparted
a fresh vitality to the system; it has, in one fell stroke.
shattered the fossilised conservatism or the United Front-Left
Front combine, and challenged the conventional wisdom that the
minority-based, caste-based, so-called centrist parties alone
have heaven's mandate to rule. Simultaneously. he has poured
scorn on the VP Singh-Harkishen Singh Surjeet duo's pretensions
to being the legitimising priests f Indian politics. By spurning
the offer, indeed the clamour, to once again join the anti BJP
bandwagon, Mr Chandrababu Naidu has signalled a larger shift in
the nation's political paradigm.

The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh has opened a path for a
positive assertion of Indian nationalism, in the sense of a
positive affirmation of the aspirations and sentiments of the
majority, without the negative overtones that have accompanied
such an effort in the past. This is a task that even the BJP's
electoral allies, most notably the Samata Party, Lok Shakti,
AIADMK and Trinamul Congress have shirked, mainly on account of
their hyper-sensitivity to their Muslim constituents. Yet,
despite similar concerns, Mr Chandrababu Naidu has accomplished
this from a non-BJP platform, even as he has made way for the
BJP.

Of all Indian politicians today, Mr Chandrababu Naidu may justly
be said to be the one who has best understood, and respected, the
letter and spirit of the people's mandate. It would be fruitless
to speculate why he did not do this two years ago and spare us
the agony of the recent elections. Those who believe a greater
power guides the nation's destiny will appreciate that the change
is surely the consequence of tapas, of what Aurobindo described
as the pressure of consciousness on its own being.

Meanwhile, Congress president Sitaram Kesri's dramatic
resignation, in a manner calculated to cause maximum
embarrassment to the Party's current supremo, Ms Sonia Gandhi,
must rank as his greatest achievement in office. Within the
larger framework of national politics his open dare to Ms Sonia
Gandhi to assume direct charge of the party effectively scotched
its efforts to form a government with the help of the United
Front. and boosted the BJP's prospects by appealing to the anti-
foreigner sentiments of the Telugu Desam.

Mr Sitaram Kesri's challenge has brought the Congress face to
face with itself. To begin with, he has demolished the persistent
fraud that Ms Sonia Gandhi is a non-political samaritan
interested only in the good of the party, and forced her to own
and accept responsibility for her statement that the party could
flourish under the 'right leadership". Since even the meanest
intelligence can understand that Ms Sonia Gandhi could only be
referring to herself', the wily Congressmen from Bihar has
virtually pot her in the dock for the kind of returns her nation
wide campaign has yielded the parts,.

It is an issue she cannot easily evade, particularly in view of
the party's complete rout in Uttar Pradesh, including the
family's poeketborough of Amethi, and the success of former party
president PV Narasimha Rao in keeping his adopted constituency of
Behrampur in the Congress kitty. Nemesis has caught up with a
party determined not to learn the lessons of the limits of
dynastic and personality cult politics.

But the most difficult reality that the Congress will have to
contend with is the prospect of a foreign-born leader as it sits
in opposition. It is a scenario the party may not be prepared for
inwardly, as Ms Sonia Gandhi was catapulted to the forefront
solely on the calculation that she would be able to bring the
party to power. Her election campaign was deliberately kept
brief, hectic, and dramatic, to forestall opposition parties from
zeroing in on her foreign origins. Yet, in the end, the party
fared no better than before under her sole stewardship, and there
is no one with whom to share the blame as all other leaders had
been shoved off the dias. The theory that the Congress would have
fared worse without her campaign shall remain one of the unproven
facts of the 1998 general election.

For the present however, the Congress will have to contend with
the twin realities of its opposition status and Ms Sonia Gandhi
as the leader whose charisma proved unequal to bridging the
yawning gap with the people. It will have to acknowledge that she
neither understands nor epitomises the traditions and aspirations
of our society. The party's ideological vacuum is staring it in
the face, of which the complete rout in Uttar Pradesh is surely
the most eloquent expression.

Ms Sonia Gandhi too cannot escape introspection flaying projected
herself as a formidable power broker with whom foreigners would
like to do business, as witnessed by the plethora of foreign
dignitaries who have paid courtesy calls on her, she perpetuated
the myth that she had only to call and the people would come
running. That legend lies tattered in the bylanes of Amethi; what
emerges is a full-fledged politician without a natural
constituency. It is an unenviable position to be in. Already she
has to contend with powerful State satraps like Mr Sharad Pawar
who cannot be ignored in the light of their remarkable
performance while her own trusted generals have bitten the dust.

For. the BJP, the pulls and pressures within the Congress and
United Front-Left Front should afford breathing space to get its
act together and get down to the task of running the Government
with its allies. The party is understandably dejected that the
verdict makes it impossible to manifest its striving for a
complete reordering of the socio cultural-politico economic
structure. There is, nevertheless, the dawn of a new hope as
pertinent issues of social and economic reform can be tackled
with the help of like-minded allies, the rest can await a more
propitious moment. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has spent the best
years of his lire in the Opposition. He will understand that
nation-building calls for an unrelenting aspiration and steadfast
dedication in the face of all odds.


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