Ever since the 2019 general election results, there has been vigorous debate in the media and political circles about the future of the Congress party. This year, that is, 2020, the Congress saw the desertion of Jyotiraditya Scindia – and the attempted ‘re-enactment’ of a similar script by Sachin Pilot has revived this debate.
Mainstream media has mostly been blaming Rahul Gandhi for the present misfortunes that have befallen the Congress and want him to make way for someone else. However, things are never as simple as they seem.
The fact of the matter is that this entire debate is flawed because it is not only the Congress which has fallen on hard times –– the entire spectrum of the Opposition has been rejected by the electorate.
From cadre-based parties like the BSP and the Left or dominant caste-based parties like SP-RJD, to mass-based parties like the TMC and AAP – all have witnessed an erosion in their base. Rahul Gandhi is not responsible for the condition of these parties, obviously.
The present political moment requires us to re-evaluate all our old assumptions rather than reduce the present crisis of the Opposition to merits and de-merits of certain personalities.
‘The Last Czars’: The Illiberal Revolution & Death of the Old Order
The Netflix series titled The Last Czars holds interesting insights for our present political context. The series chronicles the downfall of the last emperor of Russia. While the show stresses on the ‘nice yet unprepared king’s’ tactical mistakes as the cause of his demise, what is unmistakeable is the primacy of the rapid social change sweeping through Russia. Industrialisation is underway, and the attendant emergence of an industrial working class armed with revolutionary ideas.
Against this background, an insulated king –– clutching to dogma –– is unable to respond creatively to the crises.
After seeing the Madhya Pradesh election unravel from close quarters, it is clear that what we are witnessing today is an organised illiberal counter-revolution, informed by seismic social changes in the polity. Electoral mandates are just a by-product of these changes; without acknowledging this change and reframing democratic politics altogether, it is naive to expect any change in fortunes for the opposition.
- After seeing the MP election unravel from close quarters, it is clear that what we are witnessing today is an organised illiberal counter-revolution.
- Electoral mandates are just a by-product of seismic social changes.
- The Congress never frontally fought the Hindutva forces.
- The only resistance came from a tactical caste calculus in two North Indian states; undone spectacularly by the Saffron juggernaut in 2014.
- All other parties originating from mass movements have stagnated today.
- Today, they are mass-based parties sans mass-movements.
- Blame Rahul Gandhi all you want, but a mere change in leadership (of the Congress) will not suffice.
The Long Road to Unfreedom: From the Streets to the Parliament
Long before Rahul took over the reigns of the Congress, Hindutva had established its hegemony. The forces which would propel the present regime to power had already been set in motion. The Congress never frontally fought them.
The only resistance came from a tactical caste calculus in two North Indian states –– undone spectacularly by the Saffron juggernaut in 2014.
The onerous task of creating a secular-liberal public was never undertaken, and was reduced to the lecture halls of the Lutyens’ elite, which sang paeans to an imaginary exceptionalism of Indian pluralism, while in the rapidly transforming Moffusil India, a silent ethnic Hindu uprising was being patiently brewed.
This ethnicisation of Hinduism was brought about by the penetration of the market into society, and the fateful turn of events following 9/11. The marketisation of society had a three-fold effect: first, it hampered the ability of Mandalite parties to distribute patronage via allocation of government jobs, and in turn reinforce the identity of disadvantaged castes and retain their base. Second, it laid the ideological grounds for a disdain for socialism or redistributive politics, especially among the middle classes. And most importantly, third, it paved the way for corporates to take over the media and electoral process completely, changing the rules of the game.
Towards A ‘Second Republic’?
Modern political parties, unlike monarchies, aren’t violently overthrown. They decay and are gradually isolated and made irrelevant. For three decades now, Hindutva has been the most dynamic mass movement sweeping across India. All other parties originating from mass movements have stagnated.
Today, they are mass-based parties sans mass-movements.
While a purely electoral approach might unseat the BJP in the short term, it surely won’t defeat Hindutva. The Congress, as an elite network of entrenched satraps, has been destroyed. The desertion of Scindia and Pilot affirms this.
Now it can only be resurrected as a party committed to certain ideals.
All those invested in the democratic project in India need to reimagine a new secular contract centred on the individual, and based on public reason. A new socialist politics based on rights and transparency, rather than mere redistribution and a cultural politics grounded in myriad traditions of cultural negotiation, rather than the idle pontification of the Lutyens’ elite.
It is only this ideological re-orientation that can lay the foundation for a rejuvenated India, which is otherwise on its way to becoming an ethnic tinderbox.
Blame Rahul Gandhi all you want, but a mere change in leadership will not suffice. In the foreseeable future, the Congress will perhaps spend more time on the opposition benches than in government, and those whose politics has been bred in power, will continue to abandon ship. Only those set for the long haul will stay back and fight.
(The author is a political activist based in Madhya Pradesh. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)