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Of Democracy

What the 23 letter writing members-now dubbed the ‘G-23’ have written is like employees appealing to their employer. If that is their equation with the Gandhi family, it has to be said that they consider the latter to be indispensable. In this case, the party members should quietly accept what the Gandhis do or lump it

PRAFULL GORADIA | New Delhi |

In the current political scenario, there is no effective national Opposition to the ruling BJP. There are intellectuals like Kapil Komireddy who believe that democracy in India is in danger unless a viable Opposition is created before the 2024 general election. Otherwise, democracy may be replaced by some form of dictatorship. While Komireddy seems to lay the blame at the door of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for this lacuna, in the humble opinion of this writer, blaming the scion of the Nehru dynasty alone for the lack of a viable Opposition would be wrong.

It is instructive to have a look at our post-independence history. Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister from 1947 to 1964, a good 17 years continuously. The Chinese invasion of 1962 and our defeat was a national shame. Not because we lost, but for the reasons we had to endure a defeat and the way our valorous troops suffered; the loss was not as much military as it was a case of our soldiers being misled and betrayed by an unflattering political leadership. Soon after August 1947, Nehru had told the interim Commander- in-Chief of the Indian Army, General William Lockhart, “India is a peaceful country and therefore does not need an army. The police are sufficient to protect us”. The result of such thinking played out on the ground too, as our armed forces were treated like pseudo-policemen. But by November 1962, Nehru panicked in the aftermath of the Chinese invasion a month earlier. His favourite general B M Kaul had sent our troops up to 16,000 feet altitude in NEFA (today’s Arunachal Pradesh) in cotton uniforms, one ordinary pullover and WWII .303 Lee Enfield bolt action rifles. The shoes given to them were the brown version of tennis ones; no gloves were provided to our soldiers.

When Nehru was told that there was a strong possibility of the enemy entering Assam pretty soon, he felt it was his duty to tell the local people their state was in danger, implying that it was going to fall into Chinese hands. He seemed to be weeping on the radio ~ I personally heard him speak on All India Radio. Fortunately, on the night between 20 and 21 November, the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire.

In the meantime, many members of Parliament were clamouring for the government’s resignation. But Nehru paid no heed to calls for his ouster. When the pressure became too much to ward off, the Prime Minister told his Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon to resign. Menon went into oblivion, but Nehru, under whose leadership India had suffered a shameful military reverse, batted on until a year and a half when he died in May 1964. The spirit of democracy demanded that the Prime Minister too should have resigned.

A decade later, Indira Gandhi went as far as declaring a national Emergency instead of resigning in 1975, following an Allahabad High Court verdict that held her election itself to be unlawful. Her dictatorial regime of the next 19 months, with its attendant banishment of democracy itself is much written about. This was followed by her humiliating defeat in the next general election in March 1977. Should she have done what she did? Was that democracy? Why then blame Rahul Gandhi alone? He did resign as President of the Congress following its second humiliating rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and has not returned to the presidentship since then.

This is not to say that no change is required at all. It is for the other members of the Congress to hold a meeting and decide what is necessary to be done. What the 23 letter writing members ~ now dubbed the “G-23” ~ have written is like employees appealing to their employer or owner of the party. If that is their equation with the Gandhi family, it has to be said that they consider the latter to be indispensable. In which case, the party members should quietly accept what the Gandhis do or lump it.

There is nothing else to be done. One has to recall that when Nehru did not budge despite India’s humiliation at the hands of China, or when Indira Gandhi threw out democracy itself with the Emergency in 1975, no Congressman revolted or took a public stand. Surely quite a few Congressmen must have disagreed with both or either of these situations. As it happened, the Congress endured both the crises and the Congressmen proved wise.

The younger generation might or might not be aware that after P V Narasimha Rao ceased to be Prime Minister following the party’s defeat in the 1996 general elections, there were months when it was feared that the party was falling apart and Sonia Gandhi’s leadership was the only way to keep it united. She did bring the Congress back to power and ruled by proxy for ten years from 2004-14. She was nothing more than Rajiv Gandhi’s spouse, had no experience in political life and is not an ethnic Indian. Yet, her leadership, or more accurately, absolute control, proved finally that the Gandhi dynasty owns the Congress. Rahul and Priyanka are the progeny of Rajiv Gandhi. Take it or leave it. With its long and wide brand equality, it may blossom again or may not. If one does not feel optimistic, she should move another party but should not complain.

Coming to the larger issue, dynasties do not augur well for the life of democracy. A national opposition which is truly a political setup with an inner party democracy is the ideal. In its absence, one needs the party in power to be broad minded enough to ensure governance by, more or less, consensus, as is the present party in power nationally. Consensus is like jamhuriyat, which does not leave out a large portion of the population. No policy can be supported by a hundred per cent of the electorate but it should have an acceptance of a comfortable majority of the people.

It is also not a coincidence that modern democracy has come naturally to countries with Anglo-Saxon roots. England (later Britain) made a beginning in the year 1215 with making King John sign the Magna Carta (Great Charter), which mainly enshrined rule of law. Nothing substantial happened until 1781 when the USA wrote a novel constitution encompassing a distinct separation of power between the legislature, executive and the judiciary. Canada and Australia, being dominions of the British Empire, adopted the path ploughed by Britain.

France has stuck to democracy after writing a secular constitution in the year 1905. Germany tried democracy from 1920 to 1934, followed by the unfortunate interlude of Adolf Hitler and his Nazis. The country again returned to a democratic system after World War II and has stayed firmly on that path. The Scandinavian countries have been democratic; they are a part of the Anglo-Saxon family.

Some countries call themselves democratic because they have elections, but that is not enough. Even Pakistan claims to be a democracy. Turkey has an elective system monitored by its army. The bald truth is that countries of this kind merely go through the motions of democratic exercise like elections. India though, is one nation which has been sincere in its free democracy.