No plan B to meet BJP onslaught

Congress is waiting for Modi’s Godhra moment

By Amulya Ganguli

If the former Congress M.P, Mani Shankar Aiyar, is to be believed, the party is waiting, first, for Narendra Modi’s Godhra “moment” or a communal outbreak, and then for “our Belchi moment”. The two incidents, separated by a quarter of a century, apparently constitute the parameters within which the Congress’s policies are being formulated.

While a repeat of the communal violence of 2002 is expected to undermine the BJP’s position and boost the Congress’s, the latter is looking forward to utilizing the expected upswing in its prospects to embark on a return journey to power just as Indira Gandhi did in 1977 by taking an elephant ride through muddy, impassable terrain to Belchi in Bihar where a massacre of Dalits had taken place. The show of concern enabled her to become prime minister again in 1980.

Whether or not these two incidents revive the Congress’s flagging fortune, what is clear is that the party is banking on pure chance to claw its way back to power. There is no hint in these expectations of a reappraisal of policy or of personnel or of the need to rev up the organization or of an ideological orientation in sync with a globalized world. All that the 129-year-old party can think of in its moment of despair is that the BJP will be destabilized by a riot and that the Congress will be able to use the opportunity to pose as the saviours of those who have suffered.

But, what if there are no riots, at least not on the scale of what happened in Godhra ? How long will the Congress wait ? Evidently, there is no Plan B. And, the reason for its absence can be discerned from what a senior party leader, P.C. Chacko, said when he took charge recently of the party’s Delhi unit in the run-up to the assembly elections early next year.

According to him, although the party won only eight of the 70 seats in Delhi in December 2013, it came second in 16, suggesting that with a little bit of effort, it can fare reasonably well. But, the problem, he said, is that the party is not united. Besides, the organization is in a shambles. “There are no district committees or block committees”, Chacko says. Moreover, the difficulty with the setting up of a campaign committee is that since the position is seen as a precursor for the chief minister’s post, the factional feuds will first have to be resolved. As a man from Kerala, he will know about these feuds.

That’s not all. The Grand Old Party of yore has “no clear stand” on issues which “resonate” with the common man. It will also have to reach out to various sections of the people, including the SCs and STs who supposedly constitute the party’s main support base. Clearly, it is not enough to only wait for the Godhra and Belchi moments. The road to resuscitation is much tougher.

Unlike the Congress, the Leftists are waiting for Modi to stumble because of his pro-market policies. As the writer, Amitabh Ghosh, has said, “the contradictions between neo-liberal promises of growth and the constraints of the environment will not go away” As a result, “protests (will) break out in India, as they surely will”. While the Left is predictably banking on the forces of history to bring down Modi, the Congress is hoping that fortuitous events will play a role.

The reason for its belief in fate and not history is that the party has had leaders in the past belonging mainly to the Nehru-Gandhi family who were capable of seizing such moments. As a result, their followers have lost the habit of thinking for themselves, dependent as they are on the dynasty to rescue them at a time of trouble, as Indira did with her visit to Belchi, or building on an established base, as Rajiv Gandhi did in 1984 by securing an unprecedented 415 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats. But, ever since the dynasty’s present generation lost the charisma of their forebears, the party has been finding the going tough.

Its dependence on a communal outbreak to cut the ground from under the BJP’s feet is understandable because the Congress’s return to power in 2004 was due to the Gujarat riots, as the then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee said. However, no one has understood this connection more acutely than Modi, which is why his political tactics of the last few years have been based on erasing the memories of the outbreak either by holding sadbhavna or goodwill fasts to foster Hindu-Muslim amity or by calling for a 10-year moratorium on sectarianism, as he did during his Independence Day speech.

The Congress, therefore, is hoping against hope if it believes that there will be widespread rioting as in the periods after L.K. Advani’s 1990 Somnath-to-Ayodhya rath yatra or after the 1992 demolition of the Babri masjid or in Gujarat in 2002. While there may be minor outbreaks as in Delhi’s Trilokpuri area recently, the days of prolonged violence are over not only because Modi has seemingly learnt from his mistakes but also because of the intense present-day media coverage which makes it impossible for violence to rage unchecked. (IPA Service)

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