The leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha writes that the Congress remains the only party with a national vision and country-wide reach.
COMPLETION of 50 years is generally an occasion for celebration and it is in the fitness of things that we celebrate the golden jubilee of our independence. That, in spite of massive problems and tremendous odds, India has been able to preserve its unity and democratic framework is certainly a matter of great pride and joy. But the occasion also evokes mixed feelings, as most of the hopes and expectations that were aroused at the dawn of independence have turned sour and the country today appears to be helplessly drifting into a state of instability and uncertainty.
In 1950, when the country adopted a new Constitution, it consciously committed itself to secular democracy, as, in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society as diverse as India's, only such a system could accommodate all different sections as citizens of a pluralist state.
The country was also fortunate to have the Indian National Congress to preside over the transition to independence. Before 1947, the Congress was a national movement and, after independence, it was transformed into a political party carrying the legacy of the freedom movement. It had the capacity to hold together numerous regional and sectional interests, ensuring stability and giving an opportunity to all sections to join the channels of power. For the first 20 years, until 1967, it remained the dominant political party, embodying the organisational potential of the country. It provided social and political stability and launched the country on the path of economic progress through the mechanism of planning.
The 1967 elections showed, for the first time, a weakening of the Congress hold, leading to the emergence of short-lived and unstable Samyukta Vidhayak Dal coalition governments in many States. Still, the Congress was able to retain its power at the Centre until 1977 when, following the lifting of the Emergency, the country witnessed the first experiment of disparate non-Congress parties coming together to form a government at the Centre. Since then, more than three attempts have been made to form such coalition governments at the Centre, but all proved to be unstable and short-lived. The current experiment of the United Front Government has only served to highlight further the inherently unstable character of coalitions based on a negative anti-Congress plank.
On the other hand, the Congress had been in power at the Centre for about 44 years and it has always been able to provide stable governments, all of which were able to complete their terms in office.
January 24, 1966: Indira Gandhi being sworn in Prime Minister for the first time by President S. Radhakrishnan.
With the formation of unstable non-Congress coalition governments at the Centre becoming a recurring phenomenon, the country today is in a state of flux and growing uncertainty. Our politics is becoming more and more casteist and the polity is becoming increasingly fragmented, with parties thriving on promoting communal or caste animosities. The Central Government is in a state of near-paralysis and there is increasing criminalisation of politics and a growing breakdown of law and order in the States. As a result, the people are getting increasingly disenchanted with existing political parties.
In such a situation, the country's need for unity and stable government can be supplied by the Congress. The 111-year-old Congress still remains the only party with a truly national vision and countrywide reach. Its influence is not confined to a few regions, it still has organisational roots practically in all areas. Besides, as history has shown, it is the only party that can rise to the occasion in times of crisis. It was, for example, the Congress Government which in 1991 had the courage to make a radical break with the statist past and launch the process of economic reform by dismantling the regulatory structure that was stifling economic growth.
WE are now about to enter the second millennium and we have to equip ourselves to face the daunting challenges thrown up by the world of fast-changing technology. Information technology, ensuring high-speed communication, is bringing the world closer and hastening the process of globalisation. We have to harness these technologies and enable India to emerge as a major economic power in world politics. To be sure, we have already initiated the process of liberalisation. But if we want to sustain and accelerate the reforms, it can only be by popular consent and through established political processes. According to the present popular perception, liberalisation has so far benefited only the upper classes and has worsened the condition of the poorer sections who fear that the new technologies being imported will render them increasingly unemployed and that privatisation and globalisation will deprive many backward sections of the assured jobs now available through reservations in the public sector. We have to educate the people and dispel these fears and, simultaneously, we need to adopt such technologies that are suited to our requirements and will enhance productivity and quality without creating large-scale unemployment.
Similarly, our country has a sound manufacturing base that needs to be expanded and improved. But even here, our policies should be for the benefit of Indian capital and entrepreneurship, which should be provided, at least in the initial stages, a level playing field to enable them to compete with multinationals.
In order to be able to play its role more effectively, the Congress has to project the image of a forward-looking organisation with a progressive and modern outlook and vigorously champion the cause of social justice and secularism. It will then be able to attract all sections of society, more particularly youth. Today most parties have tended to become vote-gathering machines, which is a major reason why the people are getting disillusioned with established parties and turning increasingly to communalist, casteist or extremist organisations.
IN the pre-independence era and up to about 1960, the Congress was sustained not merely because of its political management, but because large sections of Congress persons were involved in what came to be designated as "constructive work". Because of the Gandhian inspiration, a vast army of social workers was engaged in voluntary work in the fields of development and social welfare or reform. They had direct contact with the people and frequently took the initiative in resolving social tensions. But subsequently, because of the expanding role of government, the tradition of voluntary work gradually diminished. The Congress should now revive and strengthen this tradition and provide constructive outlets for the energies of its workers by devising imaginative programmes that would provide the workers with first-hand knowledge of social reality and help forge organic links between the party and the people.
THE Congress party today has no towering leader who can both rally the party and have a strong personal appeal to the electorate. It has now to rely on its inner strength and involve more and more party workers in decision-making at different levels in order that their wishes and aspirations are reflected in its function.
The main strength of the Congress all these years has been its extensive rural base. Its main electoral strength has been in the rural areas rather than in the large cities, while non-Congress parties by and large have had their influence confined to urban centres. But with growing urbanisation, about 50 per cent of the country's population is expected to be urban by the end of this century and the middle-class city-dweller is more influenced by the power of general ideas and the views of opinion-makers. The Congress has to take note of this changing reality and reorient its approach and emphasis by giving sufficient attention to the sensibilities and problems of the urban populace in its policies and activities.
As the Congress still remains the only viable national party with the capacity to preserve the unity and integrity of the country and provide political stability, it is in the country's interest that urgent steps are taken to revitalise it at the grassroots. Many observers and even non-Congress leaders share the view that the Congress is the only party that can help arrest the current process of fragmentation of our polity. As a discerning commentator recently observed: "In spite of its present limitations, the Indian National Congress is an embodiment of a vision of united India; its destruction or decimation would be the destruction of that very vision of India." (Harish Khare, The Hindu, April 9, 1997).