Congress: Illusion And RealityIn an editorial written for People's Democracy, Sitaram Yechury responds to the Congress Election Manifesto.
UNMINDFUL of the ground realities, when important allies have refused any arrangement on seat sharing in major states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, accounting for 120 members of parliament, the Congress party, while releasing its manifesto, exuded confidence of returning to power under the same prime minister. In the run-up to elections, every party has the democratic right to entertain grandeur illusions, however different they may be, from the ground reality. The sovereign masters in a democracy are its people, who will determine the results in these elections.
While the results will, eventually, decide on the future five years of governance, the observations made in the Congress manifesto on the Left parties and the third front merit proper examination.
The Congress manifesto describes the third front as a “recipe for chaos”. From its convoluted logic, three elements can be distilled as the basis for such a conclusion, viz, a) the front has no alternative policies, b) it helps the BJP and communal forces, and c) it is unstable.
Before taking up these issues, it is necessary to deal with another one. The manifesto says, “Left parties, who are prime movers behind the so-called Third Front, supported the Congress-led UPA government for over four years. They attempted to exercise authority without taking on any responsibility.”
First, despite the fact that 54 of the 61 Left members of parliament entered the Lok Sabha by defeating Congress candidates, the Left exercising utmost maturity and responsibility decided to support the UPA government from the outside in the interests of providing a secular government to the country to thwart the challenges posed by the communal forces to our unity and integrity and to the secular democratic foundations of the modern Indian republic. This responsibility was undertaken by the Left without any return of authority or spoils of office. In contemporary politics, this is a rare display of principles where responsibility is discharged without the authority of office and its accompanying perks. Thus, it is the other way around, the Left exercised responsibility without taking on any authority.
Secondly, the Congress manifesto says that the Left parties withdrew support to the UPA on the issue of “the civil nuclear agreement even though it had been negotiated and concluded on our terms”. It goes on to say that this agreement “was in India's supreme national interest”. What they do not say is that this was an agreement with the United States of America as an integral part of developing a strategic relationship with US imperialism that impinges upon India's sovereignty and independent foreign policy. India's votes in international fora against Iran and closer cooperation with Israel were all consequences of such a strategic alliance with US imperialism.
Thirdly, the Left's support to the UPA government was based on the Common Minimum Programme (CMP). All through these years, the Left strove to exercise pressure for the implementation of this programme and to prevent its violation. By concluding the Indo-US nuclear deal and announcing to the world that all Indians loved George Bush, the Manmohan Singh government violated the CMP. The CMP stated: “Independent foreign policy to be pursued to promote multipolarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism”. Instead, the UPA government entered into a strategic alliance with US imperialism when it was implementing its unilateralism aggressively with the military occupation of Iraq. Further, the CMP stated, “While pursuing closer engagement and relations with the USA, independence of India's foreign policy position on all regional and global issues will be maintained”. Instead, as we have seen, our foreign policy positions were made to dovetail US positions.
It needs to be recollected that during the course of the drafting of the Common Minimum Programme, the Left had objected to a reference on the strategic relations with the USA. This was replaced by what has been quoted above in order to enlist the support of the Left parties for the formation of the government. Once in office, the UPA government violated the CMP and proceeded with its earlier desire for strategic ties with US imperialism. It is this betrayal of the CMP that forced the Left to withdraw its support. These are the facts.
As noted in these columns earlier, all the achievements of the UPA government listed in the Congress manifesto have been the result of the Left's persuasion and pressure. It is only when the Left decided to walk out of the Coordination Committee did the UPA government roll back its plans on the privatisation of the public sector. During the course of these years, the Left did not permit any dilution of the public sector. On the contrary, many a sick PSU was put back on track. Additionally, as noted in these columns earlier, the Left prevented the government from going ahead with its disastrous financial liberalization reforms which is the main reason that India was able to blunt, to some extent, the devastating impact of the current global recession.
Having set the record straight, let us now come to the charges noted above regarding the third front made in the Congress manifesto. First, the charge that there are no alternative policies of the front. Has the UPA, or for that matter, the NDA, put forward any policy prescriptions? All political parties come before the people with their election manifestos, which contain the policy programme that they would implement if in government. The experience of the last two decades of coalition governments shows that the fronts or alliances that formed the government were all forged post-elections – the United Front in 1996, the NDA in 1998 and the UPA in 2004. Only after the formation of the alliance is the common programme for the government drafted and agreed upon by the coalition partners, like it was the case with the CMP under discussion of the UPA government. So shall it be with the alternative secular front, post the 2009 elections. Thus, this charge of the Congress party simply just does not hold any water.
Secondly, the charge that the Left and such an alternative front are “responsible for the electoral growth of the BJP” is not merely hollow but diabolic. First, it should be remembered that in those states where the Left is a decisive force like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, the BJP has not been able to win a single assembly seat, leave alone a parliament seat, on its own. On the contrary, it is the Congress who continuously ceded ground to the BJP in the entire North India reducing itself to a marginal force. During the period of the UPA government, the Congress lost its governments to the BJP in Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Thus, who is helping the BJP to retrieve lost ground?
Thirdly, the charge that the governments of the alternative front are inherently unstable. Yes, the past experiences of such governments show that they have not been able to complete their full term. This is mainly because the instability was created by either of the major parties who gave support from the outside. The V P Singh government in 1989 required the support, in terms of numbers, of both the Left and the BJP. It was at the insistence of the Left that the BJP, ever eager as it always is, was not allowed to join the government. On the issue of Advani's incendiary `rath yatra’, the BJP withdrew its support forcing that government to fall. The Congress, then, propped up the Chandrasekhar government, which again fell when it withdrew support on the flimsy charge of two policemen keeping a vigil on Rajiv Gandhi. Later, in 1996, when the Congress lost the people's mandate, it extended outside support to the United Front government with a promise to continue for the full term. Incidentally, the Left played an important role in the formation of the United Front precisely to give India a secular government and prevent the BJP, which had emerged as the single largest party, to consolidate as a government. Recall that Vajpayee government on the 13th day, after assuming office, was defeated in the trust vote and the United Front government assumed office. The Congress party, using its outside support, first forced the UF to change its prime minister and, after few months, it withdrew its support on the grounds of allegations against the UF constituent, DMK, for its involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi (strange, it has now completed its full term leading the UPA government with the very same DMK as a partner) leading to its collapse. If the Congress had not thus betrayed, the BJP could neither have forged the NDA nor form the government in 1998. If the Congress had honoured its commitment to the country and the people, then the UF government would have continued till 2001. In pulling down the UF government, the Congress voted along with the BJP, as it did in pulling down the V P Singh government. Who, pray, is `responsible for the electoral growth of the BJP'?
Thus, the past experience of instability of the non-Congress, non-BJP governments had been caused invariably by the outside support provided by either of these parties. The solution against such possibilities in 2009 lies in ensuring that the alternative secular front has a majority of its own. This is not a far cry, as some make it out to be, considering the fact that when the 14th Lok Sabha ended its term, the number of Congress and BJP MPs put together was less than the majority.
The efforts for forging such a non-Congress, non-BJP secular alternative has set in motion a churning process. The rumblings in both the UPA and the NDA, superficially ascribed to political opportunism, is due, mainly to the popular pressure being mounted by the mass support of many regional parties on their leadership for a shift in policy direction that will provide relief to them. This is what explains why many longstanding allies of both the BJP and the Congress have chosen to part ways.
The need is for an alternative policy trajectory that contains and weakens the communal forces; that follows economic policies where people come before profits, that pursues policies for achieving social justice and welfare of religious minorities, that protects and strengthens India's economic and political sovereignty by pursuing an independent foreign policy defining a place of pride for India in the world.
It is only through ensuring the emergence of an alternative secular government that will follow such alternative policies that the future of India shall be better along with the livelihood of its people.