Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The End of the Congress Party as a National Force

Elections are coming up in India. Achin Vanaik has a doom-and-gloom article in the March 16, 2004 Telegraph, where he predicts the end of the Congress party as a national force in India. The obviously pressing problem is lack of vision:

Over the last two decades and more, we have all been witness to the process of progressive ideological-political decay of the Congress. It has no stable electoral social base, having been deserted for the BJP by upper castes and Brahmins in the north, by Dalits in the north and west, and is now witnessing (as the last assembly elections in December 2003 showed) a severe erosion among central Indian adivasis. Programmatically, it follows a softer version of Hindutva and has only minor differences in regard to the BJP-NDA’s economic reforms and its alignment with the United States of America in foreign policy.

And this is coming from a committed Congress supporter! Elsewhere in the op-ed Vanaik asserts a hope that the BJP has peaked and has no place to go but down in terms of its grip on Parliament. Unfortunately, all signs I've been seeing are pointing the other way. It's the economy, stupid, and this year, the Indian economy has been enjoying an unprecedented upswing and a tide of optimism.

Left with nothing much to count on, Vanaik turns to betting against his (our) own team:

Becoming a rightwing but “secular” (where this only means being anti-BJP) party is not the answer. When over the next decade, the eruption against the false promise of neo-liberalism emerges — and as in Latin America, it will — the absence of forces capable of promoting a leftwing populism will allow rightwing populism to manipulate this upsurge in favour of further authoritarian involution and further consolidation of Hindutva politics.

Here he's effectively hoping for an economic crash to restore Indian secularism. In my view, this kind of political thinking is narrow-minded, because it forgets the human misery associated with economic downturns. A crash might be coming anyways (it could be as close as a failed monsoon), but it is in very poor taste to wish for it.

A better political strategy is to try and articulate a new vision for a confidently secular, center-left Congress. There's no reason why it can't be done.

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