Searching for Congress

-Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman

More than any other stage in history, it is now that the country needs the principles of Gandhi that were tangibly reflected in the Congress ideology of yester years. A party that liberated India from the shackles of colonial imperialism and then post independence led it onto a path of progress and modernity is now in a major part of the country gasping for breath. The hypoxic state today of the Congress is reflective of floundering levels of ideological and policy dialectics that the party practiced particularly over the last three decades. The compounding and confounding fact is that Gandhi himself is being hijacked as a symbol of hypocritical reverence by groups that have all along espoused causes and concerns that are diametrically opposed to what Gandhi believed in and fought for his entire life.

If today Congress wishes to retain its flavour of historicity in convergence of humanity, it seriously needs to reflect on two key aspects (a) how did it land itself on a path that went in a direction very different from the one that the likes of Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad and Patel had ingrained in its body politic and (b) where and how did it lose the plot to erstwhile fringe groups so much so as to yield them the centre stage while itself getting pushed to the margins. Upfront reading of such an assessment points towards two major problems: first, turning a blind eye on (beginning with the last part of Indira era) or even encouraging governance focussed more on aggrandisement than actual delivery to the poor. Second, shifting away from an essentially secular to an alternating communal-secular pathway of convenience and short terms gains. The dilution and adulteration of its pro-poor approach meant that Congress started to lose the connect with a large chunk of contemporary Indian masses and their faith as well. The shifting away from secularism meant the Congress had yielded space to fringe elements allowing them to supplant it with their communal blueprint. The aforesaid communal agenda was something alien to majority of Indians who for centuries had been brought up on a rich, liberal and ‘welcome all’ philosophy of Hinduism. Now the new sectarian or communal approach apparently seemed to fascinate some of the contemporary voter mindset but deeper inside it rankled and agitated their conscience or morality fact which majority of politicians may deliberately chose to ignore or do not credit the common man with.

The malaise manifested itself in various forms, starting as in late 70s and going into 90s. ‘Garibi Hatao’ got converted from a meaningful slogan of a laudable set of programmes to a means of aggrandisement by bureaucracy and upper political class. This was very eloquently highlighted by none other than Shri Rajiv Gandhi with the astounding analysis that if the total spend on rural subsidies and poverty alleviation programmes is taken as Rs 1 only 15 paise out of that found their way to the needy or for benefit of poor. To make matters worse, from the 90s Congress also started to unabashedly sacrifice secular principles at the altar of short term electoral gains by playing the sectarian card (Shilanyas, Shah Bano case, extending Reservation into Promotions against existing Constitutional mandate, etc). Thus it adopted an approach of vacillation on basic elements of both secular principles and socialist polity (e.g. so called Liberalisation that included doing away with India’s Fair Trade adjudication body called MRTP Commission). For instance, in its journey to appease the ‘Dalits’ and to stem the tide flowing in favour of some regional Dalit leaders the Article 16 of Constitution of India was lawfully tampered with an Amendment opening the portals for Reservation in in-Service Promotions. It is ironical that this was nowhere even in consideration of the founding fathers of the constitution led by none other than Dr Ambedkar. On the other hand, a similar Constitutional Amendment required to support the 4% reservation for Muslims in the State of Andhra Pradesh was not even drafted or made and the state led legislation perished in a court!

In the last three to four decades the political spectrum has also blurred and homogenised tremendously with politicians conveniently traversing or hopping across the varying ideological paths or platforms of different parties so as to keep changing and aligning with the one that is in power. In this scenario wherein earlier the currency of Political ‘Dharma’ used to be ideology it now got replaced by pelf and power. The acceptance and promotion of this culture by all parties across board, particularly unacceptably by Congress, hugely diluted the principles and polity framework developed by the stalwarts of the Freedom Movement. The new Congress thus became more a party of convenience from where it was easy to float in and out as Ghar Wapsi was not only accepted but encouraged.

It may help senior Congress leadership today to hear the voice of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay in his famous work titled, ‘Universal Integralism’ wherein he speaks of Political Morality and cites the example of a leader not from his fraternity but of one from the Congress party (he himself observes this!) Hafiz Mohammed Ibrahim. Hafiz ji, as he was popularly called, was also a Freedom Fighter, subsequently a Minister and in political retirement a Governor. In citing his example, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay asserts that it is important to see and learn goodness wherever it comes from. He was talking about the famous 1937 Ignore by-election in pre-independent India. Hafiz Ibrahim had won the United Provinces (as U.P. was then called) General Elections, on a common Congress-‘Muslim Board’ platform. When he was made to join in as a Minister in the first Provincial Governments set up in States at that time (preparing the people for transition of power) some prominent Muslim leaders protested. Hafiz Mohammed Ibrahim promptly resigned his seat. A by-election ensued in which Mr Jinnah personally came and campaigned against Hafiz Sahib who was now contesting on a Congress ticket and Muslim League had fielded their candidate against him in an election premised on separate Muslim electorate (an electoral mechanism of olden times). Despite that Hafiz Ibrahim won with a thumping majority. Beyond being seen as a hallmark of political morality this 1937 by-election in India was also discussed in the House of Commons in London taking it to portray that all the Muslim masses were not with Mr. Jinnah or the Muslim League and it was wrong to conclude that the majority of them were accepting of the proposed Partition.

Years later, the same man now suffering from bone cancer was fielded in a Parliamentary bye-election from Amroha despite fact that he was in no position to go and campaign. But he was considered invincible, never having lost a single election throughout his life. He lost Amroha! After losing he immediately resigned from the Union Ministry (Union Minister for Irrigation & Power in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet) even though he was already a sitting member of Rajya Sabha and had more than half his term to go and technically was not required to resign. But he over-wrote the technical script of convenience with the script of political morality. Today we have some very ‘powerful’ Cabinet Ministers inducted right after losing the Lok Sabha General Elections and even before they got inducted into Rajya Sabha! E-Governance may have bettered the standards of Governance; in all other respects they have plummeted.

Not too long ago, while celebrating its Centenary, the Indian National Congress published in three Volumes the History of Congress through the Freedom Movement and early years of Independent India. There was not a single reference to Hafiz Mohammed Ibrahim therein. Years earlier Deen Dayal Upadhyay had already secured for posterity and history an example to follow in terms of Political Morality disregarding that Hafiz Saheb was an affirmed Congressman. The malaise that besets the strategic thinking and human resourcing within Congress is instructive with irony if the earnest Leadership of Congress is seeking to bring the Party out of the Black Hole today. Look what you have done to many real Congressmen who refused to find place in your sycophancy chorus. As an illustration, three generations of the Hafiz Ibrahim family served the party and country in various capacities with indisputable honesty. It stood steadfast with Congress ever since, not once going to another platform, yet consistently found itself sidelined or even ignored as the party became a victim of an overtaking culture of sycophancy.

The paper tigers in Congress management today may say, the story above has historical value; the matrix, the paradigm is of a past era! To them the following tale which has amusing ambiance for the lay reader. Late Azizur Rehman, eldest son of Hafiz Ibrahim, led the Congress charge in the 1985 UP Assembly Elections being a Cabinet Minister and responsible for District Bijnore and secured all the seven seats of the District historically for the first and only time. All the seven tickets had been given as per his advisement. Right after having won all the seven seats for the Party, he was dropped from the reformed UP Ministry – all the other outgoing Ministers including tainted ones were retained. People of the District were astonished. But they got the message. Since that day Congress Party has won not a single Assembly seat from District Bijnore of Uttar Pradesh: more than 32 years have passed by! The most modern MBA courses teach Management through case-studies. Congress leadership can profit as well.

The Congress that emerged out of the above unprincipled kneading was far removed from the ethical pathway of Gandhi. Now the operational element was power grabbing with  all kinds of unscrupulous elements finding their way to the top of the party most conveniently often on fiscal strength and defeating the very idea of a party that was dedicated to the service of all sections of the masses and upliftment of the country. Moreover, some of the splits in the party after Pandit Nehru were primarily forced due to authoritarian conduct of senior leaders and the rewarding of sycophancy. The splits also weakened the party enormously as many stalwarts, talented persons and truly committed Congressmen went out of the party. The splinter groups often formed their own parties becoming competing regional leaders with Congress hue themselves. With each division the party lost some leaders who were connected to the masses and instead of adding mass base or even honest leaders, it knowingly got into a culture of adding and replacing them with sycophants many of whom did not and do not have the capacity to win even a Municipal election.

It is particularly sad to see the party play the political band sitting on the fringe now singing the tune of anti-incumbency or negativity of those incumbent as it’s theme song or Anthem for its renewed bid to power. Hence, the current Congress does not have much of a pro active agenda but is moving forward putting its hope on the expectation of the backlash related to real and perceived negative policies, actions or bad governance of those in power. This has been so with the Congress and most other political parties for the last 25 years or so. The party counts on a scenario wherein people’s disenchantment, frustration or anger with those in power would catapult it back to the top. For the purpose it is ready to play second fiddle to a lot of caste, creed, vested interest based outfits whose agenda, polity and mandate are far removed from the ideals of Congress: an observation that prima facie needs no analysis or debate. Of course, such a path may yield dividends in the short term but the party needs to question if this is really the path for its true and sustainable resurrection. It needs to find the courage to hold on to its founding principles even if that means not holding on to power in the given innings.

The country today needs leaders and parties that would bring in secular inspiration and cleanliness in the polity and executive while upholding the principle of unity or oneness in diversity on which stands the edifice of our Constitution. Thus, a viable – for the future – true leadership would shun current dispensations and approach to evolve a new paradigm of politics that the country badly needs lest it fall into an abyss of communal strife and the ongoing politics of greed or short term gains. The very fact that in majority of cases billions are spent in contesting elections and subsequent objective of such elected representatives is primarily to make good many times over of that investment is threatening to tear apart the very foundations of democracy in India. Therefore, it is imperative that those investing millions and billions at the hustings are shown the door to oblivion instead of pushing or welcoming them into India’s temple of democracy, the Parliament.

It is critical that masses in this country rise above caste, religious, cultural and local vested interests to indicate to political parties the need and appreciation of clean politics directed towards keeping the unity and respecting nations diversity. It is important not to be swayed by sloganeering or communal hype even when wrapped in the shiny but poisonous velvet of so called neo-nationalism. Last but not the least we also need to not fall prey to a grouping of mostly opportunists whose sole agenda is to clutch or reclaim power in the name of protecting the secular edifice of the country. It is indeed the moment when the soul of this nation which has long been put to sleep … needs to wake up and find utterance.

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