It is my belief that the Congress Party and its clones that ruled this country almost uninterrupted for 60 years has come to the end of its history, not exactly in the manner that the political scientist and economist, Francis Fukuyama would have intended, when in 1989 he wrote that “a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism.”
Liberal democracy, according to Fukuyama, had reached the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution, and the final form of human government.”
The ideological evolution of the Congress Party and its clones, on the contrary, has been a reversal from liberal democracy at the dawn of independence, through later-Nehruvian socialism, Indira Gandhi’s fascism, and the current hereditary monarchy symbolized by Rahul Gandhi.
In its search for continued political relevance the Congress Party has been treading exactly the opposite path of most of the world’s democracies. While we may agree that inequity and injustice has not been fully eliminated from the liberal democracies, the evolutionary process is continuing to look for a system that would deliver “a society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings.”
Beginning with state capitalism and a license-permit Raj, the Congress, in its socialistic phase, used nationalization of major industries like oil, coal, banks, airlines, etc., to channel funds to its populist schemes solely aimed at garnering votes at election times. Indira Gandhi’s imposition of Emergency in 1975 was the descent into fascism that her insecurities brought about.
The liberalization promised by Rajiv Gandhi never really materialized because he depended on advice on the same people who had been his mother’s confidantes. The opening of the economy in 1991 was brought about by an economic catastrophe, and a fortuitous chance of a member from outside the dynasty at the head of the government.
A reluctant (and probably afraid) Sonia Gandhi had refused to lead the Congress after the brutal assassination of her husband. The return of the dynasty in 2004 was the beginning of the hereditary monarchic phase of the Congress.
India at the dawn of independence came to be governed by the Congress who drew its support mainly from the two classes of the big bourgeoisie and the landed gentry. Suniti Kumar Ghosh, writing in his book, “The Indian Big Bourgeoisie: Its Genesis, Growth and Character” says that “much of the capitalist industry that developed in India did so not in the strongest contradiction with the policies of imperialism but mostly on a comprador basis.”
According to Ghosh, the big bourgeoisie was “never hostile to foreign capital either before or after the transfer of power. It sought not independent capitalist development but development as a subordinate partner of imperialist monopolies.”
The Congress depended on these “subordinate partners of the imperialist monopolies” and therefore, could not evolve into a liberal democratic party once the successor of Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri died in mysterious circumstances at Tashkent. Shastri, in his brief tenure of about twenty months, had begun to direct the Congress away from the Nehruvian socialistic pattern; and had he survived, the Congress would not have regressed into fascism and hereditary monarchy.
The installation of Indira Gandhi brought the subordinate classes back into power that gave rise to “retarded, misshapen, lopsided economic and social structures” as defined by Ghosh.
The Anna Hazare movement in 2011 could perhaps be defined as the first stirring of that phase in the development of a liberal democratic system in which the working class seeks unity with the peasantry in order to overthrow the ruling classes at the centre. The reaction of the Congress and the other entrenched political parties, not seeing the movement as an electoral threat, felt no pressure to jettison the structure of the largely faux electoral democracy.
The Congress was confident that it would be able to manipulate the electoral system to its advantage as it had done in the past. If the Anna Hazare movement had been perceived as a real electoral challenge to the ruling dispensation, the Congress would have declared another emergency and discarded the system of electoral democracy. Since the movement was not perceived as a conscious coming together of the working classes and the peasantry, the Congress was able to crush it by unleashing its repressive forces – legal as well as illegal, while retaining the facade of a democratic structure.
However, the emergence of a Narendra-Modi-led BJP (as against the earlier Advani-led) marked the party’s first conscious decision to depart from an overt dependence on big bourgeoisie or the landed gentry. Narendra Modi posed the first significant challenge to the hegemony of the Congress and the other parties that, in essence, are no different from it. The Left, of course, has made itself completely irrelevant by aligning with the same “retarded, misshapen and, lopsided economic and social structures” that were the legacy of Indira Gandhi.
In the run up to the 2014 elections the party had exhausted all the weapons in its armory. The National Food Security and the Land Acquisition bills were the last two arrows left in its quiver. Rattled, on one hand, by the uncovering of innumerable scams involving almost every member in the government, as also the son-in-law of the party President, and the spectre of Narendra Modi on the other, it found it expedient to shoot these two weapons in unseemly haste. For good measure it also promised to divide Andhra, and for a while toyed with the idea of making Hyderabad a Union Territory.
The Congress rightly saw Narendra Modi as its biggest opponent in the 2014 elections and quickly emptied its arsenal by firing the NFSB and the Land Acquisition Bill with a view to bribe the working and peasant classes to vote for it. The attempt at breaking the newfound unity of the two received the unanimous support of the members of Parliament, including the then BJP, and the bills were passed without any meaningful discussion.
The Congress believed that with these two weapons it would be able to negate the challenge of Modi and come back to power at the head of a coalition when it would anoint the crown prince as the hereditary dynastic monarch. The Advani-led BJP, on the other hand, had found it expedient to endorse the two bills, as it too was complicit in the breaking of the unity of the working and peasant classes.
Modi’s nomination to lead the BJP as its Prime Ministerial candidate, therefore, marked a radical departure from its own version of liberal democracy that increasingly resembled the Congress version minus, of course, the Family.
Modi, riding on the total disillusionment of the electorate with the blatant corruption and the misuse of power by the UPA, perhaps even surprised himself when the results of the 2014 General elections came in. Quickly, he unveiled his vision when only three months in the job he spoke to the country from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15th August 2014. Here was a Prime Minister who spoke not of big industrial projects, teaching Pakistan a lesson, or mollification of different communities, but of personal hygiene, sanitation, building of toilets, and saving and educating the girl child.
Modi talked of small items that do not require massive injection of scarce capital or huge industrial complexes, but the cooperation of each and every citizen, irrespective of community, region, caste, or any of the other divisions we find in society. Here was a leader who did not promise the moon but asked the people to first make their own surroundings “swachh” before embarking on more ambitious projects.
What Modi inherited from the UPA was not just one country. The British had given us mainly two Indias – the India of the “haves” and the “have-nots.” The “have-nots” formed the bulk of the population, while the “haves” sat atop this pyramid of poverty, disease, hunger, illiteracy, and extreme deprivation.
By the time the Congress was done there were now three Indias.
The first India is the India of the professional politician and the crony capitalist that has no connection with the India of its ordinary citizens. The professional politician of any political party and the crony capitalist is living in a make-believe world of his own where there is no poverty, no hunger, no shortage of electricity, a world of plenty for himself and his adherents. If one were to search for a symbol to denote this First India, one could do no worse than look at Antilla, Mukesh Ambani’s 27-floor personal home in South Mumbai, estimated to have been built at a cost of one billion Dollars. It is only in such a dreamlike scenario that the First Indians can live like the princes of the erstwhile feudal India.
The Second India consists of the young urban middle class whose spending power suddenly spurted due to a rise in the employment prospects of young graduates in the IT sweatshops, thereby leaving a surplus in the hands of families that till then were struggling to make two ends meet. The market dynamics released by this IT revolution created new demand for goods and services that had a multiplier effect on the economic growth of the country. Demand for infrastructure sent land prices vertically north resulting in the immediate enrichment of people living in close proximity to the cities and towns. This money further fuelled the demand for more goods and services creating a spiral that attracted capital from all over the world, greedily looking for windfall profits from the India story. The “good times” appeared to be here forever, as more and more luxury products manufacturers made a beeline for India to set up their shops. In this race for instant gratification there was no time for any of these two Indias to think of The Third India.
Left out of the India growth story were the vast majority of M. K. Gandhi’s “naked, hungry mass” of the rural poor, the adivasi Tribal, and the voiceless resident of the sprawling urban slums. This is The Third India, whose disenfranchised citizen, more often than not, found that at election times his vote had already been cast. Even when he was permitted to exercise his franchise he discovered that the person he voted for turned out to be completely different from the person he promised to be. Under their various party labels all politicians were one, combining and splitting for their personal advantage and not for the sake of the people.
In the past he had experimented with almost all the political parties, only to discover that not even one of them was loyal to him. His vote was extracted with promises of Ram Rajya, Garibi Hatao, secularism, and with such “welfare” schemes as MNREGA and the National Food Security Bill. Knowing that it was his vote that made or broke political fortunes, the third Indian’s frustration, at times, led him to such rebellions as the Maoist insurrection in the so-called Red corridor, only to find that his rebellion was termed more dangerous than the external threat from the enemies of India.
Today a Minister in the Central Government, the former Commissioner of Police in Mumbai, Satyapal Singh, was of the opinion that the government should crush this rebellion by “imposing curfew, slapping collective fine and taking to task Sarpanch and elders in villages found to be giving food and shelter to Maoists.” Calling them “snakes” he would like them “to be searched, driven out or neutralized by putting collective responsibility on villagers as even ‘passive neutrality’ of locals is advantageous to the Maoists.” Even while admitting that the building of roads, bridges and other infrastructure had led to no improvement in the quality of the lives of the locals, he did not see that as the reason for their “passive neutrality.”
Such, unfortunately, was the response of the First India to the problems that haunted the entire country. Adding fuel to this fire were the aptly labeled “Urban Naxals” – that set of predatory academics, media honchos, foreign-funded NGOs fronting for Break-India forces overseas, aided and abetted by a dysfunctional judiciary at every level in the hierarchy. Satyapal Singh failed to recognize the real “snakes” and like all demagogues found it more expedient to isolate and crush the defenseless rather than those who only used them for furthering their personal nefarious agendas. Universities like JNU, AMU, Jadavpur, IIT Madras, Osmania, etc., openly promoted sedition and raised slogans in favour of terrorists and secessionists. They were constantly feted by the infamous Lutyen’s cabal that gave them a cloak of respectability among the power brokers of Delhi. The open rejection of the writ of the Indian State by the separatists in Kashmir was handled with kid gloves while the indigenous Maoists were crushed with all the firepower that the state could command.
The number of Indians who comprised this Third India was an estimated 67% of the population, a figure given by the UPA government while pushing its ill-advised Food Security Bill. It translated in absolute numbers to about 83 crores. Sixty-seven years ago, when India achieved independence, the total population of the country was 35 crores.
When Modi became the PM in 2014 the Third India alone consisted of 2 ½ times the entire population of the nation at the time of independence. What else could be a greater indictment of the policies and governance of the Congress, a party that had ruled for 60 of the 67 years till then?
There was failure on every front. Nehruvian socialism followed by Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial style of governance had damaged every institution, especially the bureaucracy, once considered the steel frame of the administration. Indira Gandhi purged the party and the administration of all independent minds, and short of sending them into Stalinesque Gulags; she pushed them into a wilderness from where they could never return on their terms. After Indira the party apparatchiks seriously believed that all they had to do to win elections was to put a Nehru-Gandhi face in front.
The Congress, progressing from socialism through totalitarianism (during the Emergency), to crony capitalism, had slid into token populism. Today it is a private family enterprise whose ultimate objective is “profit” for the shareholders. Its adherents have only one motive in mind. That motive is personal pecuniary gain. Reversal to hereditary monarchy was completed with the anointing of Rahul Gandhi as the party’s President without even a token election.
I do not know what was passing through the mind of Narendra Modi when he stood on the stage at the Red Fort that Independence Day in 2014. I am not sure if he had prepared his speech and if he actually delivered what he had prepared. But looking at the vast multitude, waiting patiently to hear from him, I think he changed the thrust of his address that day. He had travelled through perhaps the dirtiest city in India, a city he adopted as his political constituency. I think the stench of Varanasi’s narrow streets and ghats must have been assailing his nostrils from the time he began his election campaign from there.
At that moment, I think he departed from his prepared text and started speaking about a “swachh Bharat” a “surakhshit and shikhshit Bharat.” Modi had found the constituency that he would devote his time to as the PM. He dropped the pet planks of Advani’s BJP – Ram Mandir, UCC, Repeal of Art 370 and 35-A – and other such communally polarizing proposals of the BJP’s manifesto. He realized that he could not be the PM of only the majority community and had to take the entire country along to achieve the goal of making India a liberal democracy in the true sense of the phrase. Ram Mandir, UCC, and other items on the manifesto could wait, but what could not wait were the reforms that would lift the entire Third India from the basement to at least as far up as the ground floor. And that is exactly what Modi set into motion from his first day in office.
Targeting this population he introduced the use of technology to transfer benefits to these people directly without any middlemen who not only delayed the payments but also invariably siphoned off a bulk of it for themselves. Every citizen was encouraged to open bank accounts without depositing even one rupee. The bank account gave a unique identity to an individual and all government payouts by way of subsidies would be directly credited to this account. Each Bank account came with an accident insurance policy (at zero premium) of Rs. 2 lakhs for the account holder. Modi expanded on the UPA’s UIDAI scheme and made Aadhar the basis for linking various accounts to one individual. Although he had scoffed at the MGNREGA scheme introduced by the UPA, he did not close it. Instead, he made it the delivery vehicle for reaching subsistence level financial aid to the weakest of the weak. Again, technology ensured that leakage was minimal and benefits reached the targeted individuals.
The UJWALA scheme was focused on uplifting the health of women in poor households who could not afford cooking gas but instead used firewood and cheap coal. The smoke from these fires was destroying their lungs and eyes. Five crore poor households across the country were targeted to receive cooking gas cylinder connections at very nominal rates. I understand that 3 crore have already been connected. At the same time Modi exhorted the First and Second Indias to surrender the subsidy that the Government was giving for gas cylinders. The response was phenomenal and many people volunteered to give up this benefit.
Building toilets to make the country open defecation free, affordable housing for the poor, reduction in the costs of healthcare, the largest Medicare insurance scheme “Ayushman Bharat” are some other schemes that have been launched to ease the burden of living of this Third India. MUDRA scheme encouraged self-employment and provided the opportunity for young people to learn new skills and start small businesses instead of looking for employment in the formal sectors. START-UP INDIA, SKILL INDIA, and MAKE IN INDIA are not just some catchy slogans like “Garibi Hatao.” They are core developmental ideas of Modi for transforming the country from a sluggish, lumbering economic bullock cart to a shiny, sleek and attractive motorcar.
The targeted recipients of each reform and idea are not members of any particular community, caste or religion. Modi never said that any particular community should have first right on the nation’s resources. That was Manmohan Singh’s way of buying votes for his party. For Modi, every individual has an equal right on the nation’s resources, though in his scheme of things, it is the Third India that must get priority. The latest blockbuster reforms will help the MSME sector immensely.
The reforms, ranging from granting loans at the shortest possible time, curtailing Inspector Raj to making it mandatory for public sector units to buy a certain percentage of goods from women entrepreneurs, are again targeted to benefit micro, small and medium enterprises and help them become vital engines of growth. The employment potential of this sector is immense, as Modi has consistently been asserting.
Modi has also understood that monopoly on public discourse is with the First India. They are the people who control the media and mostly employ people from the Second. Both have lost touch with Third India, and that is why we read and hear that most people are disappointed with Modi, as he has not touched the core agenda of the BJP manifesto of 2014. That is why there is a scramble among opposition leaders to show their Hindutva credentials, running from one temple to another. They think the electorate is going to vote on religious lines.
Modi has not spoken on Sabarimala, Ayodhya, judicial overreach, etc., because these are not the priorities of Third India. He wants this segment to first lift itself out of the stagnant morass into which 60 years of Congress misrule has dumped it. It is not that these are not significant, and Modi will address them when the times are appropriate. But, building up to the general elections in 2019, Modi is going to redouble his efforts to free the Third India from the shackles that have kept it chained to the hooks of the basement economy.
The end of the Congress at the centre has diminished its patronage of the divisive forces represented by almost the entire political spectrum from the North to the South and from the West to the East. Modi’s popularity among the Third Indians remains intact, if not substantially enhanced.
In the elections of 2019, the first two Indias will have a minor role to play. It is the Third India that will decide who rules the country at the centre. In any case, the Congress, having completed its turnaround from liberal democracy to hereditary monarchy, has no new weapons in its arsenal and, will inevitably enter the phase of terminal decline from which it will not be able to recover. That, in short, is the possible India I foresee in 2019.