By Kancha Ilaiah
Apr 30, 2014
These two individuals, Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh taught us how arrogance can be outwitted with emotionless response to enemies, without and within. They gave new depths to democracy.
The 2014 elections seem to be a turning point in the course of Indian democracy. The Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Narendra Modi rather desperately, converted this election campaign into a presidential form of election, centring around an individual.
The Congress, with great reluctance, began to project Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate without saying so. Hence, Mr Modi and Mr Gandhi are being seen as the symbols of the new discourse of the 2014 elections across the country.
If the BJP comes to power under the leadership of Mr Modi, with his humble socio-economic background, even more with a changed discourse around development, not religion and riots, will the Indian democracy remain stable and functional under the BJP rule? With all the problems at hand, for a person like me, who came from more or less the same background like that of Mr Modi, democracy in India for the last 10 years was the most stable and welfarist, focusing around bottom-up development and modernist transformation.
From 1947 to present, no 10-year period was as stable and as empowering for the poor at the village level, as this period was. The combination of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, even though with the coalition team around them, the government of India functioned for bottom-up change.
There was no tension or war with any neighbouring country during this period. There was no major internal disturbance of the Mandir-Masjid sort. The internal development in this bottom-up mode is intrinsically linked to the maintenance of peace in the nation and this is the most significant achievement of the silently operating duo Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh.
During the first 10 years of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s tenure as Prime Minister, the nation had to suffer. Apart from witnessing Partition riots, there was also the 1962 India-China war. Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi during their reigns had to fight the 1965 and 1971 wars. Indira Gandhi had to deal with the implications of imposing Emergency, which eroded the democratic institutions.
We entered the Rajiv Gandhi era, which witnessed the Sikh riots and the Sri Lanka war, which, of course, swallowed Rajiv Gandhi.
This was followed by the period when V.P. Singh and P.V. Narasimha Rao were at the helm. They witnessed the anti-developmental crisis in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri mosque and the massive communal riots. Of course, the short period of V.P. Singh was known for a silent revolution the emergence of the Other Backward Classes.
It, unfortunately, was followed by the demolition of the Babri mosque that had hit our core values. All our urban centres were in a mess during that period.
The Mandal-Mandir phase was a mixed bag of “one step forward, two steps backward”. The next period was that of Atal Behari Vajpayee. This phase saw two disturbing developments, which could corrode the very roots of developmental democracy: the Gujarat riots and the Kargil war.
No nation can develop its human resource without good investment in education, health and housing. While internal rioting and external wars are going on, no government can invest in developmental schemes either. A nation needs cool and calculative minds to disengage with war-mongering neighbours.
The history of war tells us that war occurs more because of provocation than its actual need. Even after two major anti-national activities, the BJP went to woo the electorate in the 2004 elections with an inapt slogan “India Shining”.
This period was followed by Sonia-Manmohan’s 10 years. Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh have a cool and calculative mind. They never provoked anybody nor did they get provoked with intemperate language of foes or friends, nationally or internationally. At times it appeared that silence was their weakness. But for a nation of this size and the kind of problems that it encounters their approach was a boon.
The Sonia-Manmohan combination was not typically political. Both tried to be composed, unprovoked with a judicious mix of philanthropy (Mrs Gandhi) and bureaucratic-academic (Dr Singh). They adopted this non-provocative approach to internal agendas and also to a cold dialogic approach for foreign policy issues.
Except for routine corruption charges, occasional bomb blasts, they did not allow their focus on developmental policy to be derailed. This was a political first, even though some intellectuals of the BJP are projecting them as weak leaders.
What do they mean by a strong leader? A leader, who keeps his/her swords drawing it out on the slightest pretext, both internal and external, cannot improve people’s lives in real terms. Improving the life of a nation of 1,200 million, in terms of education and employment, giving them good drinking water, good roofs needs teamwork.
Mrs Gandhi, in a way, proved that a team can run a better government than a Leviathan. To be a good ruler, loving people should be an article of faith. That love should be part of one’s personality. Love for one’s people even your own neighbour has to be a part of one’s cultural upbringing. One cannot be a mass murderer of the innocent one day and then change into a person of peace and become a good ruler the next day.
The only exception in this respect was perhaps King Ashoka, who became a Buddhist and really loved people.
It Is Easy To Attack
Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh as weak leaders but it is very difficult to be detached from their power positions and remain silent in the face of enemy attack and internal deceptions, as they did. These two individuals taught us how arrogance can be outwitted with emotionless response to enemies, without and within. They gave new depths to democracy working with persons like Sanjaya Baru, keeping them within the system, and Mr Modi without.
However, I must make it clear, that a man or a woman like Mr Baru is more harmful for Indian democracy than Mr Modi. Many ditched Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh but two persons should be named for their proverbial Brutus-like behaviours (Brutus who cheated Julius Caesar and eventually led to his death), Mr Baru and D. Purandeswari (and it is my misfortune that both of them belong to Andhra Pradesh).
One stabbed them by writing a “murderous masterpiece” and the other joined the BJP to stab them after reaping all benefits of their 10 years’ of power. Yet neither Dr Singh nor Mrs Gandhi are saying “You too Brutus”.