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Congress does a disservice to Indira’s legacy

Patricia Mukhim

The fate of the Indian National Congress (INC) today must make Indira Gandhi turn in her grave. I was listening to a conversation between learned people at Delhi’s India International Centre and their view is that Indira had a vision for India that was not very well understood. She is said to have told a close aides once that her father Nehru was a statesman but she is a politician and India needed a politician to rule the country at its most tumultuous period after Independence when the British left the country bloodied, divided, poor and decrepit in every sense of the word. It is easy to critique Nehry today and to judge the compromises he had to make to try and keep India together. Kashmir was on the boil due to the cruel vivisection (Pak Occupied Kashmir) of the country.  The Nagas of the NorthEast had started a rebellion against the idea of India and a war like situation ensued there to quell that rebellion. Before he could consolidate his Panchsheel  agenda, the inscrutable Chinese attacked India on its North- Eastern, Northern and Western flanks. And India’s response as we have read in several books that have come out in recent times was nothing short of a monumental disaster as the military leadership floundered from a lack of understanding of China’s strategy and India’s own vacuous foreign policy. From what one has read of Nehru, he was a romantic of sorts who didn’t believe in a masochistic India with a heavily invested military and with the latest ammunition to boot. His western education and the affluence that surrounded his upbringing, away from the heartbeat of the real India; the poverty stricken India; the bloodied India must have been an impediment to his being the Prime Minister that India needed then to guide its destiny. And with VK Krishna Menon – a diplomatic who didn’t have political acumen things were bound to queer up.

In his gripping book,  “1962 the War that Wasn’t,” Shiv Kumal Verma does a critical analysis of the Nehruvian regime. He says, “Nehru unlike Bose and Sardar Patel, veered away from building military power. Although, when cornered, he was not averse to using it—as in the case of Kashmir in 1947-48 and then Goa in 1961—for the most part, he talked disarmament, non-alignment and Panchsheel. In a speech delivered at the Kerala Provisional Conference in 1928, Nehru had spelt out his international assessments: ‘No danger threatens India from any direction; and even if there is any danger we shall cope with it.’ No surprise then that when the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, General Sir Rob Lockhart, went to Nehru with a formal defence paper that needed a policy directive from the prime minister, Nehru had exclaimed: ‘Rubbish! Total rubbish! We don’t need a defence policy. Our policy is ahimsa (non-violence). We foresee no military threats. As far as I am concerned you can scrap the army—the police are good enough to meet our security needs.’ It’s a different matter that Nehru had to eat his words by the end of October 1947 itself when the tribal hordes invaded Kashmir.”

It was purely Mahatma Gandhi’s machinations and his disregard for Subhas Chandra Bose’s idea of how the British needed to be ousted out of India that propelled Nehru to the hot seat of Prime Minister. VK Krishna Menon as India’s first Defence Minister was complicit in disarming the army and pushing Gen Thimmaya to resign over what he considered was a disastrous move to hand over the control of the then Arunachal Pradesh (North East Frontier Agency) to the army without the necessary wherewithal. Verma says Nehru was paranoid about arming the military beyond a point because he feared an army takeover that was happening elsewhere in the West post World War II.  But Nehru’s announcement in parliament that the defence of NEFA would be handed over to the army, stumped Thimmaya. He lashed out at the Nehru and Menon and sent in his resignation.  It’s a different matter that the General was coaxed to withdraw that resignation. Nehru never understood the country beyond Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. He had scant idea of the history and culture of the people of India’s North East. It was Indira Gandhi the shrewd politician who met, interacted and understood the people of this region better than most politicians of her time, because of her many visits to the region. The conduct of elections in Assam in 1983 because of which we had the worst form of genocide – the Nellie massacre – (Feb 18, 1983) in which roughly about 3000 Bengali speaking Muslims were hacked to death at Nellie and the surrounding villages near Nagaon shows the cruel streak in the Indira legacy which was all but forgotten by the time Bangladesh was won with the sagacity of the Indian army and the political will of Indira, on December 16, 1971.

Such was the aura of Indira Gandhi that Bhutto called her “the only man in India’s political terrain.” And this lady led the Congress until her death while controlling it with a firm hand during her lifetime. She brooked no adversaries and knew what she wanted for India. The world and most Indians remember the Emergency with dismay and some who have served jail time recall it with deep regret, disgust and bitterness, calling it a blot on India’s history. But who knows what was behind this Iron Lady’s mind then? I am in no position to judge because politics is a wretched game at the best of time and all politicians across the board will do anything to survive. Service to the ‘People’ is a biggest faux. And “people” is a figment as many politicians will aver. People mean nothing in the game for survival. Indira built India’s military power – something that her late father failed to do!

And now, Circa 2018, where is the Congress today? Its leadership is busy making snide innuendos at Narendra Modi and his Party the BJP. As an alternative national level party much is expected from the Congress instead of waiting with bated breath for Rahul Gandhi’s tweets or off-the-cuff remarks. The Congress needs to be infused with new thinking and dynamism. It needs a robust think-tank and foot soldiers spread far and wide to counter its beta-noire the BJP on substantive issues.

The fact that there are so few credible and winnable takers for the Congress ticket this time and with the attrition rate escalating especially at its upper echelons, the Party should be worried. It certainly is not going anywhere this time. Of course, Dr Mukul Sangma the Congress head honcho here is maintaining a brave front and reminding all of us that his government has provided stability and put paid to the culture of agitations. This is a fact and one of the plus points of the MUA government but there are many areas of concern which have not been addressed. People had high expectations from the MUA-2 Government. For one, Dr Mukul Sangma should have worked at framing policies on Health, Education, Tourism, Agriculture and Mining amongst the key areas. In the absence of a think tank within the Party, Dr Sangma had no road map to guide him and one wonders if that is a ploy because if there is a policy with set goals to be achieved then it is easier to hold the government accountable. Without a policy the government is able to take arbitrary decisions even on key matters. And this goes against the grain of good governance which essentially implies participation of the public in framing of schemes and their implementation.

And now the Congress Party has come to a point where it is ruling in only four states of the country – Karnataka, Meghalaya, Punjab and Mizoram and in the Union Territory of Puducherry. And out of the four states it is set to lose power in Meghalaya. This calls for a serious chintan baithak. But more than that, it calls for strong and dynamic leadership to provide the kind of Opposition that a vibrant democracy requires. But is Rahul Gandhi cut out for that monumental challenge? The Congress needs to answer that question but for that to happen dynasty must be dismantled.    

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