The Marquess of Salisbury, the last prime minister of Great Britain to sit in the House of Lords, once said to Queen Victoria, “Why does everyone talk about change? Aren’t things bad enough as they are?”
Something similar seems to be the sentiment in the Congress party when everyone asks them to change. Why change when you are comfortable with defeat, since you can always look back to the glory days? You can just reassure yourself that those days will return. Just look at history.
The Congress has a forgetful relationship with its own history. It thinks it is a 129-year-old party going back to 1885. Of course that party was broken in 1969 by Indira Gandhi, who was again expelled in 1977 and founded her own party in 1978. That party, the Indian National Congress (Indira), lurched to its latest crisis last week. Thus a party of 129 or 45 or 36 years has hit the skids. But it is not the fault of the dynasty. After all, no dynasty member has been a PM for 25 years. Will the future ever see a PM from the dynasty? Will Dr Manmohan Singh go down in history as the last Congress PM?
Old parties have disappeared before. The Liberal Party of Britain won a landslide victory in 1905 and twice more. Then it split, lost an election in 1924 and was never elected to office for the rest of the century. Longevity is not immortality.
Think of the election results not as a revolution or a futuristic event, but more as a renaissance — a rebirth, a restoration. As some shrewd people have observed, we are back to 1952. Then there was a single dominant party and all other parties were dwarves. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was constantly admonished by the opposition parties for not doing enough for their growth. He used to apologise as he could not help trouncing them election after election. He won three elections convincingly and then the troubles began. In 1967, the opposition parties spread their wings. Indira Gandhi promptly chopped them off in 1971. Again they rose in 1977, phoenix-like, and died three years later. After one more success, the Congress never recovered its past glory after 1989. The outlook is hopeless 25 years later.
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But look at the winner. The BJP is now the ‘Big Beast’ dwarfing others. There is not even an official opposition. Modi talks of embracing all parties and the 125 crore Indians as they march in step. Nehru reportedly coined the slogan ‘Kadam Milake Chalo’. Modi could use the slogan. The first 10 years after Independence, if not 15, India had an effective Opposition despite the numbers.
The Congress behaved itself, except perhaps when dismissing the Communist government in Kerala. We remember those years nostalgically.
Maybe we are there, once again there. Mandal seems to have diminished if not declined. Fragile coalitions are gone at the Centre. Many state governments are reacting to the earthquake by adjusting to a post-Mandal, post-Congress world. The nation seems to have laid aside many, though not all, differences and decided that it wanted an orderly government at the Centre.
The Guardian has described the result as the final departure of the British. That is harsh, but there was a continuity between the British Raj and the Congress one. T B Macaulay’s Indian Penal Code (IPC) rules, as does the Civil Service established in his day that was copied by the British after the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms. The home country has reformed its penal code and its civil service. India remains the museum of British Imperialism.
That perhaps may be why the young are impatient for change. At last, there is a party in power that is unburdened by history or heritage; a party born after Independence with a leader to match in age. That is a renaissance which promises a revolution. Let us have a bureaucracy that delivers results rather than sticks to rules. Let us have justice for a new India where women, transgenders, gay and lesbian citizens are not treated as victims of a Victorian penal code. Let us reinvent India.