Updated: October 16, 2021 7:28:40 am
Decades after Independence, one thought process dominated the domain of public policy, ranging from poverty alleviation to envisioning a global third front in the form of NAM for maintaining strategic autonomy in the comity of nations. The Nehruvian consensus is more or less responsible for the present state of affairs in our society and the nation at large. The vestiges of the Nehruvian consensus — like the unresolved border dispute with China and the creation of a permanent adversary in Pakistan — have hectored the country’s leadership for the last four decades. It was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who, in one of his letters in 1961 to the chief ministers of different states, spoke on reservation in government jobs. One must go through the letter to realise Nehru’s annoyance and his belief that affirmative action would dilute merit and impact the efficiency of governance.
“I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in services. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards. I want my country to be a first-class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost. The only real way to help the Backward group is to give opportunities of good education… But if we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I am grieved to learn of how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal considerations. It has amazed me to learn that even promotions are based sometimes on communal and caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster. Let us help the backward groups by all means but never at the cost of efficiency. How are we going to build our public sector or indeed any sector with second-rate people?”
A critical analysis of the policies of the leaders who are no longer with us is important for the enrichment of the public discourse. Although much literature is available on the life and times of Nehru, there is a considerable shortage of academic work on the impact of his politics on the idea of social justice. The recent chaos in Punjab politics can be attributed to this mindset of the founding fathers of the party.
Having a Dalit as a placeholder chief minister is not a new page in the Congress’s textbook of appeasement and ceremonialism. Damodaram Sanjivayya in Andhra Pradesh, Bhola Paswan Shastri in Bihar and many others have been used in the same manner. The moment Channi as CM had the audacity to exercise autonomy in the selection of officers and ministers, the state leadership of the party had a problem. It is an open secret that Channi’s elevation was an outcome of the conflict between senior state Congress leaders and he was chosen as a compromise candidate. This mindset is deeply problematic.
The interaction between Nehru and B R Ambedkar is also a matter of intense scholarly research. Congress party had the space for someone like M A Jinnah, who was elected from Bombay, but Ambedkar had to go to present-day Bangladesh to be elected to the Constituent Assembly. Babu Jagjivan Ram is also a case in point. Noted strategic commentators like Henry Kissinger and Gary Bass have placed Jagjivan Ram as one of the most hawkish defence ministers of his time for the phenomenal role he played in the remarkable victory in the 1971 war. But the credit was given to Indira Gandhi, without even a footnote about Jagjivan Ram’s stellar role.
The Congress has failed to reconcile with the emerging realities and aspirations of the Dalits and the marginalised. The party is stuck in a time warp, engaging in the politics of selective appeasement and symbolism. With Dalits increasingly becoming relevant shareholders in power politics, their concerns and challenges have also evolved. The new Dalit narrative is beyond the sheer optics of placeholder CMs and fulfilling the diversity quota. Under the visionary leadership of PM Narendra Modi, there is space for everyone, regardless of identity. New India will be inclusive, equitable and resolute about realising the vision of the makers of our Constitution.
This column first appeared in the print edition on October 15, 2021 under the title ‘The meaning of CM Channi’. The writer is assistant professor, Patna University and national spokesperson, BJP.
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