Vinayak Damodar Savarkar must be smiling. It can be said that Congress has seemingly turned its back on the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi. The news of the party being close to sealing its pact with the Shiv Sena came on the eve of Nehru’s birthday. It is the cruelest tribute the party could have paid him. This is also Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. The Congress has shaken hands with the Shiv Sena, a party which demanded a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar, who is often seen as complicit in the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi. Even if we ignore this, Savarkar certainly led the ideological opposition to the Gandhian idea of co-living and nation-building. By considering aligning with his followers, the Congress has shown that his viewpoint can be accommodated.
The Congress party seems to have succumbed to the temptation to somehow keep the BJP out of power in Maharashtra, persuaded by the seasoned “negotiator” Sharad Pawar, by considering being the junior most-partner in a prospective three-party alliance with the Shiv Sena and NCP.
The Congress, despite its unpardonable ideological vacillations and its use of majoritarian sentiments many times for electoral purposes, could at least claim that it was the one party which had never compromised either with the Jana Sangh or the BJP for power. After all, all other political parties, including the Left, have compromised with the Jana Sangh or the BJP. Tall leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia or Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) gave up their secular inhibitions to ally with the political wing of the RSS with the sole aim of wrecking the Congress system. Lohia had famously said that to do so, he was ready to shake hands with the devil. We have seen the devil sucking the life out of that school of politics and turn its actors into playthings. And the Congress kept accusing all of them for having forsaken the most sacred principle of secularism, foundational to the project of nation-building.
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Political analysts are applauding this “masterstroke”. To deprive the BJP of a state, that too one flush with money, is being seen as a double gain. It is said that it would give a boost to the sagging morale of the party’s workers, who were feeling lost after having remained out of power for so long. There was a fear that the victorious MLAs would break ranks with the party if it decided to sit in the Opposition for the next five years.
It is also being argued that allying with the Congress — with its inclusive nature — and the compulsions of holding on to power will soften and mellow the Shiv Sena and force it to abandon its anti-migrant, anti-minority platform. The record of the Shiv Sena, however, provides no such reassurance.
JP was proven wrong by history. To those of his followers who were uncomfortable with his friendship with the RSS, he had said that he was on a mission to de-communalise the organisation. He died with his hopes shattered. But the RSS, with each such compromise, gained in strength and stature.
To see the Congress’s compromise with the Shiv Sena, which was the first to have proudly claimed responsibility for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, was the last thing one could have imagined. By considering doing so, it has made it clear that the language of Hindutva will now be the common political language.
One might call it foolish sentimentalism but Nehru’s words keep reminding us of the values for which Gandhi had died. The nation was going to the second general elections. Addressing the leaders and workers of the Congress, Nehru said that he was ready to lose election after election but he would never compromise with communal elements.
There was always a stream in the Congress Party — leaders like Govind Ballabh Pant, Pandit Sampurnand, Purushottam Das Tandon — which harboured majoritarian tendencies. Nehru had threatened to resign when Tandon won the presidentship of the party and the latter had to bow out.
Nehru has been criticised for this “undemocratic” act but one must understand that he was not ready to run the government of a party which was, in terms of ideas and practice, against his values. It would have been much easier for Gandhi and Nehru to assuage “Hindu” feelings and be the unquestioned leaders of the majority. After all, both of them had battled against M A Jinnah in the last phase of the freedom struggle. But they knew that they were fighting for a vision of a nation where minorities could always feel wanted and welcome and live a full life.
Indira Gandhi in a letter from Lucknow had complained to Nehru in 1949 that the Congress was full of people with an RSS mindset. She said that she was feeling suffocated in such a party. I got a call from an old Congressman during the discussions about the alliance in Maharashtra. He sounded broken and said that he did not see a reason to be in politics anymore. One need not guess that he was a Muslim.
The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University
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