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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Life beyond defeat

For Congress, 2014 was a loss to BJP’s superior electoral tactics. 2019 has to be a victory for a higher strategy

Written by Salman Khurshid | Updated: March 21, 2017 11:47:01 am
Congress, Rahul Gandhi, kisan yatra, congress kisan yatra, Samajwadi Party, SP, BJP, BJP UP, Uttar pradesh, Akhilesh yadav, modi, narendra modi, latest news What had seemed impossible for a long time, an alliance between the Congress and Samajwadi Party, suddenly happened.   (Source: PTI)

One more debacle for the Congress and inevitably we will get unsolicited advice regarding salvage. We can, of course, respond with the results of Punjab, Manipur and Goa (with or without the BJP’s efforts to bulldoze into office in the last two of those states). Admittedly, Uttar Pradesh was and remains a major challenge.

We were not exactly in command over the past two decades, although Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s strenuous efforts during the Kisan Yatra gave us hopes of a modest revival. Yet, what had seemed impossible for a long time, an alliance between the Congress and Samajwadi Party, suddenly happened; some might say, all too suddenly.

The first reactions were encouraging: Some underscored the arithmetic and the gravitational pull of two young leaders. The Samajwadi Party was obviously looking to put its generational fight behind and securing a role for itself in national politics. The Congress, on the other hand, was hoping for a helping hand to pull itself out of the quicksand in which it was trapped.

Perhaps it was a practical compromise between idealism and pragmatism. Sadly, the brave experiment has come to naught.

The electronic media wants to hear one confession: That we are ill-served by our leadership. But they must understand that no amount of taunts about being in denial will force some of us (not a few) to accept that proposition. We have chosen our leadership for good and bad times; we will be spineless if we get bullied into surrender to the feeding frenzy of the media.

The thing about such a surrender is that you get lynched anyhow. Therefore, what is important is whether we go down with honour or sink in self-esteem. We have work to do but will use our own script, not the one written by the media. One media enterprise owner said that they were merely seeking to keep democracy alive, trying to wake us up. So, should they not say that, instead of cursing us for not keeping awake?

And why lift an election victory for the BJP (perhaps even several) to the level of validation of some pious, high principle, rather than a transient preference of the times? Why are they in a hurry to pronounce “death by democracy” instead of accepting that there is life beyond defeat?

No amount of harping on politics having changed, a new India having emerged, makes any difference, because everything is naturally changing all the time. Each time a cricket batsman takes guard to play a new innings, there is something different. Of course some players are more suited to a particular kind of game and therefore, team compositions do get reshuffled. But politics is a bit more complicated than a game of cricket. At the end of the day, however, the batsman has to pick the ball and play the stroke — so must we, as a party that has more experience on the pitch than most people who offer commentary.

We certainly need to prepare for future battles and then, the big showdown in 2019. Omar Abdullah may be right in a sense, when he says, think of 2024. But like cricket, he should know, politics too has a peculiar proclivity for uncertainties. There is no retreat from Battlefield 2019.

The battle is not between Narendra Modi and the Rest but between two ideas of India: Exclusive versus inclusive. Once people discover where they stand, they may quickly switch sides as they did between Indira Gandhi to JP to Indira Gandhi again in less than two years starting 1977. The difference now, of course, will be that 2014 was a loss to the superior electoral tactics of the BJP whilst 2019 has to be a victory for a higher strategy.

But to achieve that, we must not repudiate the unsuccessful experiment of the SP-Congress alliance. Obviously, it did not work, but then, there were many reasons for the outcome. Analysing the shortcomings might be sensible but questioning its wisdom would be fatal.

In many ways, Akhilesh Yadav needs our support more than ever and, in turn, we need his partnership to complete the unfinished task. India is changing, we are told, but how that explains Punjab and Goa is anyone’s guess, even if Manipur fits the description. Let the BJP try to change the fundamental values of India beyond tinkering with social equations and then claim the right to rewrite history. The concept of false gods is familiar to human experience and India is no exception.

But what is more worrying is the thought of religion without god. Ironically, that denudes religion of compassion and charity, turning emotion to commerce. This can be countered not by a man or woman but by a powerful idea of humanity. Such is a battle that we must join, once again, to redeem pledges made to destiny.

The writer is a senior Congress leader and former external affairs minister

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