Bharat Jodo Yatra Participant

Rahul Gandhi Told Me Bharat Jodo Yatra Is His Tapasya

Darshan Mondkar, a Pune-based entrepreneur and story-teller, recreates his conversation with Rahul Gandhi during Bharat Jodo Yatra’s Maharashtra leg

I joined the (Bharat Jodo) yatra at Degloor when Rahul Gandhi entered into Maharashtra with the ‘Mashaal Walk’. I then walked as a ‘yatri’ from Degloor onwards for the entire day. I spent some time walking with him in the area of Biloli.

My conversation with him went on for about 20 minutes. He took the first couple of minutes to understand me — what I do, what sort of a thought process do I have. He pointed to a policeman in his security who was pushing the crowd behind and asked me, “Do you think this policeman has the right to beat that boy?”

I said, “No.”

He asked, “Why?”

I said, “His job is to protect you and not harm the rights of people.”

“So we have similar thoughts,” he said, and smiled.

“Why are you walking?” I asked.

He asked back: “Do you know the difference between puja and tapasya?”

“Yes, puja is worship and tapasya is penance,” I said.

He replied: “Tapasya comes from the word tup. When you do tapasya you generate heat; the energy which consumes you. It hurts you, it pains you. And, then, you achieve.”

I asked: “But what do you hope to achieve?”

“Your love, your blessings, our unity,” he is steadfast in his thoughts.

“There could have been other ways,” I said.

He explained: “Yes. Sure. I do not want to achieve anything without putting in an effort, without doing tup. Unless it hurts me, it pains me, any achievement is not worth it. This Bharat Jodo Yatra is my tapasya.

“I am sure you will achieve your mission,” I replied.

He said, “One has to do tapasya without expectations and only then will it be successful. I don’t know whether I will achieve what I have set out to do. But, I will keep burning myself till I do that.”

I tell you. This man is a gem.

ALSO READ: ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra Is A Healing Touch For Nation’

The rest of the conversation revolved around the deep fears that we have in our society in India in contemporary times. He spoke about how we need to overcome the fear within us so that we can become strong voices against the fascism of BJP/RSS.

I was quickly able to understand that he is one of the easiest guy to talk to. He does not try to dominate the conversation and simply goes with the flow. Any apprehensions that I might have had about him totally evaporated.

I am not sure how much of this will translate into votes for the Congress, but, undoubtedly, Rahul Gandhi is being established as a ‘Man of the Moment’ and there is a huge image-revival happening for him which is an added bonus.

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Indeed, one thing that I am sure about the Bharat Jodo Yatra is that it will achieve to rebuild the spirit of ‘Bhaichara’ that we had among us in the country earlier, before the social fabric was ripped apart, starting a decade ago. I am certain of that.

As told to Amit Sengupta

Uttar Pradesh Congressman

Transparency in Congress Presidential Poll Proves its Inner Democracy

Dwijendra Tripathi, a veteran Congressman from Uttar Pradesh, says that the new party president will take decisions guided by his own discretion and conscience

The decision by the Gandhi family to hold election for the post of Congress president has been taken to strengthen the inner democracy in the party. And if you notice the recent developments, you will find that the entire process is being carried out by the rulebook in the most transparent manner.

The party leadership made it clear that it had no favourite candidate and anyone was free to run for the post, as per the party constitution. Of the two candidates in the fray – Shashi Tharoor and Mallikarjun Kharge – neither could be termed as the blue eyed boy of the Gandhi family. There was no pressure on anyone to withdraw his candidature and allow the party president be elected unopposed.

Now look at the decision of Madhusudan Mistry, the chairman of the central election authority, who issued a circular asking for the resignation of party office bearers who wish to be involved in the campaigning of either of the candidate. Three party spokespersons, Deepender Hooda, Syed Hussain and Gourav Vallabh resigned from their party posts as they supported Kharge and are campaigning for him.

This clearly establishes the transparency in the organisational elections. This is a sharp rebuttal to the national BJP leaders who never leave a chance to label Congress party as a dynasty. Gandhi family is a glue that binds the party together, not a feudal dynasty which rules over the Congress. The lies being spread by the BJP now stand exposed. The working president Sonia Gandhi has upheld the democratic principles in holding the elections.

ALSO READ: ‘Whoever Be Party President, Rahul’s Writ Will Be Unchallenged’

It is this inner democracy that gives strength to the party workers that the new party president – be it Tharoor or Kharge – will take decisions in the interest of the party independently. Of course, the guidance and sway of the Gandhi family in the party remains unquestioned.

I am confident that once the new president assumes office, visible changes will take place through collective will in a democratic way, not by one individual. On the recent resolutions being passed by various state units seeking Rahul Gandhi as the party president, every party worker is free to express his or her feelings in a democratic setup.

Yes, there was an unsavoury incident in Rajasthan when loyalists of state chief minister Ashok Gehlot tried to create a ruckus. But that matter was amicably resolved when Mr Gehlot withdrew his candidature and sought forgiveness from the working president.

Barring this distasteful incident, the election process has been most fair and transparent. And I have a feeling that once the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra concludes, an exemplary decision will be taken over the internal squabble in Rajasthan unit that will send a strong message to the party cadre.

As told to Rajat Rai

Congress party in a crisis

Is Rahul The Last Mughal Of Gandhi Dynasty?

These are dire times for democracy thanks to happenings in the two Grand Old Parties (GOPs). America’s Republican Party remains captive of Donald Trump, despite the havoc with the presidency, ‘invasion’ of the White House after he lost and the outcry over his carting away state documents. And in India, the Congress is on a precipice.

Defeated in two parliamentary and 39 of the 49 elections to state legislatures, the Indian National Congress is losing mass support and senior members, mostly to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The record of three generations of the Gandhis and the Nehrus who preceded is being omitted from history books. The current leadership is being challenged from within.

Whether they cannot quit or will not, is the crux of an internal churning and much public lampooning. It’s Catch-29: arguably, the party cannot grow with them, and it cannot survive without them.

The Congress is in desperate need to carry out a rigorous internal review and acknowledge that a root-and-branch re-organization and a grassroots revival are both imperative for its survival.

The Gandhis are a fair game, accused of greed for power. But as much as them, if not more, criticism ought to be directed, but is not, at the parry’s men and women who refuse to find among themselves an acceptable leader. This is from a party that elected, despite internal quarrels and factionalism, a new president and a working committee every two years. That culture died long ago.

Ironically, Sonia Gandhi, who never wanted her husband Rajiv and children to join politics, is the party’s longest-serving chief, for 24 years. Though not the first not born in India to head the Congress, she has virtually dictatorial powers in the organization. For a decade, she even influenced the policies of the government headed by a hand-picked prime minister.

Frail and ailing, she is now called the “nominal figurehead” who has yielded authority to her children, particularly her son Rahul. He is openly called out for lacking the ‘aptitude’ required to lead the party and for “childish behaviour.” He is charged with shunning responsibility but taking all key decisions, surrounded by a ‘coterie’ of politically inexperienced aides.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, the latest stalwart to quit, is being quoted here because, with his harsh, even personal criticism, he has shown the mirror to the party. He has exposed the desperation of many more Congressmen who are afraid to speak up. If nothing else, he has nudged the leadership to announce firm dates for the much-delayed election, albeit only for the top post.

If not a Gandhi, who? Shorn of most stalwarts, having none with a pan-India image, the party is groping. An alternate plan is not in sight. The final choice may still be called, rightly or otherwise, a ‘proxy’. The seniors among the loyalists are reluctant. Truth be told, they are too used to a Gandhi to pick up the gauntlet.

Sonia’s woes do not begin or end with party affairs. The government’s revenue enforcement authorities have interrogated her several times, for several hours, on trusts and the dealings of the National Herald newspaper firm, allowing her relief only when she tested Covid-19 positive.

For once the party galvanized into action, with thousands protesting and courting arrest in many cities across the country. Leaders who have forgotten mass contact programmes were in action. The adversity augured well for the party.

But that leaves a vital question: why can’t they display the same spirit and action to protest against the government’s many actions, at the central and state levels? Many opportunities were simply wasted.

The party was squeamish about supporting protests against the citizenship laws, the farmers’ agitation, and a host of issues, including remission of the sentences of those convicted for 2002 gang-rape of Gujarat’s Bilkis Bano. Joining these and other protests, if nothing else, would have given a sense of purpose to the party cadres and allowed for mass contact.

ALSO READ: To Survive, Congress Needs A Major Split

Raising some hope amidst the gloom, beginning September 7, Rahul will ‘participate’ in the party’s Bharat Jodo Yatra covering 3,500 km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir through 12 states. Its success will depend upon the consistency with which it is conducted, the slogans raised and the message sent out, the public response it gets, the effectiveness of the follow-up done on the ground, and lastly, the media projection.

Congress’s record in recent years has been dismal on all these counts. For one, Rahul’s absence from the daily political activity is too frequent to allow for consistency. The state leaders failed to garner ground support during election campaigns.

Spirited though, Rahul’s 2019 polls campaign was no match for Narendra Modi’s relentless rhetoric. His up-front attacks on Modi’s persona, like “chowkidar chor hai” did not go well. The public shows deference, if not always respect, for office. In the media, Rahul, by his own admission, is the country’s most ridiculed person. By all accounts, he is a good person, but that is not enough in politics – not in these days of media’s weaponization and more.

In hindsight, Rahul should have launched a Yatra long ago, at the beginning of his probation in politics. He did not utilize the decade his party was in power. Suggestions that he should join the Manmohan Singh Government and gain some administrative experience were scoffed at. The family entitlement – see the Shiv Sena’s Thackerays – and top-down trajectory is difficult today.

The walkathon should keep Rahul on the move for five months. There is no clear signal if he will stick to his resolve and that no Gandhi will contest for the party chief’s post. But certainly, this may be the party’s last chance to stay relevant as a national party. Failure is a recipe for disintegration – like the last days of the Mughal Empire.

One can wish its success, not as support or sympathy for the GOP, but for the sake of democracy that needs an effective opposition and a healthy political discourse.

The writer can be reached at

First Non-Gandhi Prez

To Survive, Congress Needs A Major Split

Here’s a quick question. How many times do you think India’s so-called Grand Old Party, the Indian National Congress, has split since its inception in 1885? The answer is: at least 70 times. The splits have often been small regional ones such as when Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru broke away in 1923 to form the Swaraj Party in what was then the Bengal Presidency (the Swaraj Party was later merged back into the Indian National Congress) but also a few major, national level breakups such as when leaders Morarji Desai and K. Kamaraj broke away in 1969 from Indira Gandhi to form what would later be part of the Janata Party. In later years there have been other major breakaway groups from the INC, notably the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, which is still active.

In recent years, particularly after the Congress’ near-decimation in parliamentary elections in 2014 and the fact that it is in power in very few of India’s 28 states, speculation in political circles about a major split in the party has been rife. The Congress is in power in the states of Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where the party has majority support. In Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Maharashtra it shares power with alliance partners Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Shiv Sena, respectively.

The party’s diminishing fortunes have led to disillusionment among many of its prominent leaders who have lost confidence in the leadership of the party, which remains a fiefdom of the Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi continues to be its president; her son, Rahul, is a reluctant heir who many believe is ineffective in either leading the party or winning elections.

As a result of this and the ensuing crisis in the party, several senior leaders–either at the national level or at the state level–have left the Congress, some of them choosing to join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party whose fortunes have been directionally quite the opposite of that of the Congress. Besides being in power at the Centre, the BJP or its alliances rule 18 Indian states and despite some recent setbacks, the popularity of the party or its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been ahead of any other political party or leader.

ALSO READ: Will The Congress Please Buckle Up?

The exodus from the Congress actually began nearly eight years ago when the BJP came to power. According to one estimate, more than 30 leaders, many of them former central ministers or state-level leaders, left the Congress to join the BJP. Many high-profile exits happened more recently. These include Jyotiraditya Scindia who is now a minister at the Centre; Jitin Prasada, now a minister in the Uttar Pradesh BJP-led government; and R.P.N. Singh, a former Congress minister who recently jumped ship to join the BJP. The Congress has been losing people from its second rung leadership and that is a blow for the party.

The informal G-23 or a grouping of 23 Congress leaders is a pointer to what could happen in the foreseeable future. The group comprises several heavyweights from the party. There are, for instance, five former chief ministers and several former Union ministers.

One of the most notable factors is that this group has mustered the courage to challenge the party’s leadership and call for reforms. Foremost among their demands is a call for elections to the Congress Working Committee, the powerful executive committee of the party, headed by Sonia Gandhi. The Congress has not held elections to the CWC since 1998 and this has meant that it has become an undemocratic, closed-club, which is in charge of running the party.

Recently, when the Indian government decided to honour the Congress leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, with a national award, it set off rumblings in the party and speculation that Azad would quit the Congress and join the BJP. While that hasn’t happened yet, a split in the Congress could possibly be good for the party. For one, it would bring together some of its leaders with the potential to revive the party. Second, a strong enough breakaway faction would rid the party of the regressive leadership of the Gandhi family, which has failed at elections and at holding together its flock.

The Congress is the only party, besides the BJP, that still has a national presence, although its influence has waned. Today, however, the BJP is almost unchallenged: in 2019, the Congress won 52 seats in the Lok Sabha, failing to get 10% of the seats needed to claim the post of Leader of Opposition. With its decimation in Parliament, in the absence of a strong national party’s presence, the opposition is toothless. That is not exactly a good recipe for a democratic system.

What the party sorely needs is fresh leadership that could revive it by infusing new ideas, raising the confidence of its leaders and workers, and forging strategic alliances with regional parties so that the ruling party and its allies do not get a free run. Creating a strong opposition could be the first step towards getting back its status as the Grand Old Party.

Kanhaiya Is No Lord Krishna To Save Cong

One swallow does not a summer make. Not even two, or twenty, if it is India’s Grand Old Party that, by all indications, is in its autumn, not summer.  Stronger branches of this old banyan are being weakened from within, while its leaves, the young ones with green lives ahead, are falling off and falling out.

Two young leaders, Kanhaiya Kumar and Gujarat’s independent legislator Jignesh Mewani, joined the Congress party, bringing happy tidings after long. Along with Gujarat’s Hardik Patel, who joined earlier, theirs has been leadership in the making for five, tumultuous years.

Both are young, ideologically committed, and are clear about what they want. They are worried, like millions across the country, that if the Congress sinks, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will find it easy to overwhelm the smaller parties. This would be bad for democracy. Mewani echoed Kumar’s description of the Congress as “a ship that should not be allowed to sink.” They called for ‘saving’ the party and with that, “the idea of India.” That they spoke in these terms, from the Congress platform is   significant. The party needs to be rescued from itself.

This concern for the party’s survival was neither their entry-pitch nor altruistic. It is closely linked to long-felt need for forging an opposition phalanx to contain the BJP. Despite deep differences and past political baggage of mutual mistrust, the role of the Congress as a key member of that entity is being increasingly felt under the present circumstances. Differences, as of now are on whether or not the party should lead it and if yes, under an ailing Sonia Gandhi or anyone else. Rahul and sister Priyanka are not considered senior and experienced enough. And they have proved their critics right with their recent handling of the party’s affairs.    

Both Kumar and Mewani have a good track record so far, enough for their critics to also take note. Kumar has been greeted with bitter/sour trolls on the social media. He was charged, thrashed in full courtroom, jailed and tortured five years ago for wrecking the country to pieces — “tukde-tukde”.  Forty samples of his speeches of that period were examined, including the controversial one that he delivered at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as its students’ union president. They were officially subjected to forensic and legal examinations. Kumar’s voice did not match with those heard shouting anti-India slogans, India Today later reported. The charge did not stick.

That “tukde-tukde” has returned, especially on the social media, now that Kumar has joined the Congress. It signals the long battle ahead. That battle will need opposition clarity and unity of purpose. For instance, Kumar lost badly to BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Bihar, as no party was willing to accommodate him. In Bihar’s murky turf war, Kumar could face rejection by Laloo’s party that already has a young Tejashwi Yadav and hierarchical problems in Bihar Congress.

Kumar, who quotes Marx and Lenin along with Gandhi, Ambedkar and Gautam Buddha, is a communist. Indeed, the Congress has in the past infused communists in the 1970s, when Mohan Kumaramangalam was a central minister and Chandrajeet Yadav was a key party general secretary. But that was in the cold war era. The post-Soviet world and an India post-economic reforms, (launched by a Congress government) have discarded the socialist model. Will the left-of-centre political plank work against the BJP’s avowed right-wing political, economic and social agenda that openly plays on religion? Which Kanhaiya will people vote for?

Without surprise, Kanhaiya’s entry has unnerved many Congressmen and corporate circles uneasy with anything ‘leftist’ and has given an added weapon to the BJP and its front organisations.

ALSO READ: ‘Kanhaiya An Opportunist, Not A Communist’

The Congress shed its secular USP, first by pandering to Muslim conservatives vote in the Shah Bano case and to match L K Advani-led Rath Yatra in the late 1980s, climbed the Ram temple bandwagon. It is now openly trying to match, unsuccessfully, – the BJP’s electoral tactics. They include opening gaushalas and marketing gaumutra (cow urine). A party committee headed by A K Antony, a Christian, attributed repeated election losses to the perception that the party was pro-minorities. Along with socialism, secularism is also gone.

Under BJP ‘threat’, the Congress has discarded the minority constituency. No longer setting the agenda, the party reacts to others.    

No party can prosper without a clear direction and without ground support. No party can survive merely by infusion from outside, like polls strategist Prashant Kishore. (Some quarters attribute replacing of a well-regarded Captain Amrinder Singh with Navjot Singh Sidhu, a ma maverick showman and little else, to his counsel).

While noting the Kumar-Mewani entry as a harbinger of likely change, it is risky to read too much into their joining the Congress, when Jyotiraditya Scindia (although he had “access to Rahul’s bedroom”), Jitin Prasada and Sushmita Dev, besides others relatively low-profile, have quit.  The party has failed to renew itself before the people. If the young are disenchanted, the older guard is clueless, yet clinging to it. Imagine ex-Goa chief minister L. Faleiro flying across the peninsula to join Mamata Banerjee’s party in Kolkata!

The Congress is run at the top by a single family. The Gandhis used to be the glue that kept it ticking and united, but no longer. They gave winning slogans. This, too, was long ago. By all available accounts, Sonia Gandhi, the ‘interim’ president is ailing, and decisions are being taken by her children. They are all good and decent. But that is not enough in politics. From hugging to hissing at Prime Minister Modi, Rahul’s is a personalized approach. But that can’t be party strategy. Against the wily orator, Rahul comes across poorly. The brand name does not sell against Modi’s high octane campaign fuelled by men, money and media. 

ALSO READ: Is The Congress Really Rudderless?

Sadly, the party has for long shown signs of the last days of Mughal Empire.  Imposing fledgling central authority failed in Madhya Pradesh, narrowly saved Rajasthan and has yielded disastrous results in Punjab. A coterie surrounding the Gandhis counsels destabilising those seniors found growing roots in the states.  

On the day Kumar-Mewani entry, the squabbling Congressmen in Punjab were decimating their own fort with the assembly elections just five months away. They had the best chance of being re-elected a third time. It has been frittered away, to utter surprise of friends and foes alike. Angry Amrinder is set to launch a new party. With a multi-polar scene emerging, the battle for Punjab is now wide open.

This fiasco is unlikely to calm rumblings in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where Congress is riven by factions. The steep decline in central authority is thanks to opaque decision-making that is often delayed, encourages more discontent and proves disastrous.  The party needs internal discussion, organisational elections and “a full-time president” – not an ailing interim matriarch. It needs, by implication, an inclusive leadership that does not function with one or more remote controls. Dissent is out in the open. The leadership – whoever thought and did it – has responded by sending goons to vandalise the house of Kapil Sibal, one of the dissenters. Notably, none has condemned the incident.

Is it any surprise that the BJP juggernaut, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at its command, continues to roll?

The writer can be reached at

Will The Congress Please Buckle Up?

India’s older intelligentsia last month went through the annual ritual of righteously, and rightly, recalling the Emergency that was imposed 46 years ago, impairing civil liberties, media freedom and right to political protest. But the flavor and tone were different this year.

Expectedly, the targets were Indira Gandhi, the prime minister who imposed it, and the Congress party. Feebly, very feebly, the party protested. While not defending the Emergency, it picked up enough courage to say that the current situation was equally bad, even worse. Lacking the necessary ballast, its voice was further muffled by a partisan media, and met with aggressive rebuttals from those in power who claim the sole right to play the victims and even martyrs.

Significantly, most other ‘victims’ now in the opposition, did not join either side. It betrayed their conflict and confusion about their role in the current situation. And, of course, their unwillingness to be seen either with an aggressive ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or with the Congress.

It is time to ask: can, or should this caution persist? Last month also witnessed hesitant moves at forging opposition unity that betrayed mutual distrust and a lack of direction. These tentative moves are obviously prompted by the electoral triumphs of regional parties, like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and by Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.

The economic stress and the misery heaped by the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to disillusionment. Together, they have caused a psychological backlash. Look at the government’s handling of protests, terming some as sedition and its vocal denunciation by the judiciary. Look at the anger at the floating corpses on the holy Ganga. This is unprecedented, and not a result of the opposition’s foreign-made ‘toolkit.’

ALSO READ: Nation Rising Up, Opposition Holed Up

However, what could be a golden opportunity is being wasted, not just by the squabbling Congressmen, but also others fearful of the BJP’s dominant presence and aggressive implementation of its political agenda. Some like the Samajwadi and BSP are busy poaching each other’s workers and lawmakers. They have learnt little from the past and presently, the way the BJP poached from other parties, mostly to dump them. When it overdid that in West Bengal – a lot more was overdone, like a toxic, personalized campaign that boomeranged when Mamata Banerjee was individually abused – the reverse process began within weeks. The TMC turncoats want to return to it after winning on BJP tickets. This is unprecedented.

The biggest failure in taking advantage of this situation is of the Congress. In the party that led the country to its freedom, the family and the organization have become synonymous. Congressmen are unable/unwilling to even consider an alternative leader or a bunch of them. Why, organizational election itself is stalled for fear of the edifice falling apart. Covid-19 was cited as the reason the last time around.  

The party could not keep its own government in Madhya Pradesh and pulled back allies from victory in Bihar. In the last round of elections, it failed to retain Kerala and Puducherry and to regain Assam. It scored a zero in West Bengal.

There is discernible disenchantment with the leadership at the top. Here, too, the voices are feeble. The Gandhis are unable to prevent internecine warfare and seem clueless about how to stem the rot and plug the leaks. Incumbent chief ministers are facing revolt from factions and ambitious youngsters.

Punjab has been a success story, but dissensions have emerged with elections due next year. Navjot Singh Sidhu, seen by many as more of a show-boy and a possible tool/proxy of god-knows-who, could quit if not ‘accommodated’. Ditto, Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, who, however, has a better track record than Sidhu. Unsurprisingly, the BJP in Rajasthan and in Punjab, the Badals and Bahujan Samaj Party, besides AAP’s Kejriwal, are readying to demolish the two last Congress fortresses. The attitude of each party towards the continuing farmers’ agitation, drawing much of its sinew from Punjab, has made the situation more complex.

ALSO READ: Can Amarinder Singh Save The Congress?

Despite all this, the Congress is seen as the pivot of any opposition unity move by the elderly Sharad Pawar and a young Tejashwi Yadav. It urgently needs to choose its own role and direction if it is to play any role that could lead to opposition unity. A national party it certainly is, but only if it can carry others along. Days of others rallying behind it are over, at least for now. An ailing Sonia Gandhi, formally still the Congress president, had wisely pulled that off in 2004. Can Rahul and/or Priyanka, with their dismal track record in elections, repeat that?

As BJP lords it over, deprecating the Congress ‘dynasty’, but not the other small and big ones in the opposition, there is a point to ponder. No political party is homogenous – it cannot be. When you take too many people from outside, you dilute your own organisation and your ideological mores (many don’t have). As a mass-based party, the Congress embraced all and sundry, since that was also its role during the freedom movement. But many left it to join the opposition while retaining the ‘Congress’ label, thus hurting the ‘parent’ party.

The BJP, on the other hand, is a party with a strong ideological mentor in the RSS. Embracing too many MPs and MLAs from elsewhere has caused it greater pain than, perhaps, the Congress. But then, Mr Amit Shah is playing realpolitik, taking a leaf from L K Advani’s book authored in the 1980s and 1990s. The pain is visible in West Bengal and other places could follow as time goes. 

Talking of the 1990s, one misses Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the hands-on Marxist who rallied parties with diverse political platforms to forge coalitions that governed, however briefly. Now, Sharad Pawar has initiated the moves, tentative though they are.  Not himself a chief minister, he reputedly runs a government of diverse parties in Maharashtra, a major state.

It will be some time and much effort before the Pawar-Mamata initiative gains momentum. Without subscribing to any one or collective platform, it needs stressing that a healthy democracy requires balancing. India needs, as a Hindi expression goes, “loha lohe ko katata hai” – you need iron to cut iron.

At stake is not just the healthy functioning of a multi-party system, but also federal relations, particularly when and where different parties are elected. The Constitution provides for a federal governance and a multi-cultural ethos. In this context, one fully agrees with what the Chief Justice of India, N V Ramana, recently said of greater checks and balances to make a democracy thrive.

It is not going to be easy. One hears of ‘files’ with the Union government, those that ensure silence of some of the opposition leading lights. On the other hand, the BJP is certainly growing strong in terms of men, money, media and muscle as the party in power. Finally, at its helm is Prime Minister Modi who, as sociologist-politico Yogendra Yadav rightly predicts, “will fight till the last”. Can the opposition prepare for the seven states that will have elections next year, before the Lok Sabha polls? 

The writer can be reached at

Survey of Madrassas

India’s Fall From Democracy To Electoral Autocracy

By virtue of its having a population of close to 1.37 billion and holding elections to Parliament and state assemblies every five years as required under the Constitution and on the basis of adult suffrage, India has logical claims to the status of the world’s largest democracy. Unfortunately, to popular concern, India is not faring well as a democracy in the eyes of independent global watchdogs.

These agencies use copiously collected social science data and feedback from a wide range of independent sources before they decide where a particular democracy finds itself in their indexes. The first blow for India came from Freedom House, a US based watchdog funded largely by the US Administration, which relegated the country to “partly free” status from the earlier “free” ranking.

Now a much harsher admonition for India comes from Sweden based V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute. In a major setback for liberal democracy, “the world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy,” says the V-Dem report. The country’s 23 percentage point slide on V-Dem scale since 2013 makes “it one of the most dramatic shifts (read in terms of erosion of democracy) among all countries in the world over the past ten years.”

Elaborating how democratic values got eroded in India, V-Dem says: “Autocratisation process has largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the ‘Third Wave’ over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent.”

But Pranab Bardhan, professor emeritus of economics at University of California, Berkley, says much of Indian media, particularly the TV channels are found “shamelessly” ingratiating themselves with the powers that be. What freedom of the Press can there be when media owners and journalists who matter have on their own drawn the Lakshman Rekha in a way offering comfort to the ruling party at the Centre and in states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. What is left of free media is some news and opinion websites run by some intrepid journalists and a magazine or two.

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Bardhan is surprised that BJP has the gumption to complain that the opposition is engaged in smearing the reputation of the country across the world. “But it is now imperative to say that the way democracy is being trampled in so many ways is giving the country a bad name. Let’s take the case of harassment of Disha Ravi (climate activist). Hasn’t this invited global criticism? I will say those who describe the protesting farmers and principled journalists as anti-nationalists are a blot on our democracy,” says Bardhan.

Bardhan, a global campaigner for equality of opportunity for human development, has strong distaste for doublespeak that BJP leaders indulge in. They, according to him, will say sabka saath sabka vikas (development for all) but when it comes to act they will spew hatred for the ones not of their faith. Why Bills are not discussed any longer and Acts are steamrolled through Parliament?

Bardhan thinks the fear of courting uncomfortable questions has made Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to hold Press conferences at all. The people are instead left with ‘Man ki Baat,’ a monologue that leaves no room for questions to be asked. (To put the record straight, Modi at least once sat for a long interview with the former Hindustan Times chief editor Sanjoy Narayan.)

Incidentally, Bardhan like many other front-ranking intellectuals is a strident critic of the NDA decision on demonetisation and the Covid-19 lockdown for the indescribable sufferings of the common man, millions of migrant workers and people dependent on the unorganised sectors. Now we learn from the periodic labour survey by National Statistical Office that the urban unemployment rate in the country shot up to 20.9% in April-June 2020 coinciding with the lockdown from 9.1% in the previous quarter. But what will go unrecorded are the physical, mental and financial pains millions of migrant workers suffered because of sudden declaration of the lockdown without giving them a chance to go back to wherefrom they came by train and long distant buses.

In a recent interview with the largely circulated Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, Bardhan expressed his anguish over disintegration of the country’s federal structure. As policy decisions are getting concentrated in the Prime Minister’s office (PMO), in a novel development New Delhi is regularly trespassing into areas reserved for the states. There are too many occasions when the centre without seeking the views of states are addressing subjects concerning education, health, agriculture, law and order and labour.

The winding up of the Planning Commission where the states could place their economic demands and subsequently get relief from the government was a blow to federalism. As for revenue mobilisation, every time New Delhi would impose a cess that will be a denial to states of their rightful share. This is not the case when revenues are mobilised by way of taxes.

Drawing an analogy with Germany in the 1930s where the Communists and social democrats locked in political bickering helped in Hitler coming to power, Bardhan strongly recommends that the Left, the Congress and Trinamool Congress should not allow their past differences, often quite bitter, to come in the way to stop BJP from wresting power in West Bengal.

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Bardhan says if the Left truly believes that ‘Ram in 2021 and Bam (that is left) in 2026’ then it is indulging in self-delusion. The left apparently doesn’t want to have any kind of understanding with Trinamool since its members and supporters had suffered a lot in the hands of ruling party members in the past ten years. But he says in the past ahead of the Left Front rule, the Communists were given a hellish time by the Congress. The left, according to him, will be showing wisdom if it is found ready to bury all such hatchets to stop the BJP juggernaut. He at the same time wants the Matua and Rajbangsi communities, which are befriended by BJP, to stay clear of the party with strong Brahminical leanings.

People from different parts of the country have over centuries made Bengal their home and in the process they have made rich contribution to the local economy and culture. Many Bengalis are uncomfortable that BJP is described by incumbent Trinamool as a party of outsiders.

Bardhan has an interesting take on this: “BJP has tenuous links with Bengali culture. Since the party doesn’t have a great Bengali intellectual to boast, it is busy paying obeisance to Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath, Swami Vivekananda and Subhas Chandra Bose. But it is impossible to reconcile BJP’s Hindutva with what these great Bengali minds wrote and said.”

Bankim Chandra will not accept that the country has made any progress unless the Muslims and everyone else have a share in it. Vivekananda wanted everyone to read the Bible and the Quran along with the Gita. Subhas Chandra was secular to the core. His strong disapproval when Syama Prasad Mukherjee joined Hindu Mahasabha is well known. Finally, the world has known Tagore as a well wisher of both Hindus and Muslims and as someone desirous of their brotherhood.