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French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, an expert on India and the BJP, talks to Pranay Sharma on what a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ forebodes for India. Excerpts:
Many are predicting a complete rout of the Congress in this parliamentary election. Do you share that view?
Congress will definitely suffer a setback. But a complete rout would mean that the party would not be number two in the Lok Sabha. That is doubtful.
Even if the Congress suffers heavy defeat, will it mean that the party will find it difficult to recover and reinvent itself?
The Congress has had ups and downs indeed. It has been around 100 seats before and has reinvented itself.
In its post-independence history, the Congress has faced several crises. How different is the one that the party faces now?
The present crisis is different because the party is facing two crises simultaneously—a crisis of leadership, because the scion of a great family is not necessarily made to lead, and a moral crisis, that is not related only to corruption but also to the fact that the party’s identity has become fuzzy: is it business-friendly or people-friendly? For the people or populist? Last but not least, no prime minister had been in office for 10 years in a row since Nehru, when communication was not as important as today. Today, nobody can rule that long and let opponents spread venom without reacting equally forcefully (if not viciously). This is the age of television.
The BJP has been calling for an India that is free of the Congress. If that ever happens, will it be a good thing?
Democracy needs a strong opposition. If the Congress loses the election and then vanishes, it will be a tragedy for democracy—if no political force can resist those in power, especially if institutions like the judiciary and the media lose their independence and if the state parties remain more opportunist than anything else.
Would you agree with the view that the Congress still represents plurality, inclusiveness, liberal ideas and freedom in comparison to many other parties in India?
The Congress grew as a catch-all party. This is the reason of its decline: in the Hindi belt, it cannot get the vote of the Dalits, the Muslims and the Brahmins any more. This is one of the consequences of Mandal and Mandir. But it is still the only party that wins seats in the north and the south, has Muslim and Hindu MPs and so on and so forth.
Does the Congress at present lack ‘big ideas’, and if so, how will you define them?
The ‘big idea’, in fact, is the Congress itself! What is the alternative? A majoritarian and authoritarian form of democracy in which the minorities are invited to be second-class citizens? (And what if they refuse?) Or a third force made of state parties which will not last more than two years? Congress does not need ‘big ideas’ to reinvent itself; it has simply to be true to its creator, Mahatma Gandhi, who shaped the party in 1920. Young Congressmen are prepared to take over on behalf of the country’s motto: ‘unity in diversity’. The party leaders should let them come up!