ONE cannot but begin to have serious doubts about the strategic vision of our so-called secular leaders in the nation's war against communal forces. Witness the pathetic behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to cobble yet another strictly ad-hoc coalition; the one-point agenda of keeping the BJP out of power for a short while, even if it ends up giving the foe additional ammunition for the long-drawn battle ahead; openly admitting that they do not want to face another election because the BJP will come out stronger; creating a bogey that gives the right-wing party a far too larger-than-life image.
What our leaders have completely failed to grasp is that the battle against fundamentalist forces like the BJP and the Shiv Sena cannot be fought in the bungalows of Lutyens' Delhi. If a serious war has to be waged against them, the theatre of action has to be shifted to the countless towns and villages of the country. And it is time we realised that if we are to have a credible chance of winning, it cannot be done through unprincipled alliances among discredited politicians, but through a major campaign offensive among the people. What is happening right now—I am referring to the efforts for a United Front-Congress coalition at the Centre—will only destroy whatever credibility the two organisations have left, heighten popular cynicism and give major default benefits to the Sangh parivar.
I, for one, am not too convinced of the argument that a BJP government will destroy the secular fabric of India. To be sure, the BJP will make an effort to curb the plurality of our society, it will tend to be inherently hostile to the many-sided aspirations of a composite Indian society. But I also have no doubt that such efforts will boomerang and the party will subsequently be shown its proper place by the discerning and mature Indian electorate.
In fact, those who live by raising the bogey of the BJP's damage potential for India's plural fabric and the secular thrust of its Constitution are insulting the intelligence and resilience of the Indian electorate. Let us not forget how the Indian people had sent a queenbee like Indira Gandhi packing when she tampered with India's democratic temper during the Emergency. Or how, post-Ayodhya demolition, the BJP fared in the assembly polls.
There is yet another argument against the shape of the blind anti-BJP coalition which our politicians are attempting. It can never be stable. It will be as fragile as the earlier experiments against the Congress' former power monopoly. After all, the limited view of keeping the BJP out can't prevail over other political realities, like the absolute conflict of interest between the Congress on the one hand and the Left Front, the Telugu Desam, the Janata Dal and the AGP on the other. Fed on a diet of anti-Congressism at the state level, these parties cannot possibly entertain thoughts of having any lasting relationship with that party at the Centre.
The best bet, therefore, would lie in the United Front remaining intact, proving that it retains the essence of its political logic even outside the portals of power. That it can do only by refusing to join a coalition with either the Congress or the BJP, even if it means going for fresh polls. The next edition of this drama of democracy may well see the BJP in at least partial command of the 12th Lok Sabha, but we must understand that the 12th Lok Sabha will not be the last Lok Sabha. The battle can be continued on the three slogans which the Front can adopt as its guiding credo: secularism, genuine federalism and social justice. The United Front must send out a clear signal to the people. That though it was formed purely in an anti-BJP and anti-Congress context, it has the capacity to go beyond the circumstances of its birth and provide a positive programme for the nation.
For this, the first requisite will be self-belief and a long-term vision. And here, they must take heart from the Left Front's experience in West Bengal. Remember Jyoti Basu's words of comfort to the UF steering committee after the fall of the Deve Gowda government had become imminent: the Left Front's first essay in Writers Building, the seat of power in West Bengal, lasted barely a few months. The second was only slightly longer.
But they held together. Kept working relentlessly at the grassroots level. And when they came back to power in 1977, they have since had an uninterrupted stint of two decades.
But what about the Congress? Can it also not play a major role in the battle for secularism? I am afraid the answer has to be a categorical no. Witness the current sorry state of its organisation, and the fact that its sole ideology seems to be the pursuit of power. The senile fogeys it now has as its leaders are too busy playing the childish game of noughts and crosses, trying to block out their adversaries (political and personal) from coming to power, to be thought of as realistic opponents of communalism.
What's worse, the Congress appears to have lost complete touch with the grassroots and, hence, cannot be expected to launch any mass campaign to take the real issues to the people, to highlight the threat the nation faces from obscurantist and communal elements. Maybe the party can be revitalised and turned into a reliable ally for the battles ahead. Maybe this is the time for its second generation leaders to assert themselves and throw out the bulk of the current geriatric crop lock, stock and barrel.