View: The common goal of Mahagathbandhan is defence of democracy
Can a grand coalition provide stable government and liberating, enriching growth? The answer is an emphatic yes.
India’s democracy and the liberal core of its Constitution are under assault from the Sangh Parivar’s ideology, whose myriad articulation the BJP government at the Centre enables and empowers across the land, resulting in the growing social schism and its violent eruption as lynching.
Democracy is not just about periodic elections. The will of the majority has to be tempered with full respect of the fundamental rights of every citizen and with the group rights of minorities. The Sangh ideology seeks to redefine Indian nationhood as Hindutva, casting anyone who is not a Hindu beyond the pale of full citizenship. It is against this radical overturning of the Constitution’s democratic essence that disparate parties and leaders from around the country with multiple mutual contradictions have gathered under the umbrella of the Mahagathbandhan.
Is it not natural to see India as the land of Hindus? Hindus are almost four-fifths of the population and their tradition and culture will naturally dominate the national ethos; and, to the extent these are compatible with democracy, it is fine. This would happen without the Sangh Parivar’s enforcement of cultural nationalism.
It is useful to recall that V D Savarkar, who coined the term ‘Hindutva’ and served as the ideological guide of the founders and early leaders of the RSS, was an atheist. Hindutva is not about faith, but a political project to transform the idea of Indian citizenship, as envisaged by the Constitution, to the mirror image of the conception of Pak citizenship, based on religion, and to exclude non-Hindus from its hospitable embrace. Can a grand coalition provide stable government and liberating, enriching growth?
The answer is an emphatic yes, based on India’s own recent history. No government at the Centre has had a single-party majority between 1989 and 2014. India’s opening up to the world happened during this period. Stable governments can preside over high degrees of political instability.
Rajiv Gandhi had an oppressive majority, but saw the anti-foreigner agitation wash over the northeast, the Khalistan movement at its fatal worst, a separatist surge in Kashmir, Tamil Tigers running amok in the south and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement seed communal violence across north India. The minority government headed by Narasimha Rao held elections in Punjab and Kashmir, built on the Assam Accord signed by Rajiv Gandhi himself to restore peace to the northeast and cracked down on the terror network of the Tamil Tigers, besides heralding globalisation and liberalisation.
It failed, of course, to protect the Babri mosque. But that was not because it was a minority government, but because the state government of UP, led by a Sangh follower, colluded with the demolishers, flouting its constitutional duty. The 1996-98 United Front government mandated dematerialisation of stock holding, opened the debt market to FIIs and slashed direct tax rates to the levels that hold even today.
The reform process continued under the Vajpayee-led NDA 1, and the two terms of the UPA. The economy continued to prosper. India became a member of the G20, shook off the shackles of technology denial imposed after earlier nuclear tests and became a strategic player among the world’s powers and one of the fastest-growing economies of the world that saw poverty fall by more than half and the rise of a middle class and a technology industry the whole world admires. Yes, coalition governments do provide policy, reform and governance leading to prosperity and growth of world-beating companies.
But can these parties agree on a common, strong leader? Remember timid Lal Bahadur Shastri, whom the strong Ayub Khan ridiculed, till India overwhelmed superior Pak armour in 1965? Recall also that Indira Gandhi was called a goongi gudiya (dumb doll) when the wise men of the Congress installed her as prime minister, hoping to play her like a puppet. Machismo does not constitute political strength. It is locally relevant tie-ups, such as SP-BSP in UP and Congress-NCP in Maharashtra, that will determine how many seats Mahagathbandhan members would win at BJP’s expense.
The gathbandhan’s relevance is a common commitment to oppose the BJP that would make it difficult for members to deny the largest party to emerge from the polls support for forming the next government. Can they count on Congress’ outside support? In 1996, Congress was larger than any party in the United Front, but was the one the country had voted out. It had to settle for lending outside support to the UF. Things would be different in 2019.