Indian democracy’s Westphalian moment

The Congress and non-NDA regional parties must forge ‘a practical accommodation to reality’

With the Election Commission having announced the schedule for elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana in November-December, the stage has been set for a ‘dress rehearsal’ of the elections to the Lok Sabha in 2019. This dress rehearsal will, in ideological terms, be a straight fight between majoritarian supremacism and democracy, between ideological hegemonism and constitutional federalism. But will it be, in electoral terms, a straight choice for the voter between the the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Opposition’s ‘others’, united or even allied? After the ‘Karnataka moment’ in May, it seemed like this straight choice was as good as ‘done’. But today, with discordances in the non-BJP Opposition’s pre-poll voice, the situation calls for sober reflection. The voter will see in the dress rehearsal’s optics, on one side the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party’s highly uniformed, prescribed, single dress code: white and khaki. On the other side a riot of federal colours and logos — from the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP’s) blue, to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Left’s red, the Congress’s tricolour, the Mizo National Front’s tiger’s deep yellow, the pink of the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh, the pink, again, of Telangana Rashtra Samithi, and the deep green of that State’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. Memory is a great charger. It is also a great inhibiter. The Congress’s memory of its past supremacy energises it but restricts its scope for a practical accommodation of current realities. The Congress’s memory is also, very often, no different from its cadres’ stinging short-term memory of power and its loss. Sharing comes to the recently deprived, with effort. But share it must. If only because if it does not, there may be nothing left to share. Likewise, the non-Congress Opposition is energised by its memory of trouncing the ‘giant’ Congress in the States, sending it often into third and fourth place. But they cannot forget that 2018 and 2019 are a different theatre altogether. They are not about a choice between democrats within democracy, but a choice in a fragile democracy between those who want to protect it and those who want to usurp it. In optimising numbers every number counts, every seat, every vote — and in doing that, they cannot afford to reckon without the Congress. This opportunity optimisation will be called by the NDA ‘opportunism’. But then we should thank the ‘opportunism’ of those who delivered Europe from the hands of the Holy Roman Empire. The party is bigger than its leaders, the nation bigger than a party. Never before has this been truer than today when a systematic attempt is being made to use the methods of democracy to morph it into its very antithesis.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor

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