Monday, April 22, 2013

The centre can indeed hold

The centre can indeed hold
M.J. Akbar

Aspirant prime ministers often forget the first rule of Delhi: the Centre can only be ruled from the centre. Even in an age when ideology no longer sits on certain ground, there is still broad separation between ‘left’ and ‘right’. It may be only as thin as a comparison, but it exists. A finance minister can lean left or tilt right, but a prime minister must have the flexibility to take whichever lane offers a solution.

Left and right are European terms with no equivalent resonance in Indian economic or political thought. They came into currency only in the late 1920s, when Communists and semi-socialist Congressmen like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Bose began to dominate the discourse. Mahatma Gandhi was outside such categories.

There had been no leader in many millennia with a deeper commitment to the eradication of poverty and that hateful curse, caste oppression, but was Gandhi a leftist? Not by the logic of Marxists and their fellow travellers, who were convinced that the means must justify the ends, rather than the other way around. The Left has rather lost out on historical determinism in free India. Instead of striding along a shining path lit by dialectic debate, it became hopelessly tangled in that powerful British invention called a file-stricken, deskbound bureaucracy. The Indian right, untroubled by either doctrine or morality, placed its faith in the simplicity of greeddriven enterprise. It was naïve and self-defeating, particularly in a land diseased by poverty, but never waste your time arguing with the rich. Every morning their money whispers in their ears that they are always right. Even a self-made billionaire who started by asking splendid questions, switches to sermons with success. Money is an intellectual laxative.

Gandhi, an uncompromising bania from Gujarat, created the wide Indian centre of politics. There was, alas, something deeply unfashionable about it, but the only fashion that Gandhi needed was a loincloth that sometimes exposed more than he had bargained for. This sanyasi-alchemist authored an essential, if only partially acknowledged, philosophy for India: that economic liberation for the poor had to be preceded, or at least accompanied, by a social revolution. The toxic ruts of this country did not run along merely the deep divides of wealth. Oppression also had a cruel cultural sanction in the birth-re birth karmic cycle, which makes human beings with a right to equality, touchable or untouchable.

Marxists never really understood caste, which is why Indians never really understood Marxism. However Indian Marxists did eventually accept the virtues of pragmatism. Just as Hinduism became elastic enough to absorb the threat from Buddhism, Indian Marxism stretched its frontiers to accommodate religion. One of the more complex consequences was the manner in which as theist a community as Muslims began to vote for an officially atheist party like CPM. But the tensions were never resolved. Our Constitution followed Gandhi in its positive discrimination programmes. Its breathing lung was designed through the Pune pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar in 1932, which began the process of empowerment of Dalits through a politico-economic commitment.

The trauma of 1940s forced Gandhi to leave economic planning to the grandiose schemes of the Congress left. But we must flag a question that can never be adequately answered: what would have been Gandhi’s influence on economic policy if he had not been assassinated in January 1948? Leftists caricatured Gandhi after his death by making the charkha into the sole symbol of Gandhi’s legacy, but that is nonsense. For Gandhi the charkha represented a fundamental model: growth must mean something to the poorest individual or it is worthless. Gandhi had the extraordinary ability to invent and adapt with time, and it is possible to argue that if he had been around he would not have tolerated a policy framework that got mired in stasis by the early 1960s. Nathuram Godse did incalculable harm to India when he shot Gandhi; Godse may have also stolen three decades from economic reform.

Rule from the centre pre-empts the biggest danger to India, civil wars along the frontlines of caste and religion. As swadeshi saffron and communist red march shoulder to shoulder against FDI, nomenclatures inevitably escape from the single cage of economics and get defined by competing views on secularism. The competition is creative. As BJP shifts, as inconspicuously as possible, towards the social centre, Congress tries to shift the centre away from an encroaching BJP. A radical move in this bidding war has been made by Narendra Modi, through the Gujarat government’s appeal for harsher punishment for those convicted of fomenting communal riots. This is unprecedented. Modi will doubtless compare this in public speeches to the upward mobility within Congress ranks of Jagdish Tytler, an instigator during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

Indian politics is moving towards the centre. It began with elephant steps. There is nothing like a general election to turn it into a jog.

1 comment:

Vinayak Patil said...

Indian LEftist were children of serrogate parents. Indian hypocrisy married elite utopian nuisance. All old socialist and leftist must die physically as well as philosophically. to give rise to neo-socialism of INDIAN origin with global context.