The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Is the Bharatiya Janata Party going the Congress way' Opinion among political commentators is divided over the issue. Some argue that sympathizers of the BJP are becoming disillusioned and increasingly beginning to feel that the party has betrayed their hopes that it would be different from the Congress. Others believe that whatever misdeeds the BJP is now accused of, the Congress could be blamed of the same, in fact, much more than the BJP. Which means neither the BJP can be supported for being different from the Congress, nor can the Congress be supported for showing the way to the latter.

This is a rather depressing view of the matter. The argument that one cannot choose between the two parties is a handy excuse for those who want to do nothing more than bemoan the sad state of affairs. And this suits the BJP fine for this means that in the absence of a better alternative, it will be difficult to remove the BJP from power.

The Congress needs to be self-critical and re-examine its actions to determine the extent to which it has departed from its original views and ideals. The Congress should not be seen as merely a party that played a leading role in the freedom struggle. More than that, it is a party that consolidated our freedom and charted our path of progress. This continuum of political influence, pre- and post-independence, worked to the nationís advantage.

Fascist elements

Why then, it may well be asked, are we in such a deplorable state today' But are we' Although poverty abounds, as does social disparities and corruption, the nation has made significant strides. Todayís leadership is more representative of the diversities of Indian society than it was in the first decades after independence. This might be a sign of progress but it has also resulted in the deterioration of moral standards among our leaders.

The Congressís hegemony has been replaced by smaller, divisive parties who use power to reinforce the prejudices of communities, and intimidation to capture and retain power. Their political culture is one of unquestioning obedience to leaders. An inquiring mind and persuasive attitude, which are the cornerstones of democracy, is not encouraged by the strict party hierarchy.

Fascism chooses in different countries the ideology that best serves its purpose. In India, it happens to be communalism, or more particularly, an explosive mix of religion and nationalism. Conversely, it must also be emphasized that communalism too needs fascism to triumph in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic country like ours.

Image conscious

In Gujarat and in other parts of the country, fascism thrives on the frustration of the unemployed, the lack of development and the persistence of social disparities. But it is not so much poverty as envy that vitiates the atmosphere.

The link between the progress of fascism and the failure of development is close and direct. There has been a change in the pattern of development in some cities in Gujarat like Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat. This has affected particularly the working and the middle classes, especially in the textile industry, who were earlier used to a faster growth rate. But no party, least of all the BJP, has paid serious attention to this problem. Instead, it has tried to harness the discontent for their own narrow purposes.

Limiting the agenda of economic reform to privatization, greater exports and consumerism has only compunded the damage. Gujarat is the latest example of the futility of leaving everything to the whims of the market forces and private enterprise.

Nevertheless, it is sad that even as the world is realizing this and turning to the Nehruvian model of a mixed economy, the Congress, which swore by it until a decade ago, has gone silent. Not only must the Congress try to reclaim its former image as the champion of secularism, it must also be seen to espouse the cause of development that generates employment and growth with social justice.

Only when it does so will the full magnitude of the difference between the BJP and the Congress become evident.

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