United We Live, Divided We Die

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Photo Credits: Ajit Solanki/AP

By R.RAJ RAO

POLITICAL leaders who have shown merit must ensure that petty differences do not crop up between them, which will destroy all possibilities of a defiant coalition. At the present time, Mamata Banerjee is certainly one such leader. Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, and even Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra, who has been able to walk the tight rope and form the Maha Vikas Aghadi with the Congress whose ideology is at loggerheads with the Shiv Sena’s, are other such leaders.

The Congress and the Left must not join hands with the BJP in alleging that it is the Trinamool Congress that is responsible for the violence that broke out in West Bengal in the aftermath of last Sunday’s election results. They must pay heed to Mamata Banerjee who points out that the violence was restricted to areas where BJP candidates won. They must wait for the matter to be judiciously investigated by an independent inquiry commission.

History shows us that, at least as far as India is concerned, the second last year of the second term of an ruler turns out to be the worst, when power goes to the ruler’s head. In Indira Gandhi’s case, that year was 1975, when she declared the Emergency. It might be 2023 for the current ruling dispensation.

One does not know if Covid will exit from India by 2023. However, the reconstructed Ram Temple on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid will be ready in 2023. This will be monumental enough to let the public, whose memory is anyway short, forget all sins of omission and commission by the government at center and give them a majority in the Lok Sabha once again. It is only a determined coalition that can prevent such an occurrence.

Indira Gandhi’s high-handedness was restricted to the two Emergency years from 1975 to 1977, when the Fundamental Rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution were suspended. Today, the high-handedness of our leader, on the other hand, is far more insidious. It has already extended over a seven-year period, and has taken the form of an undeclared Emergency. There was demonetisation, the beef lynching of Muslims, the CAA and NRC bills, the new farm laws, and numerous arrests of students, artists and activists on fabricated sedition charges, chucking constitutional provisions like habeas corpus into the rubbish bin.

And now, their handling of the Covid pandemic is the icing on the cake.

Last year it was the sudden lockdown at four-hour’s notice, bringing all transport to a halt. This led to India’s labour force, whom Mother Teresa would have called the poorest of the poor, walking home for thousands of miles in the scorching summer heat, many of them dying on the way. This year, it is haunting images of a line up of dead bodies on India’s streets, shown more in the foreign media than our own.

This, I would say, is attributable, symbolically, to just one or two things. It is attributable to the Prime Minister’s speech at an election rally in West Bengal in February, where he said in Hindi:  Wherever I look, I can only see people, and nothing but people. Obviously, this implied that there was no social distancing at all between the thousands who had gathered to listen to him, cheek by jowl. But instead of this filling Modi with a sense of dread, he took it as an indication of his popularity. And symbolically, it may also be said to be attributable to the shahi snans at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, which was permitted only because it happened to be an upper caste Hindu religious festival.

In hindsight, PM could have used the time he spent in West Bengal seeing nothing but people, which turned out to be counterproductive anyway, attending to vaccines, drugs, oxygen supplies, ICU beds and ventilators. That might have ensured that many of his voters’ loved ones were still in their midst today.

In 1977, it was easy for Morarji Desai and the Janata Party to put an end to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency by voting her out of power. In 2024, it will be harder for coalition parties to do the same, unless they stand united from this very moment. That is why the Congress and the Left should not be in a hurry to accuse Mamata Banerjee of fomenting violence in West Bengal. They should give her a patient hearing. Who knows, in 2024, Mamata Banerjee might prove to be the Morarji Desai of 1977.

Of course, by 1980, Indira Gandhi came back to power with a vengeance. And her sense of infallibility sunk so deep that it resulted in Operation Bluestar in 1984. Everyone knows the course of events that followed Operation Bluestar.

If we do not strengthen our coalition parties today, we might not find our way out of this regime’s excesses of power. We might see the same patterns and events repeating.

History, after all, has a way of repeating itself.


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • Dr. R. Raj Rao is an internationally known Indian English novelist, poet and critic. He was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. He has also been a Visiting Professor at universities in Canada and Germany 

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