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Taking stock:
Most dependable Bank

By Rizwan Ullah

Strong and unflinching support of the Muslim voters for the Congress Party and the party’s hold over the primacy of power in the country on the one hand and the distancing of the party from Muslims and its consequent decline in Muslim reckoning leading to its deprivation of omnipresence in the country on the other hand, present a good example of parallelism in the political history of independent India.

It would be to the benefit of all political parties, not only Congress, to study this chapter of history thoroughly, the sooner the better, and learn the lessons inherent in it: you can stigmatize Muslims, you can push them to the wall in every field, at times you can deprive them of their basic rights, you can invent thousand and one invectives against them but you cannot do away with them until and unless you stop counting heads, you bid good-by to the democracy you vowed and vouchsafed for. It is not a matter of conscience, neither a matter of expendable morality. It is a matter of practical wisdom, a matter of symbiotic survival.

As for the Indian National Congress from its very inception over a century ago, and in its various incarnations, it has never been an ideology-based party. It has been having short term and long term objectives instead of an ideology.

Those objectives changed from time to time which endowed the party with a great degree of flexibility; strategies could be changed and party machinery could be geared according to the requirements of the adopted objectives. However, from Home Rule to complete Swaraj was a long and arduous journey covering almost half of the last century. Swaraj was such an objective that generated enough heat to melt all political differences and to merge and mould into one indomitable force spearheaded by the Congress Party. But after independence the party was compelled to devise multifarious strategies at the government and party levels which required great skill and expertise. But there was no dearth of talents, experts and strategists within the party fold.

That was the point where Congress Party had to evolve and adopt an ideology. Secular democracy was the obvious choice which suited the conditions prevailing in the country after its division on communal basis. It was acceptable in various degrees to the power blocs of East and West. But the adherence to democracy called for several things the prime most being the party majority in parliament so that it could achieve the declared objectives and fulfill the promises made to the people. How far the objectives could be achieved or promises fulfilled is another story. But the party needed money and the voters’ support for carrying on. As for the first requirement the capital-clergy factor, represented by Bania-Brahmin combine in Indian circumstances, had the only option to extend its ashirwad to the Congress and asking for an umbrella in return to be able to continue its traditional money-making activities, despite state capitalism and nationalization, through corrupting the bureaucracy.

As for the second requirement, that is voters’ majority, the party strategy was based on the minority support, mainly Muslims, while great Muslim leaders of the time, mainly ulama, continued to stand firmly with the Congress. There were two other voters’ blocks, the workers and the backward classes. Labour movement did carve a segment for the left parties but it was neutralized by some balancing acts by the ruling party such as some protective labour laws and declared equidistance from the two power blocs. As for the backward classes, their support was secured by granting them constitutional guarantees in terms of reservations and concessions of various sorts. But they felt so much suffocated within the fold of the Hindu society that no amount of guarantees and concessions could hold them together, for the Congress was perceived as representing the society which had denied them the equality of status they craved so much and which had been guaranteed and enforced by Islam fourteen hundred years ago. So the backward classes started looking away from the Congress and thought organizing themselves as an independent force. Thus a sort of dissipation in the Congress alignment set in. But the extent of Muslim backing for the party remained intact until the party itself failed to realize their significance and shed them like leaves in the autumn.

This process of shedding and distancing set in during the last days of Nehru when anti-Muslim riots broke out like an epidemic in several Congress-ruled states followed by the Indo-Pak war of 1965. In the post-war days Muslims were stigmatized as fifth columnists, economically mauled, socially down trodden, crestfallen and depressed. Muslim leaders like Dr Syed Mahmood and Dr Abdul Jalil Faridi, did their best to keep the flock together. Organization of Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat and intensified local relief organizations did some moral boosting for the Muslims but could not mollify the Congress ill-temperament which was reflected in the results of the 1967 general elections. The Bangladesh war of independence and India’s participation in that effort gave a false sense of pride to the Congress leaders who saw it as a personal victory rather than successful culmination of a national effort. The failure of the Congress in observing this difference and the vanity of Indira Gandhi caused a heavy blow to the party and pushed her to the point of declaring national emergency.

The emergency came as a shock for all but it was a bolt from the blue for Muslims. Needless to go into the details of what autocrats have wrought everywhere throughout the ages and the end was also what has invariably been the lot of autocrats. But the extreme rightists infiltrating into the party sounded the last post.

The Congress Party still has the time to build bridges with the bewildered Muslims voters and try its chances in a situation where governments are contrived with hair-thin majority, where less than a quarter claim to represent the whole country and manipulate power-sharing with still smaller splinters. While the vote banks abound in the country the Congress should unhesitatingly hold on to the Muslim vote bank. It is most dependable, most honest and everlasting.
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