Congress can learn from the mistakes of Rajiv Gandhi | Vidya Bhushan Rawat
There is no doubt that Rajiv Gandhi was a modern looking young leader of the country yet we must not miss out the fact that his party paid a heavy price for the mistakes he committed. In 1989, he started his campaign from Ayodhya promising Ram Rajya. The doors of the Babari mosque were opened under his government curtsy Arun Nehru. Rajiv Gandhi had the huge mandate with him when he came to power immediately in the aftermath the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi in October 1984. The mandate was totally a communal one when an entire community of Sikh was made to look as terrorists and anti-national. In fact, the quick learner from Rajiv’s this mandate was Sangh Parivar, which replicated this in Gujarat in the year 2002. It is easier to make the Muslims villain for every problem in India and then come to power. Hindutva learn it and continue to experiment with this at various levels.
That was a huge mandate. Imagine 405 seats in Loksabha which no party could ever achieve. All the stalwarts of opposition got defeated that time. Rajiv promised for a new India but caught napping between Shahbano and Ayodhya. That mandate somehow was completely wasted as arrogance and flattering created a feeling that the government was not interested in public good. Rajiv’s Mr Clean image was dented when he refused to stand by his finance minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh who had unleashed a campaign against the corrupt industrial houses including the Reliance Industries. The powerful corporations joined hand and got VP removed from the cabinet. Rajiv had no strength to do that so he carefully planned the exit by sending VP to defence Ministry. There too VP Singh did what he was doing. He unearthed a whole lot of corruption in defence deals. Finally, he was thrown away from the Congress Party.
We should nor forget the fact that when VP Singh was expelled from the Congress Party, the loudmouths and chamchas of the Congress party and its leadership did everything to humiliate him. K K Tiwari, Veer Bahadur Singh, Ratnakar Pandey and many others like them actually created all kinds of obstacles wherever V P went to address public meetings or organizing rallies. But as the Congress went on creating the hurdles, VP Singh used all these opportunity to make his point that the government has lot to hide and in fact is totally corrupt. He did not say things that way but the public had made up its mind that Rajiv government was corrupt.
The 1989 elections actually happened in the backdrop of all this.
That was the time when political parties would say there is no leader in the opposition. It is not united and so many things. Thankfully, that time, it was VP Singh who focused more on building up a grassroots mobilsation against the corrupt government, build up narratives beautifully. That apart, VP was able to bring diverse opposition parties at one platform that gave Congress a one to one fight in most of the constituencies. The result was the fall of mighty Rajiv Gandhi. V P Singh became prime minister but Rajiv could never adjust to this new reality of his time that his one-time finance minister was the leader of the country.
The National Front Left Front alliance was at Center and the BJP had supported it. Obviously, that time Congress was the biggest threat to democracy and need was to bring all the parties together. After some initial hick ups, the government started working and the first major announcement was Dr Ambedkar centenary celebrations and announcement of Bharat Ratna to him. That apart on August 7th, V P Singh government announced the acceptance of Mandal Commission Recommendation for 27% reservation for OBCs in the central government jobs.
The Mandal announcement was met with vociferous protest by all. This was the time when India’s ‘secular’ elite too got totally exposed. The hub of the protest became Delhi University and various other cities in the north. RSS got worried and Advani amounted Somnath to Ayodhya yatra to ‘unite’ Hindus but in fact deviate from the real issue of the reservation for OBCs.
BJP withdrew its support when Lalu Yadav arrested Lal Krishna Advani Samastipur, Bihar and did not allow him to continue his yatra. The Congress immediately supported the break away faction of Janta Dal under Chandrashekhar and after some time withdrew support from him. Rest is history. Congress could never recover the jolt VP Singh gave to it and that is the reason why despite all his effort VP Singh was not respected by the high command of Congress Party despite his overtures for reconciliation later.
Today, when the Congress is down and attempting to unite the opposition, it needs to learn a few mistakes that Rajiv Gandhi did. Congresses attempt to play soft Hindutva card will not work now. Congress tried in Gujarat as well as in Karnataka. The party does not have any credible faces from other communities in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. If Rajiv Gandhi had saved V P Singh government that time and supported his Mandal initiative, Congress would not have gone into virtual oblivion despite being in government for long. The lack of faith in Congress among the OBCs, Muslims and Dalits have long reasons and can not be just adjusted through a few seats here or there. Congress need to shed its brahmanical coat and become a party of India’s diverse people from North to South. In Karnataka, it tried to lure Lingayat ignoring Dalits and Muslims and the result is that it lost their trust. Neither Vokalingas nor Lingayat voted for it but at the same point of time, the Dalits and Muslims too did not vote for it.
Congress want to grab soft liberal Hindu space and therefore it is unable to take a strong position like telling the people that it stand for modern values, respect for constitution and celebrate diversity. It does not talk about representation of all sections in our nation building.
It is time it accepts the past mistakes and move ahead. We don’t live in past. It is great that Rahul Gandhi has learnt all this and has been trying to make the party diverse. It is also heartwarming to see him apologizing for the some of the mistakes and not responding in hate for hate agenda of the Hindutva trolls.
It would be better for the Congress to work on a long term agenda which include bringing different secular parties together as well as also engage with civil society organizations and social movements. It is equally important for the Congress to dismantle the brahmanical hegemony inside the party and open its door for India’s diverse identities who have been denied space and representation at various level in political parties.