Credibility more than Crowd

Credibility more than Crowd
Credibility more than Crowd

The Opposition parties are astir once again — both at the national and regional levels. Fresh concerted efforts are on to forge unity and provide a credible alternative to the Congress-I. The General election is, no doubt, still two years away. But the period is not too long if the Opposition is to come together well and truly and give the ruling party a good, meaningful fight. Additional stimulus has been provided for the current spurt of activity by continuing talk of a mid-term poll, notwithstanding strong denial of any such move by Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. As on more than one occasion in the past, the lead at the national level has been taken by the Janata Party. Its National Executive met in New Delhi last week and decided to try again for unity — this time greatly encouraged by the formation of the Jan Morcha and the emergence of its leader, Mr. Vishwanath Pratap Singh, as a new factor and, indeed, a new force in India’s national affairs. Few today enjoy as much credibility in the popular mind as he does. In fact, many of his close colleagues even see him as another JP in the making.

Simultaneously, efforts have been initiated by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party of Goa to forge unity among the regional parties and evolve a national consensus in the form of a “federal body”. A convention of like-minded regional parties has been called at Panaji over the coming weekend. Prominent among those invited to attend are the Telugu Desam Party, the Asom Gana Parisad, the DMK, the Jharkhand Party and the Gorkhaland National Liberation Front. Like the parties at the national level, the MGP and other regional parties feel that they need to do something urgently to save the country from the spreading rot of “rampant corruption, communalism, administrative injustice, parochialism and economic imbalance.” Interestingly, these regional parties see “a supreme unifying force” binding all communities in the country, overriding diverse cultures and regional hopes and aspirations. The regional phenomenon, the MGP asserts, need not necessarily divide. Instead, it could bring them together on the basis of shared ideals and the shared demand for decentralization of economic and political power.

The decision on the part of top Janata leaders — Mr. Chandra Shekhar, Mr. R.K. Hegde and Prof. Madhu Dandavate — to renew efforts for unity among the Opposition parties has been influenced mainly by the feeling that an ad hoc and haphazard approach will not do. In fact, Prof. Madhu Dandavate told me: “We have needlessly wasted some ten months in the process.” He and the other Janata leaders are equally clear that any attempt to bring about a merger of the Opposition parties in the present circumstances is “a waste of time”. Nothing could have been better for the Opposition (and the country than unification under one party, as envisaged by the Janata Party’s National Conference at Patna early in 1984 when the general election began looming large on the horizon. But then not many were prepared to put self before country and give up their individual identity. Now efforts are proposed to be made to work for unity through joint action on agreed issues and programmes, as was done by JP through his Jan Sangharsh Samiti prior to the Emergency. The Samiti could be revived or a new Lok Sangharsh Samiti formed.

Some preliminary discussions have been held on the formation of the Samiti which, according to Prof. Dandavate, could lead to “more enduring unity”. The Samiti will be promoted jointly by the Janata Party and the Jan Morcha. Some of the areas for joint action have been identified broadly in informal discussions between Mr. Chandra Shekhar, Mr. Hegde and Prof. Dandavate on the one hand and Mr. V.P. Singh and his colleagues on the other. Top emphasis is being placed on the battle against corruption in high places, as symbolished by the Bofors bribes and the submarine scandal. True, the two deals are no longer dominating the proceedings of Parliament or the front pages of newspapers. But it is wrong to think that all is over. Sweden’s Special Public Prosecutor has yet to submit his findings. His eagerly-awaited report, which is expected in a month or two, could trigger off new explosions against the backdrop of one basic fact: massive commissions have been admittedly paid by Bofors for the deal. Significantly, the Swedish media now calls the payments “bribes”.

Happily for the Jan Morcha and the Opposition parties, Mr. V.P. Singh continues to have a clean image. Determined efforts on the part of the Congress-I to push him into the dock and sully his image have failed so far. Some of his known adversaries are now pinning hopes on the findings of the Fairfax probe, whose conduct has caused not a few eyebrows to be raised. However, Mr. V.P.Singh is not losing his sleep over what the report may say. As he told me some time back, “I have committed no wrong. My hands are clean and my conscience is clear.” Meanwhile, the bold and appropriate decision of the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. N.T. Rama Rao, to appoint a three-member Commission of Inquiry, headed by Mr. Justice R.N. Agarwal, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, into charges of corruption against his son-in-law, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu, has come as a great relief to the Opposition leaders. It has also helped the Opposition’s image and its declared mission. Importantly, Mr. Justice Agarwal is respected for his independence and probity — and suffered for it during the Emergency.

Great emphasis is also proposed to be laid by the Opposition for its demand for electoral reforms without further delay, steps to curb inflation, provision of remunerative prices to farmers and decentralization of political and economic power. (Much of the trouble and tension between the Centre and the States stem from over-centralisation in New Delhi.) Not many in the Congress-I seem to realize that the rise in prices, which continues to hit the standard of life of most people, is largely responsible for the popular anger against corruption, especially in high places. As some visitors from rural U.P. put it the other day: “Corruption is not new to India. Nor is it new to the Congress-I rule or to the rule by the Opposition parties. However, our people are now beginning to react sharply when they see the ruling classes un-affected and unbothered by the price rise and living it up ostentatiously. Corruption then begins to be noticed pointedly and starts hurting. More and more people are now talking of corruption in high places and demand stern action…”

Moves are expected to be made soon for sounding various parties for active involvement in the new Sangharsh Samiti. Most Janata leaders continue to have reservations about the BJP. But they are clear that both the Lok Dals, led by Mr. Ajit Singh and Mr. H.N. Bahuguna respectively, must be brought in actively. There is no gainsaying the fact that the Lok Dal (B) showed its great cropper. However, the Janata leaders feel that the Lok Dal, led by Mr. Ajit Singh, son of Charan Singh, cannot be written off. The recent visit of the leaders of the Janata Party and the Jan Morcha to Saharanpur showed that Mr. Ajit Singh enjoys considerable popularity in Western U.P., which continues to hold their departed Chaudhri in high esteem. Efforts are, therefore, expected to be launched soon by Mr. Chandra Shekhar and Mr. V.P. Singh to help the two Lok Dals to overcome mutual antagonism and not oppose the active involvement of each other in any plan for joint action.

Both the Janata and the Jan Morcah leaders appear confident of mobilising mass support for their demand and mission. At one stage, Mr. Chandra Shekhar was inclined to adopt a low profile in the creation and functioning of the proposed Sangharsh Samiti lest he and Mr. V.P. Singh were wrongly accused of spearheading the Rajput cause. But the Janata Chief has now been persuaded to play an active role. Unknown to most people, Mr Chandra Shekhar has come to enjoy considerable popularity among the minority communities — especially the Muslims and the Sikhs. During a recent visit to Varanasi, thousands of Muslims lustily shouted zindabaad for the Janata Chief even as they chanted murdabaadagainst one of the Muslim MPs accompanying him. The Janata Party and the Jan Morcha also hope to mobilize massive support among the Harijans and other backward classes with the help of Mr. Ram Dhan, the General Secretary of the Morcha. Certain differences between Mr. Chandra Shekhar and Mr. Ram Dhan led to the parting of ways last year and the latter’s return to the Congress-I. But the differences are now said to have been patched up and the old camaraderie restored.

What the Opposition leaders might succeed in doing eventually is in the lap of the Gods. One thing alone seems fairly clear. The overall situation in the country has moved considerably in their favour during the past one year. The nation’s honeymoon with the young and charismatic Rajiv seems to be over. the people are now awake and demanding. But this by itself will not help the Opposition or the Sangharsh Samiti. Our people want a straight answer to a straight question: Who is the Opposition’s answer to Mr. Gandhi? Alas, personalities are beginning to count more than the parties in free democracies as shown by the remarkable case of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher. Ultimately, nothing will work unless the Opposition and its leaders are able to win back popular credibility, which suffered grieviously after 1977 and led to the collapse of the Janata. The Opposition will have to name (or draft) a leader before too long. NTR first, next Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, then the Akali Dal and finally the AGP in Assam have shown the miracle that can be wrought, given the people’s love and confidence. Credibility counts a lot more than unity — and the crowds!—INFA


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Credibility more than Crowd