After some senior Congress leaders supported the Narendra Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, it has become fashionable to say that the BJP and the Congress are the same.
People who say this also cite the similarities between the economic policies espoused by the two parties and their Hindutva-soft Hindutva politics.
This is a simplistic ‘sab mile hue hain’ (they are all in it together) template of political understanding. A range of politicians, from Arvind Kejriwal to Mayawati, have said that the Congress and the BJP are the same. CPM leader Prakash Karat too had accused the Congress of fighting the Left and not the BJP when Rahul Gandhi’s Wayanad candidature was announced.
But the Congress and the BJP are not like Pepsi and Coke – soft drinks’ brands with little difference in taste. They are as different as the French and the British.
Meghnad Desai’s theory
Meghnad Desai is an ardent advocate of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition. They could and should govern the country jointly is his sage advice. He thinks that the Congress is adopting ‘soft Hindutva’ anyway.
He has also convinced himself that both the parties are pursuing ‘liberal’ policies. If both are ‘Rightists’, with the Congress no more Left of the Centre, there is nothing wrong if they have a ‘golden handshake’.
He also thinks that the term ‘socialist’ in the preamble of the Constitution (added during the Emergency by Indira Gandhi) has lost its relevance. There are quite a few Congressmen who support these arguments. Meghnad Desai was a close friend of Manmohan Singh, who believed in the Nehruvian Left but was the architect of economic liberalisation in India.
However, most Congressmen perhaps do not know who Meghnad Desai is. He was a passionate Marxist in his youth. He joined the British Labour Party. The Labour Party has two factions – the Left and the Right. Meghnad Desai leaned towards the Left, but later supported the New Labour under Tony Blair, which tilted towards the Right, often echoing the Conservative Party stand. Yet, Desai is not known to have recommended the coming together of the Conservatives and the Labour Party.
But he is urging the Congress to come out in full support of free market, foreign capital and give up the ‘wasteful welfarist affirmative action’. This is his interpretation of the ‘golden handshake’ that he strongly advocates.
Left thinks the same, but differently
Interestingly, from a different political perspective, the Left parties in India have been saying something similar. They have often argued that the Congress and the BJP are cast from the same mould of Right-wing capitalist philosophy and politics.
Many would know that the Left was stridently opposed to India opening its doors to liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation during the P.V Narasimha Rao government (1991-96 when Manmohan Singh was the finance minister).
Although the Left supported the UPA in 2004, it was never comfortable with Manmohan Singh. The Left parties maintained that his policies were drafted in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Congress under Singh was ‘servile’ to America and it protected and promoted the multinational corporate lobby, they alleged. (Subordinate Ally by Prakash Karat, LeftWord Books) The Indo-US nuclear deal of 2008 provided them an opportunity to break their informal alliance with the Congress.
It is exactly for the same reasons that Meghnad Desai would want the Congress and the BJP to come together. Although the Left accepted the ‘secular’ credentials of the Congress, it has often condemned the party’s ‘soft Hindutva’ approach.
However, at the macro level, the Left has regarded the Congress as a partner in its overall ‘secular’ project, and in its opposition to the BJP-RSS in India.
What history tells us
While the ‘golden handshake’ has not happened, we may be witnessing some sort of a ‘silver handshake’, with Congress members joining the BJP in droves and praising the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
It appears that many Congressmen and women have concluded that a ‘Congress-mukt’ Bharat is a real possibility now.
Had the opposition managed to keep the BJP down to 200-220 seats, the same political migrants would have condemned the ‘dictatorial and communal’ politics of the BJP.
In the run-up to the 2019 elections, experts had cited political precedents – in 1977, the Janata Party dealt a crushing blow to the Congress, but the Indira Gandhi-led party came back to power in 1980. In 1991, the Congress rode back to power after V.P. Singh and Chandrashekhar-led governments collapsed in span of two years.
In 2004, Sonia Gandhi led the Congress to a close victory, defeating the BJP, which was led by the ‘towering’ Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Despite this recent electoral history, Meghnad Desai has argued that the Congress and the BJP can come together and form a coalition.
Question of identity
All this brings us to the ideological obfuscation by the parties. Who is Left and who is Right? Narendra Modi’s government has adopted quite a few welfarist policies initiated by the National Advisory Council. After attacking the employment guarantee scheme, Narendra Modi government has now started promoting it.
Even the CPM has mellowed over time and appears to be more flexible on issues like FDI, corporate investments.
And yet, the BJP and the Congress would never form a common front. Both will lose their identity and credibility. The BJP has its roots in the RSS and the Congress’ foundation was laid during the freedom movement.
Their values and icons are different although the BJP now seems to be appropriating the legacy of Congress leaders. The Congress does not feel the need to have M.S Golwalkar and V.D. Savarkar in its pantheon of leaders.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.