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View: Congress is the new Left in today's India

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The Left, having lost its appeal and their traditional platform on the waning side seems to appropriate the Congress to the hilt.

View: Congress is the new Left in today's India
Until a decade ago the overwhelming narrative of the Left depicted both, the Congress and Nehru as Brahmanical, semi-feudal, reactionary and agents of the capitalist class. In one of the academic pieces penned by a prominent Left academician, Nehru paved the way for the economic liberalisation of India by acting as the custodian of the nascent and embryonic corporate class in the 1950s.
He was just, it was claimed, keeping the seat warm for the Indian corporate class to acquire strength and maturity and take over the mantle from the Indian state — something the latter did in the early 1990s. The Congress, on its part, maintained that the party follows the ideology of centrism and middle path — a claim seen as a bourgeois cliché by the Left.
However, that scenario has changed completely. Today, if we leave aside the fringe leftist elements, the Left and the Congress are in perfect harmony wherein the top leadership of the grand old party seems determined to officially abandon the centrist politics and transform the party as the new Left. In the Left circle, Nehru has got a new lease of life. He is no more seen as Brahmanical and a reactionary. Rather, in the wake of the Left’s struggle against the right-wing hegemony in India, Nehru has emerged as the new Marx, their last beacon of hope.
One may allude that the Congress-Left bonhomie isn’t new. However, there is a stark difference. While Nehru’s socialistic inclination was meant to neutralise the rhetoric of the Left at a time when left-wing populism was electorally appealing. Indira Gandhi used the Left as needed and discarded them when required as is obvious in her rule from 1980-1984. Even during the UPA-I (2004-2009), when the CPM -CPI won the highest number of Lok Sabha seats, the Left was left behind when they tried to punch above their weight. In short, in the past, the interface of the Congress and the Left was a case of association and collaboration along with confrontation.
Today, what we are witnessing is not a process of association or the coming together of the two ideological entities, the Left and the Centre. Rather, it’s the case of complete assimilation of the two. The Left, having lost its appeal and their traditional platform on the waning side seems to appropriate the Congress to the hilt. In so doing, they are determined to alter the fundamental character of the party by bringing their core agenda and using the Congress platform to pursue their partisan cause.
Even a cursory look at the leaders who have left the Congress feeling humiliated or ignored by the top leadership shows a trend. Just to name a few, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Sushmita Dev in Assam; overwhelming majority of Tripura Congress leadership, Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh, Sachin Pilot episode in Rajasthan and Capt. Amrinder Singh in Punjab — the only Congress leader who delivered in the 2019 Lok Sabha election when even the safest Congress bastion, Amethi, had fallen. So is the case with the exit of two Brahmin faces from the poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, Jitin Prasada and Lalitesh Tripathi. These leaders had their pocket of influence, utility or both.
In every case, the larger pattern remains the same. These leaders didn’t fit into the strategy of the leftward shift of the party and the aggressive left-centric communitarian agenda that Congress under Rahul Gandhi has started employing consistently, his occasional temple-going spree and other measures notwithstanding. In short, any leader who has a centrist or center-right inclination within the Congress and is willing to have an opinion of his own would either embrace the suffocating humiliation or be forced to quit. In the public speech acts of the top leadership, those who are leaving the party are afraid of the RSS or a closet Sanghi pretending to be Congressman. Hence, the party has set a new litmus test to determine the true characteristic of being an authentic Congress person. The right and the center and the center-right aren’t welcome in the new Congress.
Another unambiguous trend in the Congress is the ideological cohesiveness of the ones who are welcomed in the party. The flocking of the left activists and leaders into the Congress and the warm reception they get from the top leadership signify the direction in which the party is moving. An overwhelming leadership in the poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, down up to district level is manned by the left activists who make the maximum political noise but fail electorally. In the age of social media, these new Congress warriors have taken over the visual representation and the strategic aspect of the party.
This makes sense for the Left leaders, activists and academicians who are desperately looking for a new platform after their traditional platforms are becoming irrelevant and their support base shifting to the right or regional parties. They have an instrumental agenda and greater incentive to completely take over the Congress and use it to their own end. However, for the grand old party which signified the politics of centrism or madhyam marg, allowing this metamorphosing is a case of grand betrayal. Today’s induction of the new leaders into the Congress is part of the grand Leftward shift of the Congress under the Gandhis.
—Sajjan Kumar is a Delhi-based political analyst. Views expressed are personal
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