M.L. Sondhi

Assam Tribune, August 30, 1974
ABP, August 30, 1974
Navbharat Times, August 29, 1974

In the perception of most participants in Indian political activity the massive majority obtained by the ruling Congress party in the March 1971 elections has not proved to be the harbinger of a new political order.  What the country had expected was a rapid build-up of a machinery to canalise political energy for a speedy solution of the complex and comprehensive tasks of developing a viable economy, ensuring justice to the under-privileged and administering welfare to the vast majority of Indians.  Instead, the most perplexing problems have multiplied and political leaders appear to have become prisoners of events.  The search for fateful alternatives is on so that the political community may save itself from the chaotic and xenophobic trends towards which current contradictions and disappointments seem to be leading the nation.

Although the Indian system can be correctly described as a competitive party system as opposed to the integrative one party system prevalent in countries which do not accept the legitimacy of opposition, the Indian political system considered on a national basis does not as yet operate to create an equilibrium of ‘consensus and cleavage’ which is necessary if democracy is not to degenerate into a general disruption of social unity.

The Bharatiya Lok Dal as a project in political integration’ must be judged not as a function of political ideas which are stated in its draft statement of policy “The National Alternative—India’s only Hope”, but with regard to its ability to transcend the petrified forms in which Opposition groups have conducted their interpersonal rivalry.  Sri Charan Singh has adopted a definite stand on agrarian problems which has helped the BKD to gain rural backing in India’s most populous State.  To become a major force in national politics, as opposed to State politics, there will have to be greater emphasis placed on cohesive elements which can be mobilised outside Uttar Pradesh.

The norms of Indian parliamentary behaviour also demand a political style related to the larger schemata of Indian politics which is not fully developed in the regional model of State politics.  It is not through utopian political doctrine but by the manner in which the BLD utilises the opportunities in pursuit of ‘national interests’ that the Indian public will evaluate the claim of the new party to be the ‘National Alternative’.

The Indian electoral system has not facilitated the task of achieving ‘Opposition Unity’.  The political culture of opposition parties and groups has been marked by contrary trends.  Their specific attachment and loyalties have often led them to irrational outbursts which adversely affected their capacity to provide an alternative centre of policy making.  They could not overcome their separatism-oriented political perceptions because narrow self-regarding politics proved to be a foundation for creating a solidarity structure for the common good of the Opposition.

Sri Charan Singh and his associates in the seven-party merger move can have the satisfaction that they have surmounted a difficult hurdle by achieving agreement on a specific set of proposals which have not unified deeply felt economic needs and political interests which have not found favour in the political outlook of the ruling Congress party. Although the parties which are coming together in the merger may have had political ideas which were irreconcilable, policy differences can be ironed out if the concept of a ‘moving consensus’ is deliberately adopted.

The mutual commitment can be reinforced with the following guidelines: (a) To obtain public backing for the political union by reflecting an equilibrium between spatial and functional distribution of power in Indian society; (b) to develop attractive policy options which are relevant to the immediate future; (c) to adopt screening measures which postpone ideological cleavages and stress loyalty to programmatic criteria in crucial policy areas; and (d) to develop an alternative source of political authority by rejecting political illusions and firmly basing the new party’s symbolism and slogans for upholding Indian democracy and the Indian Constitution. 

If these guidelines are not followed then it is possible that controversies will be unleashed which will hamper the development of a clear orientation as the ‘National Alternative’.  A vital point in the appeal of Sri Charan Singh is that the new party’s grass-roots will extend to both right and left wings of the Indian political spectrum. Although there is no magic wand by which a credible alternative to the ruling Congress Party can be created, yet it is only by rejecting extremist slogans and by overcoming the chronic neurosis of both the ‘right’ and ‘left’ that opposition pressure groups can be mobilised into a National Alternative Opposition Party.

The new party will undoubtedly seek to concentrate o domestic policies with a special emphasis on food and agriculture.  The fact that the ruling Congress party is totally stifled on the food front will undoubtedly bring political benefit to the Bharatiya Lok Dal’s aspirations of becoming the leading opposition force.  Only time will tell whether this effort of Sri Charan Singh and his associates will achieve a marked shift in the Indian political system.

Although Sri Piloo Mody and other spokesmen of opposition unity have been claiming that their bringing together of consensual elements is for the purposes of providing India with a two-party system, the ruling Congressmen are by no means prepared to accept this simple and straight forward view.  They do not applaud the reforming zeal of Sri Piloo Mody; on the contrary opinion in the upper echelons of the ruling party is hardening to the view that the seven-party merger move is the toughest test to which the Congress has been put at a time when inflation continues to smoulder discontent throughout the country.

Much thought is now being given in the ruling party to the difficulties which the economic environment will present by the time the 1976 elections come along.  The instabilities which plague the Congress-led State Governments, the bad economic tidings which have drowned all the vote-catching slogans of the ‘Indira wave’ have made the average Congress MPs or MLAs future unpredictable.  Opinion differs on whether the Prime Minister will commit herself to the basic priority of an anti-inflation programme by holding on to a centrist line, or whether she will pursue a different strategy which will involve diversion of public protest to the doorsteps of the ‘vested interests’.  As is her political style she will play her cards close to the chest.  It is reasonably clear, however, that the Congress Party is more confident of electoral success in 1975 than a year later.

The new party may be just an adding together of the separate entities which have come together.  Will it be a historical episode which will lead to a serious dent in the strength of the parliamentary majority party and recreate the specific circumstances of 1967?  To bring about a change in the political climate of the country the new party will have to dispel the air of uncertainty that surrounds every merger move that is mooted in Indian politics.

The Congress Party cannot be expected to allow the new party sufficient time to become strong enough to make inroads into its electoral advantage.  It may well go on the offensive before the Bharatiya Lok Dal develops its political alternatives through a composite party apparatus.  Apart from political rhetoric the BLD will need to get busy sorting out the practical implications of an early electoral confrontation. -- INFA
<< Back