T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan: Famiglia sopratutto - Family above all

Does the politics of India run on the ideology of the ruling party or the beliefs of whosoever happens to head the government at the moment?

This is a question political 'scientists' should be asking but don't because they are so steeped in Western intellectual structures which gives primacy to the party.

But the Indian experience, where it is the other way round, is instructive in this regard. Here the party counts for little; only the Prime Minister matters.

Thus, from 1947 to 1967, the Congress party ruled all of India without any real Opposition. After 1952, when he bested his conservative rivals either by defeating them politically or by promoting them to very high office, Jawaharlal Nehru was its total boss. The political issues of the time were framed in the way he wanted them to be framed.

His politics was secular in the real sense of the word. His economics was nonsense, also in the real sense of the word. But it was not contaminated by electoral calculations.

His successor Lal Bahadur Shastri died prematurely. So he left no imprint on the politics of the country. But from such records as are available, he would have taken the economy rightwards.

He was succeeded by the most disastrous prime minister India has ever had: Indira Gandhi. Under her leadership, in 1967, the Congress lost seven states. It also saw it strength in the Lok Sabha decline.

Thereafter, her politics was defined not by any ideology but by pure electoral calculations. These had but one aim: keeping herself and her family in power, forever and at any cost. She even eliminated democratic laws, rules and practice during the Emergency in 1975-77 to hang on to power.

Famiglia sopratutto

This 'family above all' obsession has become India's dominant political ideology. It can be a nuclear family or a very extended one like the Sangh Parivar.

Indira Gandhi was succeeded by Morarji Desai in 1977 and her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. Desai was clearly of the rightward bent but had no authority within his party because it was a jumble of disparate regional parties with socialist slogans. He left no imprint on Indian politics.

Ditto, Rajiv was a decent man with no ideology whatsoever - not even famiglia sopratutto. Thanks, however, to his mother's successful efforts in turning the Congress into a 100 per cent fully owned private limited company, he became the sole target of its opponents.

He was voted out in December 1989.

His successors were VP Singh, whose government lasted just about a year, Chandra Shekhar, whose government ran for four months, and PV Narasimha Rao, who ran minority government for five years.

Singh, despite the shortness of his prime ministership, left a permanently divisive imprint on India politics. He invoked a highly emotive political tool: caste. It is still with us.

Rao left a different legacy because of his economics, which led to all politics being framed in the post-colonial language of the 1950s: the private sector, both Indian and global, became its target.

Rahul Gandhi had taken over that language for his party, forgetting that he was echoing his own party's opponents during 1991-96. But then he was not a very clever guy.

Between 1996 and 1999, India had four governments and three Prime Ministers. Those three years could be ignored as they had no impact on ideology.

From 1999 to 2004, Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister and introduced pragmatism as the new ideology. It had no social or economic or intellectual moorings.

Vajpayee was formally succeeded by a Manmohan Singh. But between 2004-14, Indira Gandhi's poorly educated Italian daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, was the real boss. She took family values to new heights. Her ideology, if it can be dignified by that name, is still that of her mother-in-law: famiglia sopratutto.

Manmohan Singh, it might be noted, had no ideology other than of a refugee from Pakistan: survival through feudal values. He chose the service of the Gandhi family.

Famiglia sopratutto V.2

Now we have Narendra Modi who most certainly has an ideology. He also has a family in mind but of a different kind.

Modi, like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, regards Hindus as the chosen people and when he speaks of Indians he means Hindus. But as prime minister, unlike Indira Gandhi who veered to extreme left wing politics, he has chosen to keep his beliefs under check for the moment.

If the Bharatiya Janata Party wins in Bihar Assembly elections, he will probably give his beliefs fuller play. The Patel anti caste-based reservations movement is the first shot across the bow.

Wait for more.


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