Saturday, March 12, 2005

Kanchan Gupta: Needed, moral clarity to see evil

The Pioneer/Oped/08.03.05

Needed, moral clarity to see evil

By Kanchan Gupta

We must "understand a critical difference between the world of fear
and the world of freedom," explains Natan Sharansky in his book The
Case for Democracy, a must read for those opposed to tyranny at home
and abroad, "In the former, the primary challenge is finding the inner
strength to confront evil. In the latter, the primary challenge is
finding the moral clarity to see evil."

The shockingly amoral politics of smash and grab witnessed this past
week, with the Congress brazenly trying to manoeuvre itself into power
after winning 9 of the 81 seats that constitute the Jharkhand
Legislative Assembly by making a mockery of constitutional norms, have
no doubt revived memories of the "world of fear" that was India during
Mrs Indira Gandhi's ruthless and despotic rule in the dark days of

But 30 years after that summer when Mrs Indira Gandhi stripped Indians
of their fundamental rights to put "democracy back on the rails", Mrs
Sonia Gandhi and her fawning courtiers will find it extremely
difficult, if not impossible, to recreate the terror of 1975-77 when
the Congress ruled with an iron fist after packing the country's jails
with Opposition leaders, activists and independent journalists.

The "world of freedom", such as it exists in India today, may be under
assault from carpet-baggers, but they are unlikely to succeed beyond
causing temporary damage to democratic institutions, even while
inflicting tremendous injury to the Congress and its image which had a
fortuitous makeover last year after the maudlin renunciation of power
by Mrs Sonia Gandhi.

Living as we do in a "world of freedom", let us then meet "the primary
challenge" of "finding the moral clarity to see evil." In the
immediate context of last week's tumultuous political developments,
that evil must necessarily be described as the devious politics of the
Congress that appears to have rediscovered what drove Mrs Indira
Gandhi in her pursuit of absolute power: the presumed divine right to
rule even in the absence of a popular mandate.

Hence, last week's forced installation of an illegitimate Government
in Jharkhand, in which the Congress is a complicit partner, and before
that the sacking of the BJP Government in Goa and its replacement with
an equally illegitimate Congress regime. Pliant Governors eager to
prove their loyalty to Mrs Sonia Gandhi were more than happy to
subvert the democratic process of government formation.

Only the naïve would have believed that there would be no backlash and
criticism, if any, would be subsumed by the popularity of Mrs Sonia
Gandhi: After all, with her halo and larger than life image, who would
believe that she could think evil, leave alone act in an evil manner?
In the event, the carefully cultivated image of Mrs Sonia Gandhi – as
also that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who holds office but wields
neither power nor authority – has failed to carry the day for the

On the contrary, she is now seen as nothing more than an avaricious,
self-aggrandising politician who is willing to go to any extent to
grab power. In one swift move, she has taken the Congress back to the
era when it was perceived as a destabilising force that would rather
subvert democracy than allow another party to rule – either in the
States or at the Centre.

By sanctioning the appalling abuse of gubernatorial authority in
Ranchi and Panaji, she has revived memories of the manner in which Mrs
Indira Gandhi sacked non-Congress State governments in 1980. Later,
she used her stooge in the Raj Bhavan at Hyderabad to remove N.T. Rama
Rao from office; Dr Farooq Abdullah was summarily dismissed and
replaced by G.M. Shah in Srinagar. The destabilising game played by
Mrs Indira Gandhi in Punjab where she promoted Jarnail Singh
Bhindranwale as a countervailing force against the Akali Dal extracted
a terrible toll, including her life.

All the while, of course, Mrs Indira Gandhi kept on insisting, in the
face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, on her innocence.
Memories of Mrs Indira Gandhi's protestations have been revived by the
pathetic damage control exercise launched by the gatekeepers of 10,
Janpath, one of whom let it be known that "Madam Soniaji" is mightily
unhappy with the turn of events in Ranchi about which, we are now
expected to believe, she came to know only the day after.

If Mrs Sonia Gandhi's halo no longer sparkles in the spotlight of
public adulation, the Congress no longer appears as a reliable ally to
those who joined ranks with it to form the United Progressive Alliance
Government that, for all practical purposes, does not exist beyond the
confines of Parliament. In Bihar, the three major UPA partners – RJD,
LJP and Congress – are at the moment daggers drawn.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is sulking over an unguarded and considered
statement made by a local Congress satrap. In Andhra Pradesh, the TRS
is straining at the leash. In Maharashtra, the NCP is biding time. All
of a sudden, the carefully constructed alliance that saw the Congress'
return to power at the Centre in last year's parliamentary election
seems to be developing deep fissures.

Even within the Congress, the authority of Mrs Sonia Gandhi is not as
unassailable as her courtiers would have us believe. The manner in
which the Chief Minister of Haryana was selected, and the subsequent
fallout of that selection, is only indicative of the thinning of Mrs
Sonia Gandhi's authority. In Kerala, Mr K. Karunakaran is leading an
open revolt against the party; in Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh has
demonstrated that he is not answerable to either her or the Prime

The Left, meanwhile, finds itself increasingly in a quandary. Last
year, it chose to back a Congress-led UPA to keep the BJP out of
power. But in 2006, the Left will find itself fighting the Congress in
West Bengal and Kerala: Given the nature of voter polarisation in both
the States, it has to be a bitter, no holds barred fight if the Left
wants to win and survive.

If the political instability engineered by Mrs Indira Gandhi's
destabilising politics gave rise to strident anti-Congressism, the
inherent instability of the UPA and the destabilising manoeuvres of
Mrs Sonia Gandhi and her coterie are gradually resuscitating
anti-Congressism once again, paving the ground for the resurgence of
competitive politics which by definition is confrontational and

Apologists of the Congress have been quick to point out that
confrontation will work against national interest and affect
governance. But there are moments in a free nation's life when a
pacific response to deviousness and worse perpetrated by those in
power is akin to failing to summon "the moral clarity to see evil".

Only moral cowards would acquiesce in the evil perpetrated last week.
And moral cowardice is the first step towards losing the "inner
strength to confront evil". If that were to happen, Sharansky's "world
of fear" could yet become a reality for the people of India,
notwithstanding the fact that Mrs Sonia Gandhi lacks the chutzpah of
her mother-in-law.