By Swapan Dasgupta
There are some clever phrases that stick in your mind for eternity. More than three decades ago, I heard the West Indian-born British academic Stuart Hall at a meeting in a dingy, disused church in Oxford in an abstruse discussion on Marxist politics. Referring to the twists and turns of Comintern policy that contributed to an unending series of purges and expulsions of those who deviated from the 'party line', Hall mocked the pretence that the deity called the "Party" was never wrong: it merely blundered from "correctness to correctness."
As far as I am aware, my college mate Shashi Tharoor, one of the distinguished survivors of the May 16 massacre of the Congress Party, has never remotely flirted with Left-wing politics. As such, he may only have a nodding acquaintance with the hoary political tradition that maintains that the "party" can never err in its political judgment. Only lesser mortals let the side down on account of their various sins ranging from revisionism, individualism, splittism, adventurism, capitalist-roadism, etc.
Tharoor, is very unlike fellow Stephanian Mani Shankar Aiyar who will remain the last Communist standing, even after the two Communist parties have opted for voluntary dissolution. Aiyar may frequent the AICC headquarters at Akbar Road rather than the grim offices in AKG Bhavan and Ajoy Bhavan but that is only a matter of detail. In real life, he has merely replaced the portraits of Stalin, Mao and (hopefully) Kim-il-Sung with that of Nehrus and his heirs. And he has substituted 'dynasty' for the 'party'.
A clash between Tharoor and Aiyar is a classic example of political 'time-pass': seemingly a relief from post-election boredom but ultimately totally irrelevant. Tharoor has maintained that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has allayed his worst fears, made an encouraging start with his "inclusive" approach and that the Congress would be "churlish" to say otherwise. Aiyar, whose electoral drubbing was far more conclusive than Tharoor's victory by a whisker, is, quite predictably, unimpressed. The man who announced in an article penned on the night of May 16 that fascism had arrived in Lutyens' Delhi, believes that Tharoor is politically wet behind the ears and too impressionable.
I will not go into interesting theories explaining why Tharoor wrote and said what he did and why Aiyar felt compelled to express his disappointment that his "intelligent" colleague in the Congress Parliamentary Party (remember that Aiyar is a man nominated by the President of India to the Rajya Sabha) thought as he did. My only suggestion is that Tharoor should choose a more widely-read forum than the Huffington Post if he is anxious to address India rather than the US.
On closer scrutiny, however, this clash of the Stephanians seems to be more in the nature of a friendly match rather than a disagreement over fundamentals.
Let's first examine the context. Tharoor's expedient endorsement of the new PM comes at a time when, apart from the Congress candidates themselves and the functionaries of the party, no well-heeled and well-connected individual in Delhi is willing to admit they voted for the Congress and rooted for that party till the afternoon of May 16. Judging by the social conversation, it would seem that every member of the middle class had decided that the future of India would be safe only in the hands of NaMo. It is a feature of India that everyone wants to be seen to have backed the winner.
Secondly, not for a moment has Tharoor ever said that his entire reading of India's present predicament and his understanding of the Gujarat leader was flawed. Till the very last day of the campaign, as befits a spokesperson of the Congress, Tharoor had mouthed the usual platitudes about inclusiveness, divisiveness and, of course, the "idea of India". Intellectual pride prevents him from admitting that the alarmism over Modi was contrived and didn't resonate with an electorate that wanted change and believed that the record of the Gujarat government over the past 12 years was inspiring. At the same time, common sense couldn't get him to endorse Aiyar's crass comments about either Modi's self-made status or the bizarre parallels with the Germany of 1933.
To escape this self-created labyrinth Tharoor has fallen back on a clever debating technique. He has neatly divided the PM into two compartments: the bad Modi 1.0 and the promising (if not good) Modi 2.0. This clever-clever approach is premised on the belief that he was never wrong and that, after his victory, Modi has embraced the politics of the vanquished and appropriated this as his own.
The main fallacy of this schizoid Modi theory is that it is insufficiently mindful of the realities of the so-called Modi 1.0. Those who have observed Modi's record as an administrator will recognise that his maniacal hard work, fanatical attention to detail, his insistence on delivery and accountability and the functional autonomy to the bureaucracy are all carry over from his Gandhinagar days. Alas, and despite, three election defeats in Gujarat, the Congress chose to see Modi differently and cast him as an ogre. No wonder this demonology didn't cut ice with the voters.
Today, a section of the Congress is humbled by its worst showing ever. They are beginning to ask uncomfortable questions to which dynasty die-hards have no credible answer. Another section has fallen back on old certitudes and are busy examining the minutae of Nazi history for unlikely parallels. In their own ways, Tharoor and Aiyar are guilty of intellectual self-abuse. Both are trying hard to appear credible and consistent.
This is a game that isn't being played by two loquacious Congress supporters. The past three weeks have witnessed a whole lot of people, not least in the media, journeying from "correctness to correctness". The commies of yore called it 'dialectics'; the simpler description is expediency.
Sunday Pioneer, June 8, 2014