Monday 25 October 1999

India's Taliban - Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Today, despite all the media blitz against them, it cannot be
denied that 'lower-caste' politicians such as Annadurai, Laloo
Yadav and Kanshi Ram have exploded the feeling of caste
superiority over much of India, just as one of the world's greatest
sages, Sri Narayana Guru, did in Kerala a century ago. Thanks
to the democratic model that we imported from the West, more
than 80 per cent of the population is now free of caste oppression.

Religious persecution too is becoming unfeasible in a society in
which the overwhelming majority favour a moderate and secular
polity where all religious groups are made to feel secure. As the
recent Maharashtra election results have shown, the electorate
does not take kindly to attempts by so-called 'Hindu'
organisations to adopt the methods of Lahore’s Maulana Fazlur
Rehman or Kabul's Mullah Omar.

Indeed, despite their self-affixed 'Hindu' tag, there is nothing
in common between the desecrators of Maqbool Fida Husain’s
Mumbai home, and Sanatana Dharma, which is one of this
civilisation’s greatest contributions to humanity. A true sanatani
will recognise as a kindred soul any individual (whether called
a Muslim, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist or Christian) who adopts the
creed of Himsa Dooyathe, or moderation, in his or her life. An
Abdul Kalam or an M. F. Husain (whatever one may think about
his paintings) is much, much more a sunaztani than the Taliban-like
individuals who are trying to convert Mumbai into another
Kabul. By adopting an ISI-type view of society, and thus
promoting polarisation between the two biggest religious groups
in India, Pakistan’s plot of dividing India comes closer to

No Difference
As Balasaheb Thackeray once remembered, Hindus can be safe
only in a country where all other religions feel the same sense of
security. Should a community feel itself to be under threat (as
happened with the Sikhs after the 1984 Delhi pogrom and the
Muslims after the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid), its
elements will be more easily enticed by the efforts of China and
Pakistan to recruit them for insurgency.

Apart from following the Taliban's example in social policy,
some ‘Hindu’ organisations are also emulating its example in
economics. Today, there is virtually no difference between the
ISI fanatics (who seek to drive away foreign investment from
India), the Chinese agents (who seek the same goal) and a section
of the Swadeshi brigade, which rants against the "dangers"
posed to the Hindu way of life by, say, Coca Cola or Kentucky
Fried Chicken. Such individuals are allied to the eco-fanatics,
who have been using legal means to stop new enterprises from
being set up in India. These days, in the US or the European
Union, Indian food is everywhere. In far away Lubeck in
northem Germany, this writer tucked into a sumptuous meal of
mm and alu sabzi, while the best idlis he has ever tasted were
from a tiny South Indian restaurant in Atlanta—capital of the
home state of India’s friend, Newt Gingrich, speaker of the US
House of Representatives. Fortunately, although the US still has
a Ku Klux Klan, it has not yet discovered that idlis and dosas are
fatal to the American way of life.

Communist China has in the years since the 1985 Deng
reforms attracted over $ 400 billion in foreign investment. This
has enabled the Red regime to stamp out dissent and to quietly
work towards making Communist China the world’s dominant
power. If democratic India is to checkmate this, it needs to attract
at least $ 200 billion of foreign investment in the next 10 years.
This is not possible if projects get halted on flimsy legal or
political grounds, or if foreigners are regarded as unwelcome.
Many of these ’aliens’ are the sons and daughters of our own
people, who migrated abroad to escape the tyranny of Nehruvian
socialism. As the warm reception to Sonia Gandhi shows, the
Indian people are not inherently xenophobic the way some other
peoples are. There may be differences over Gandhi's style of
functioning, but this is unrelated to the accident of her origin.

The Clinton White House is the most pro-Communist China
government in the democratic world, as subservient to Beijing's
security interests as the Chamberlain-Daladier governments
were to Hitler’s in the 1930s. Germany and Japan have joined the
US in seeking to actualise the China-Pakistan plan of crippling
the Indian economy, so that New Delhi cannot challenge Beijing's
hegemonic drive in Asia, However, it must not be forgotten that
all three of the former are democracies, and there should be no
identification of the German, Japanese and US administrations
with the peoples of these three countries.

Emerging Threat
While counter-action against those harming India's interests
must be swift, this should be matched by a welcome mat for
foreign investment, as well as the putting into place of policies
that are friendly to local taxpayers. Corporates should be enticed
to invest in facilities within India through a combination of
higher customs duties and lower domestic taxes. There should
be minimal curbs on the creation of production and other
facilities in India, whatever be the ownership of these units. As
one of the world’s major powers, India need not be afraid of a
new East India Company. Provided, of course, that it can
confront the Taliban-like enemy within as effectively as it has
thus far countered the external threat from Pakistan and China.
Today, post-Pokhran II, the emerging threat to India's security
comes from the intolerance and bigotry practised by some of the
self-appointed defenders of Bharat Mata.

Return of Nehruism or Keeping down Those Shifty Natives

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Colonisers cannot be blamed for suspecting that the victims of
their loot are anxious to make them quit. Beginning with the
Mughals 1,000 years ago, and continuing with the British, the
population of India was seen as a threatening horde that needed 
to be kept divided and intimidated. Those who advanced such
an agenda were rewarded, and the others punished.

State Control
The richest reward—a new country—went to M. A. Jinnah, who
succeeded in turning the anger of millions away from the
colonisers to their own fellow Indians. But for this division in the
national movement, the British would have found it untenable ·
to cling on to the country till after World War II, when even 
Jinnah could not save them from irrelevance. However, even
after formal independence in 1947, the superstructure of Mughal-
British rule remained.

As attitudes get concretised during adolescence, Jawaharlal 
Nehru—with his Harrow background—could not be blamed for
seeing Indians not as a resource but as a seething mass that
needed to be controlled by the same state apparatus as was there the colonial days. Not only were the various penal and
restrictive provisions not removed during the Nehru dynasty
period (1947-89, with the 1977-79 break), but they were added on
to. Punitive taxes became the norm, and companies that were
effective in the utilisation of their assets were punished for
"exceeding their capacities".

V. P. Singh, who was groomed in the Nehru stable, cannot
be blamed for remaining in love with a cumbersome state 
structure. After all, under the dynasty thousands of crores of 
rupees were funnelled to non-productive uses to create a parasitic
class that identified the family with its prosperity. Even today,
this class is the buttress of the Sonia Gandhi brigade that has
once more taken over the Congress party. It was the much-
reviled P. V. Narasimha Rao who first launched the process of
de-colonising the Indian people, by freeing industry of several of
the Mughal-British-Nehru shackles. However, it was Manmohan
Singh — who gave benefits to foreign rather than to domestic
interests — who got the credit for the spurt in growth.

Nehruism means the taxing of productive groups for
subsidising parasites. It means retaining huge discretionary
power with state agencies so as to collect bribes through, for
example, exemptions to the urban land ceiling laws. It implies a
contempt for Indian culture as religious kitsch, so that local epics
become unworthy of being taught in schools or shown on
television. While it spews verbal abuse on outside powers, in
effect it adopts an ambivalent posture towards Pakistan and
China, countries that are aiding insurgencies in India. 

Those who sought to do away with Nehruism came under
attack from precisely those politicians whose constituencies had
in the past received largess from the collections made in
dynamic regions. They came under attack from individuals
whose family incomes had multiplied spectacularly thanks to
political patronage. Thus, in a universe of free-spending
politicians, the post-Nehru family school was singled out for
sustained attack. In contrast, the "free press" has devoted only
inches to the many foreign travels, the sudden enrichment of
relatives and the lifestyles of the Nehru core.

Post-dynasty Period
Manmohan Singh and Palaniappan Chidambaram exemplify the
Nehru era and the post-dynasty period. Singh was generous to
l foreign producers and to MNCs, allowing alien companies to
import freely into India, and to cheaply increase their stakes in
local outfits. Taxes on the natives remained high, as did interest
rates and the mess in infrastructure. Even the Russians benefited.
The rupee-rouble pact has made impoverished India one of the
biggest aid donors to Moscow. Chidambaram, on the other hand,
gave benefits not only to aliens but to Indians. For this he was
viciously attacked by the Nehru school, which believes that the 
uncouth natives of this country should be given only the stick
and never the carrot.

The VDIS scheme—which was pushed through by the present
Finance Minister over the objections of the "dollar pension
brigade" — is an example of how Indian-friendly policies can be
effective. Its critics snarled that it "promoted dishonesty", and
that "tax-evaders should not be rewarded". In other words, what
they wanted was an all-India "drive" to catch evaders. Wonderful
in principle but foolish in practice, for two reasons. The first is
the impossible scale of operations needed, and the second is the
fact that bribes will surely be used to get evaders off the hook.
In the ancient regime the bribes went to politicians and officials,
which is why many among these groups want to see Nehruism

It is no accident that the same Manmohan Singh who
drastically reduced import duties and has driven several domestic ‘
producers out of business has opposed the lower taxes set by
Chidambaram. This is in line with the Nehru philosophy that the
natives should be given nothing except circuses. Instead of lower
taxes, they should be given scenes of a smiling Priyanka or a
radiant Sonia Gandhi waving to die natives from behind antiseptic
screens. Very soon, if the calculations of the 10 Janpath election
managers work out, India will re-enter the Nehru era.
Should the Congress get 200 or more seats, then the Sonia Luo
refrain will drown out the rest, and the Left and other groups
will be told to make the choice between Sonia Gandhi and the
BJP. Should it get between 150-199 seats, then Sonia Gandhi can
impose Manmohan Singh as the Congress CPP leader, and again
confront the United Front with a difficult choice. Their weak
response to the re-entry into active politics of the Gandhi parivar
indicates that the United Front may accept the return of the
dynasty to keep away the BJP.

Even should the Congress get below 150 seats, Sonia Gandhi
can ensure her election as AICC president, and make a loyal
follower the CPP leader. She will have significant influence over
in the next Parliament, where she can seek to prevent any further
dilution of Nehruism. As this is a philosophy that enriches the
political class, there will be many allies for such a course. With
all his faults, Sitaram Kesri tried to fashion a structure in which 
the local units played a key role. Today the Congress has
returned to the autocracy of the dynasty.

Sonia's Attitude
To her credit, Sonia Gandhi has never disguised her feelings
about the people of her adopted country. She has minimal
interaction with them, shutting out even the media. She has
made clear her intention to return to the ways of the dynasty,
when a family and its followers ruled over a populace fettered
by restrictive legislation and high taxes. Rather than move to the
era of inner-party democracy, the Congress has returned to the
period when any individual not "loyal" to the dynasty had no
role in it. Should the Sonia card work, tomorrow India too may
return to its past.

Tuesday 19 October 1999

Congress: A Split that was Waiting to Happen

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

A period of rapid economic progress. Damping down of social
tensions despite the implementation of Mandal. Crafting of a
stable majority that looks set to run a full term. Breaking of
militancy in Punjab and battling it to the ground in Kashmir.
These are not small achievements. Indeed, a case may be made
out that the past four years have seen greater positive change
than any previous four-year period since 1947.

This is the reality. And yet, what is the perception? Like the
Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland that slowly vanished,
leaving behind only a grin, there has been a steady blurring of
the achievements of the Narasimha Rao government, leaving
behind a residue of confusion as to what exactly these are. Partly,
this is due to the differences in emphases articulated by individual
leaders. N.K.P. Salve is MNC-friendly while A.K. Antony sounds
pro-poor, Mallikarjun would destroy the Prithvi, while Jaffar
Sharief would go to war (hopefully with it). Pranab Mukherjee
would place greater reliance on Indian business houses, while
Manmohan Singh appears to have a soft corner for the foreign
kind. But such differences have been there in every period, and
in every system save that of Stalin. Then why the negative vibes?

In a democracy, a leader needs not just to be effective, he has
to show to the people that he is so, that he fights very strongly
for values and objectives with which they relate. Despite the
egalitarianism of the ballot box, voters want an individual who
leads on horseback. Who speaks in equivocal tones about his
priorities, and who does not appear defensive or inarticulate. In
short, not just a good manager, but a good communicator.
Franklin Roosevelt would never have succeeded in stemming
social tension during the Depression had he not, through his
fireside chats and the warmth of his public personality,
transmitted optimism even to the jobless. Britain may have lost
heart in 1940-41 but for the pugnacity of Winston Churchill, who
refused to accept that the Germans had whipped his nation
almost to the ground.

Revolutions are made not just in conference rooms peopled
by efficient officers calling forth facts on a computer, or giving
orders to subordinates through the telephone. 

They are made in fields and workshops, homes and offices,
through an organic bonding between voter and leader, a sense
of identification of each with the other. The idiom has to be
simple, not talk of a billion dollars in Rayalaseema or televiews
of sleek foreign delegations arriving in their limousines. And the
instruments of communication: the political party organisation.
The media, the ground-level administration, needs to be kept in
constant contact with. A direct contact that alone can provide the
vehicle for them to transmit the leader's vision to his flock. The
Congress party is no exception to this rule of political life.

Today interaction between the Prime Minister and the print
media, for example, is usually confined to airport exchanges. The
frequent exchange of ideas and views (on what the reality is),
with journalists that characterised a John Fitzgerald Kennedy or
a Lal Bahadur Shastri, is absent. journalists are to be kept a Black
Cat-length away. Whether it is the ministries or the General
Secretaries of the AICC, not a scintilla of information is to be
provided unless there is sanction from the top. Which means that
information very seldom gets disclosed, with the result that
rumour takes its place. Although much takes place, public
communiques about this are absent. One is made to wait for a
'final and definitive' statement of policy at an 'appropriate
forum' that almost never occurs.

Used as one may be to a P.N. Haksar or even P.L.N. Dhar —
individuals who welcomed views totally different from what
they or their bureaucratic colleagues were saying and made sure
that the heretics were given access to the top-it is difficult to
generate enthusiasm for those whose attitude is that interaction
with the media is a chore best avoided. It is difficult to appreciate
a home ministry that stores away rather than reveals mountains
of evidence about Pakistan's complicity in terrorist acts. It is not
possible to feel enthusiastic about a defense ministry that appears
to regard Abdul Kalam and his brilliant team of scientists as
morons to be kept out of public view, or to feel kindly towards
a group that bestirs itself publicly only to rebut the allegations
of an Arjun Singh, while till then there was mostly silence about
actual achievements.

However, one should not blame the bureaucracy overmuch.
Those within it are trained to feel suspicious about public affairs.
Which is why there is a parallel political channel to the top,
manned by individuals presumably more attuned to grassroots
needs. However, in today’s Delhi this too is manned by
individuals who have taken the indirect route to power rather
than by facing an electorate. Predictably, their approach to
filtering up ideas and individuals is little different from more
obvious bureaucrats. The result is a system that allows tainted
ministers to continue till they are heckled out by public clamour.
That gives sheep like signals on core issues of concern such as
national defence, making a minister admit that vital programmes
such as Agni and Prithvi may be scuttled. That brings in
perceived deadwood—and worse—in the name of change. That
gives an impression of fawning surrender to external pressure.
None of this may be the reality, but this is the perception.

That perception today has the Congress party on the
defensive. Indira Gandhi’s elephant ride to Belchi, or Jawaharlal
Nehru’s leaping into a crowd with a cane to shoo away rioters,
may not have won approval in schools of etiquette, but they
played well in the minds of the emotional people that Indians
are. A scholarly mien may excite university dons, but few others.
An individual who leads has the responsibility not just to
achieve, but to simultaneously put into effect a policy that will
imprint such deeds into the public consciousness. If such a policy
exists, it has never been put into operation.

The present Prime Minister is probably the best in the
country's history in many respects. But if matters go on as they
are now, his party may secure barely 150 seats in the next Lok
Sabha polls. Is there an individual responsible for this apparent
dichotomy of which the split in the Congress party is only a
minor symptom? There is, and he is the reticent, restrained
Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao.

Saturday 16 October 1999

Two to Tango - A Partnership with China

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

While Gandhi’s teachings were ignored in India, there has
been no repudiation of his concepts. Despite first socialism
and then liberalisation, the armed liberation of Goa and then
Pokhran, this country still professes to take Gandhism seriously,
so much so that "liberals" worked overtime to ban a play that
gave a politically incorrect view of India’s greatest 20th century

The Chinese, however, seem less hypocritical. Since the
1980s, the name of Communist China’s founder, Mao Zedong,
has become increasingly less acceptable. In particular, Mao is
faulted for having instigated the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution in the 1960s, that led to the humiliation of many
senior leaders at the hands of teenagers. The conventional
wisdom in Beijing is that the Cultural Revolution period
represented a "lost decade" during which China could more
usefully have embarked on economic modernisation rather than
the social and political engineering its leader attempted.

A contrary argument can be made, which is that the Maoist
tactic of “Bombard the Headquarters” resulted in a collapse of
the Confucian ethic that had held back progress for centuries
because of an unquestioning obedience to authority. During the
period of the movement, all (italics) dogmas became subject to
re-examination, and the effect was to free the Chinese people
from the tendency to unquestioningly accept received doctrine.
It can be argued that but for the shifts in mindset generated by
the Cultural Revolution, the moderniser of China—Deng
Xiaoping—would not have been able to rally his party behind a
total overthrow of Marxist orthodoxy in the economic sphere.

Geopolitical Realities
Unlike India, which has often been half-hearted about pursuing
its interests, the Chinese government has been clear about the
course that it needs to take in order to retain the social compact
between the Han people and the Chinese Communist party. In
the 1970s, Mao himself welcomed President Richard Nixon to
Beijing. Thus, there are grounds for optimism that the Communist
Chinese government will adjust to the geopolitical realities
demonstrated by Pokhran II, and seek to build a friendly
relationship with India in the 21st century. On the Indian side,
there needs to be a re-examination of the paradigms that will
underpin such a partnership.

The bottomline will naturally be an acceptance by Beijing
that India is a strategic power. Second, that no future efforts will
be made, whether directly or through surrogates, to develop
strategic capability in third countries. It is not in China's interests
to export nuclear and missile technology outside its borders.
However, should Beijing continue to do so, New Delhi may be
tempted to follow suit. Thus, India can play the same game as
the Chinese have been with Pakistan, unless Beijing restrains
both itself and its satellites from transferring strategic technology
and material to countries hostile to India.

Papal Status
On New Delhi’s side, it can be made explicit that political
changes within China are matters solely for the Chinese people
to decide. Unlike Washington, New Delhi has worked closely
with members of the Communist parties in several countries,
and, therefore, does not share a commitment towards eradicating
this philosophy. Indeed, in Central Asia, for example, former
Communists are playing a positive role in holding back the
growth of religious fundamentalism. In China and Vietnam, the
Communist party has itself taken several bold initiatives towards
encouraging private enterprise.

New Delhi has always accepted Tibet as a part of China, and
it will not be a reversal of policy to state explicitly that there is
a difference between cultural and political autonomy. There
cannot be a reversion to the pre-1950 system in which the Dalai
Lama exercised both spiritual and temporal power over Tibetans.
Hopefully, there will be an agreement between Beijing and the
Dalai Lama, in which His Holiness can return to Potala Palace.
However, this will have to be as a purely spiritual head, akin to
the Pope of today, rather than the Popes of yore, who were in
effect heads of states and not merely religious figures.

It would be unreasonable to expect the Chinese to interpret
"autonomy" as control by the Dalai Lama over the administration
in Tibet, and New Delhi needs to make this stand clear, especially
when a contrary view is being expressed in other major
democracies. Simultaneously, India needs to continue to ensure
that no element within the Tibetan refugee community in this
country gets trained in violence or prepares an attempt at armed
rebellion within Tibet. As for demonstration and agitations, as
long as these are non-violent, they need not be banned. Regarding
Taiwan, there needs to be a reiteration of the One China policy,
and also that future unification should be peaceful. Meanwhile,
New Delhi needs vigorously to conduct business with Taipei
that does not have military connotations.

The India-China border has remained quiet since 1986, and
care needs to be taken by both sides to prevent incursions across
the line of control. The deployment of troops on both sides needs
to be of a defensive nature, and over time must be thinned to
insignificant numbers, with frontier police replacing soldiers.
The goal should be an eventual settlement of the Sino-Indian
border dispute on the basis of existing ground realities, analogous
to the one informally suggested to Pakistan over Kashmir: We
keep that we control, you retain the rest. However, it will require
a cooling period before such a solution becomes politically
feasible. This process must be begun now.

Asia’s Stability
Within the Chinese Communist party, as with any other large
organisation, there are differing points of view. While some
aspects of policy appear moderate, others—such as the transfer
of strategic technology to Pakistan—appear to be the handiwork
of hardliners with an ultra-nationalistic perspective that seeks to
block India from emerging as another Asian giant. This group
needs to be kept in check by the moderates, and this is possible
only if it is clear that hardline policies will not pay. Thus,
together with an imaginative policy of engaging China, New
Delhi needs to develop cooperation with Japan, South Korea,
Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia so that closer economic and
other linkages are formed along this arc. Myanmar too needs to
be engaged more intensively, as part of a plan of developing the
North-east through cooperation between Yangon, Bangkok and
New Delhi. Friendly cooperation between the world’s two most
populous countries are essential for stability in Asia, but for this
both hands need to clap.

Sunday 10 October 1999

'Masterly Inactivity' no Longer an Option for PM

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Soon after the declaration of results of the assembly polls in
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa and Sikkim eight days hence,
the Congress Working Committee is expected to meet and
review the performance of the party. During the past year, the
CWC meetings have been perfunctory, with usually the only
'decisions' being taken to "leave it to the Prime Minister".
According to the CWC members, however, should the Congress
fare badly in the polls — especially in Andhra Pradesh and
Karnataka — the coming meeting is unlikely to be tame.

The Congress has for long been a party both federal and
feudal. Whenever there is a leadership change, regional leaders
meet to select an individual whom they expect will respect their
autonomy. Although her subsequent conduct makes this hard to
believe, Indira Gandhi was preferred over Morarji Desai in 1966
because she was regarded as more tractable. The relative youth
of Rajiv Gandhi encouraged a similar view in 1984, while in the
case of P.V. Narasimha Rao seven years later, it was age and poor
health that generated the belief that he would be docile leader,
far more so than his challenger, Sharad Pawar.

So much for the federal aspect. Once ensconced, however,
the feudal strain takes over, the primary reason being that the
clutch of "central" leaders that form around the Prime Minister
cannot resist intervening in their territories of interest, and can
only do so under cover of the authority of the party leader. In a
reversal of the saying that "togetherness breeds contempt’ the
”central" leaders usually displace the regional chieftains influence,
often by casting doubts on the latter's "loyalty" to the leader
selected by them just a short while ago. Thus, in each state a
faction opposed to the regional chieftain springs up, that is given
(sometimes not very hidden) encouragement by individuals
close to the party leader. S. B. Chavan has played this role in
Maharashtra and Janardhan Poojary in Karnataka, to name just
two. So long as the party leader fulfils her or his function of
delivering votes, the regional chieftains accept these irritations
as a part of the "Congress culture". However, should the flow of
votes dry up they begin to demand greater autonomy. It is this
process that is expected to begin should the poll results indicate
an anti-Congress sweep.

There have been three distinct periods in the style of
functioning of the present Prime Minister. For around the first
year and a half since assuming office in 1991, he re-introduced
inner-party democracy into the Congress party through
membership drives and elections. Just when the process seemed
on the brink of introducing changes, in the composition of the
regional party leadership as significant as those that occurred
between 1969, (when Indira Gandhi broke away from the
"Syndicate") and 1973 (when the victories of Mavericks such as
Chandra Shekhar and Vayalar Ravi in inner—party elections
diminished her interest in giving grassroots workers control
over selection of their leaders and led her to introduce the
practice of nomination from Delhi), the Prime Minister abruptly
put the entire process on hold by 1993. The reason given for this
was that "the party leaders wanted it so". They, it seemed, did
not want a break from the culture of "Leave it to the leader", and
bowing to this democratic wish, Rao obliged. Whatever one may
make of this rationale, the fact is that from 1993 onwards the
nomination system made a complete comeback, thus once more
establishing the power to select local leaders at the central rather
than at the grassroot level. Senior party leaders claim that this
return to the "centralised" system of party management was
followed by a third stage, which has gone on since mid-1994,
around the time of Rao's return from the US tour and subsequent
bout of indifferent health (a bout that lasted for a month after the
tour). This is the period of a "near-total freeze on political
decisions" whether it is reshuffling the Cabinet or announcing
major policy changes. However, this has not been followed up
by any grant of autonomy to the regional units, with the result
that centrally backed individuals such as the Shukla brothers in
Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka PCC president Krishna Rao enjoy
an influence out of all proportion to their grassroots support.
Attempts to prise out such individuals from authority have
foundered on the rock of the central leadership’s stoic reluctance
to agree to any changes. At the same time, the dissidents have
not been able to get top·level support for their operations to
further destabilise the existing regional leaders, especially i.n
Maharashtra, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra
Pradesh. Thus the intra-Congress situation in these states — two
of which are going to the polls in the current round — is one of
an uneasy stalemate that in turn has led to a significant lessening
of political activity within the party organisation.

Even if the more pessimistic forecasts come true and the
Congress loses control of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka,
Cabinet-level sources say that there is almost no possibility of an
immediate challenge to the Prime Minister’s authority. In fact,
should Rao get back to the political and administrative activism
of his first 18 months in office, he could find his position
reinforced by the time the next round of state polls are held in
February 1995. This would, according to them, involve giving a
greater say to state units in making high-level personnel changes
going in for a thorough Cabinet reshuffle and making policy 
changes, such as a budget, friendly to the Indian middle class,
the worker and the domestic manufacturer than has been the
case for the past three years. Such activism would defuse
attempts to held him to account for any December'94, they claim.

Going by Rao’s track record, the odds favour such a return
of activism. However, should the current phase of a freeze on
activism continue, followed by reverses in February 1995, there
is likely to be a take-off of dissidence to levels that could lead to
a 1979 situation by mid-1995. In such an eventuality, groups
within the Congress party could break away to join the National
Front-Left Front parties or even the BJP, thus hastening the
timetable for the parliamentary poll. Alternatively, within the
Congress party there could be pressure for a leadership change.

While Rao’s present rivals may find themselves out of the
reckoning, so might his more obvious supporters, such as
S. B. Chavan, as they may not be able to carry the rest of the team
with them. What scenario will ultimately unfold is as yet not
clear. However, it is clear that the Prime Minister cannot any
longer consider masterly inactivity as a winning option.