The first landmark in India’s 19th century history is the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. The year 2007 saw the 150th anniversary of India’s First War of Independence. On December 28, 1885, a bare three decades after that stunning event, the country gave birth to the Indian National Congress, ironically enough, thanks to the initiative of a British civilian, Allan Octavius Hume, though, at least half a century before him, the landed gentry, the commercial classes and the intelligentsia of then Calcutta, Bombay and Madras had become intensely conscious of the ruling government’s determined exploitation of the land and the drain of Indian resources, articulated, among others, by Dadabhai Naoroji.
We remember with gratitude the roles paid by such distinguished luminaries-apart from Naoroji-as Pherozeshah Mehta, Badruddin Tyabji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Anandacharlu, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal-all below the age of 45-who were among the first to rouse national sentiments and the desire to gain freedom from alien rule. The words of Bal Gangadhar Tilak: “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it!” During his trial still ring in Indian ears for the patriotic fervour they then aroused. Then on the political scene arrived Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Nehru has described this coming in words that resound to this day. Wrote Nehru: “And then Gandhi came. He was like a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves, like a beam of light that pierced the darkness, like a whirlwind that upset many things…” But that same Gandhi was to be sidelined as independence drew near. At a prayer meeting on April 1, 1946, he said: “whatever the Congress decides will be done. Nothing will be according to what I say. My writ runs no more. No one listens to me”. At the AICC meeting on November 15, 1946 he said: “I am convinced that no patchwork treatment can save the Congress. It will only prolong the agony. The best thing for the Congress would be to dissolve itself before the rot sets in further. Its voluntary liquidation will brace up and purify the political climate of the country. But I can see that I can carry nobody with me in this”. Prophetic words.
The Congress of today is nowhere near the Congress of 1947; it has deteriorated further. It seems aimless and unsteady. It has no leaders worth the name. Sadly, it has no vision either. Its flip-flop over the Telangana issue is a case in point. Its leader, Sonia Gandhi, sits tight in New Delhi even as hot-headed rowdies set fire to buses and cars, destroying both public and private property. Dr Manmohan Singh is hardly in the picture. Policy seems to be made by Home Minister P Chidambaram who says one thing one day and quite the opposite the next. And the bitterness continues.
Who is making policy for the government? Sonia Gandhi? Dr Manmohan Singh? Shri Pranab Mukherjee? Shri Chidambaram? Shri Veerappa Moiley? No one knows and the All India Congress Committee does not seem to care as Andhra Pradesh is burning. When Naokhali was burning with communal hatred in 1946-47 Mahatma Gandhi rushed to the scene to justify in the end Lord Mountbatten’s description of him as his “one-man army”. In January 1965 when rioting broke out in Chennai and, as of now in Hyderabad, irate mobs were on a rampage over the role of Hindi as the national language, it was Indira Gandhi who took courage and flew to pacify the mobs and make way for negotiations. That was true leadership even if she rushed to the scene without consulting the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri who was considerably peeved. But in recent days Sonia Gandhi stayed put in Delhi. She had abnegated her responsibilities.
In fact, the issue of Telangana as a separate state has been on the back-burner for years now. If it has now flared-whatever the provocation-it is a matter for all political parties to mull over. This is not a matter of politics but of harsh reality calling for statesmanship. And no political party should take advantage of the situation considering that it is a matter of security that is ultimately involved and not just a matter of regional demands. In his time Nehru had set up Committee for the Study of Fissiparous Tendencies which, one suspects, never figured in policy-making. (There is a brief reference to it in Pranay Gupte’s latest biography of Indira Gandhi).
On what grounds should new states be formed? Indeed is there a case for setting up new states? This is not a matter for the UPA government alone to decide. It calls for a consensus of all political parties, howsoever much they may differ from one another. The entire nation cannot be held hostage to the whims of one group or other. All political parties must meet to arrive at a common understanding. They should not duck their responsibilities. What is sad is that leader of the status of Jaswant Singh should plead for the creation of a separate Gurkhaland, adding fuel to fire. He has indulged in the height of irresponsibility. What is shocking is that it is in Andhra Pradesh which was formed on the principle of linguism as the foundation for the creation of a state that now has a large part of it demanding separation from the parent body.
Obviously, like religion, linguism too has become passé in today’s world. What people are now seeking is regionalism-a completely new concept demanding attention. For far too long have we stuck by large states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. But because regionalism is a new concept one can’t succumb to its demand under pressure, no matter how violent. The matter needs a great deal of serious thought. An all-party meeting needs to be called and every voice heard, including those of intellectuals who belong to no party. What is intriguing is why no such meeting has been called. What is the Congress afraid of? And why aren’t other parties like the BJP acting on their own to call such a meeting? Is the task of dealing with this crucial issue a matter to be exclusively handled by Shri Veerappa Moiley? What have we come to? A temporary hiatus should not be misunderstood as the end of a hot issue . As violence abates, wisdom suggests that the matter is discussed dispassionately and a consensus arrived at binding on everyone. We cannot allow the country to be victimised either by violence or blackmailing tactics such as threats to fast unto death indulged in by irresponsible politicians. Sound cases can be made out both for maintaining the status quo or for creating smaller states. It is for the country at large to take the final decision.