After his passionate defence of displaced tribals in Orissa, analysts have started talking about Rahul Gandhi’s left turn. Whoa! Rahul is more pragmatic opportunist than left-wing ideologue.
Remember Indira Gandhi’s left turn in 1969? Supposedly for Garibi Hatao, she nationalized banks, abolished privy purses and raised income tax to 97.75%. Leftist ideologues cheered deliriously.
But a few years later, she declared an Emergency and jailed all opponents, leftist or rightist. Her great left turn was not ideological, but a ploy to maximize personal power.
Her left turn was an economic failure: poverty did not fall at all. But it was a massive political success. She crushed the old Congress leadership (called the Syndicate).The main opposition party in 1967 was the Swatantra Party, a coalition of princes and big business. Abolition of privy purses bankrupted the princes, and high income tax rates bankrupted the business class. The Syndicate and Swatantra Party crumbled before her. Only when she put Swatantra, Syndicate and CPM leaders in jail together did it become clear that ‘garibi hatao’ was a cloak for ‘opposition hatao’.
Warning: don’t be misled by Rahul’s supposed left turn. He too is engaged in very practical politics to oust opponents. He has targeted non-Congress states in his campaign against displacement.
Recently, he went to Orissa as champion of the tribals whose land was being usurped by industrialist Anil Aggarwal for his aluminium factory. Yet, his real target was not Aggarwal but BJD chief minister Naveen Patnaik. After being thrashed by Patnaik three elections in a row, Rahul badly needs a new issue to regain lost ground.
He now plans a visit to Kerala, to support tribals protesting against their land being given to a windmill farm of Suzlon. Guess what: Kerala too is an opposition state, ruled by the CPM-led Left Front.
Corruption and callous treatment of tribals has been widely alleged in the coal and iron ore blocks in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Rahul can afford to bash all three chief ministers, because they belong to the BJP. Winning tribal support here is simply another way of winning back lost ground, including ground lost unwittingly by killing innocents in the campaign against Maoists. You did not hear of Rahul campaigning for tribals when his own party was a coalition partner in Jharkhand.
Illegal iron ore mining is the bane of Karnataka. The Reddy brothers, accused of being the main illegal miners, are now ministers in the BJP cabinet. Naturally, Congress has blasted them. Yet the Reddy brothers respond that the state Lokayukta says companies owned by Congress leaders – M Y Ghorpade, V S Lad and sons, Allum Veerabhadrappa, H G Ramulu, S M Jain and Abdul Wahab — have encroached on hundreds of acres. Congress has not castigated these gentlemen.
Indeed, quite recently, the Reddy brothers were into illegal mining by encroaching on forests in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. They were backed by former Congress chief minister Rajasekhara Reddy, and so bureaucrats dared not act against their encroachment. Only when Rajasekhara Reddy died, and his son Jagan failed in the struggle to succeed him, was it possible to take any action.
Goa is a major producer and exporter of iron ore. The Centre for Science and Environment has written passionately about the anger of local people against environmental damage by the mining companies. But this is a Congress-ruled state, so the mining giants are not in bad odour. Indeed, the biggest mine-owner in Goa is none other than Anil Aggarwal, the very gentlemen castigated by Rahul in Orissa.
By coincidence, almost all the states with embittered tribal populations are ruled by opposition parties. Even other states with agitations against land acquisition — West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh — are opposition-ruled. The fact is that Congress rules very few states on its own, and is often a junior partner where it is part of a ruling coalition. So, Rahul can afford to go on the offensive on land acquisition and tribal displacement.
This is not entirely cynical politics. Land displacement has become a mass issue. Politicians have responded, and i am delighted that the once-powerless tribals are getting some justice. More power to Congress on this. Still, remember that these tribals received far less justice in the old days of Congress hegemony.
We should welcome the change. But let us not attribute this to a sudden ideological left turn on Rahul’s part. Like his grandmother, but without her high-handedness, he is resorting to the old strategy of using ideology when it suits his family’s quest for power.