Building a Movement and the Weight of the Past?

Ideas and Issues International

Delhi     In building our campaign against the FDI being expanded in retail we continued on a Saturday in Delhi to push forward at the highest level with our new friends and what would have sometimes seemed strange bedfellows.

Meeting with G. Devarajan, the Central Committee Secretary of All India Forward Bloc, one of the small parties in the left coalition, as our meeting broke up; I asked him what distinguished his party from the other parties of the left.  The giant pictures of a man in uniform and jackboots and the same statue in front in the lawn became clearer then.  The party founder had been the President of the dominant Congress Party before independence and had been against any compromise offered by the British that India would take dominion status rather than full independence.  He won re-election to lead the party despite this stance and over the opposition of Ghandi.  His victory was pyrrhic though and when his authority was curtailed on committee appointments he resigned.  The timing coincided with WWII in the early 40’s, and advocating a revolutionary approach to independence he tried to come to common cause with the Russians against the Brits.  Failing to make that alliance he joined a marriage of convenience with the Axis powers of Italy and Germany on the basis of their common enemy.  He disappeared in a plane and was never found and the party that was an offshoot of the Congress ruling coalition now finds itself a Marxist oriented small footprint with members in 18 states with a story to tell.

In a like manner at the end of a pleasant late afternoon meeting in the huge house of Dr. Murli Joshi, an MP in the Rajya Sabha, and a long time dominant figure in the BJP, I asked him about the immense armed security around his house with sandbagged fortifications at the gate and corners and a score of armed soldiers sitting under the streets who were not currently on post.  He immediately told the a similar “founding” tale of the BJP’s rise when as chair of the party in 1992 he embarked on a 40 day tour covering more than 5000 kms in order to unfurl a national flag in a town controlled by what he called “terrorists.”  His plane was fired upon as he left by these Muslim “terrorists” and this demarcation of the BJP as a nationalist and communal party allowed their rise in the troubles of that decade into power.

A campaign can make room for disparate pieces that could never survive in an organization, and this lesson of politics, politicians, and power was taught to us once again on the parched soil of India screaming for the monsoons to come in the searing heat and passion of these moments.

June 10, 2006

MP in the Rajya Sabha, and longtime leader in the BJP