There are many good reasons for criticizing the Congress Party. The party that has dominated India for most of the past 60 years was pretty much unchallenged for the first half of that period. During that time it introduced one of the most comprehensively socialist economic structures ever devised. The Fabian socialism of the 1930s London School of Economics – the IngSoc of George Orwell’s 1984 – was fully developed in India. While much of Asia bounded ahead, India languished.
To make matters worse, Congress is the private property of a single family: the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Motilal Nehru, who led party twice, in 1919 and 1928, was never Indian Prime Minister, because the country was still under British rule. His son, Jawaharlal Nehru, succeeded him as President of the party, and was India’s longest serving PM from 1947 to 1964.
Less than two years after Nehru left office his daughter, Indira Gandhi, India’s second longest serving PM, took the reins of power. She should not be confused with Mahatma Gandhi, to whom she was not related. She served from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 to 1984. She was succeeded directly by her son, Rajiv. His five years in office has been matched, but barely exceeded, by three others who are not part of the dynasty. The party today is led by Rajiv’s widow, Sonia Gandhi, who is Italian. She has chosen not to be PM, installing Congress loyalist and former Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh, who has been in office for five years. He is elderly and thought to be keeping the seat warm for Rajiv and Sonia’s son, Rahul, or possibly their daughter, Priyanka Vadra.
What could be worse than a party like this? Well, the BJP could, and it most certainly is.
How would most Americans react if a militant group of Native Americans wanted to demolish the Catholic Cathedral in New York, claiming that it was on the site of a previous temple and the birthplace of one of their gods? This would be regarded, I think, as an extreme and eccentric view. Yet a very similar issue is what made the BJP leader, L K Advani, famous. He wanted to demolish a mosque which dates from 1528, on the grounds that it stands on the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. Since Muslims conquered India by force in the Sixteenth Century, it seems entirely credible – though it is not provable – that it really does stand on the site of a previous Hindu temple. But then any Christian church in America – none as old as 1528 – could stand on a site of religious importance to Native Americans. Who would know?
The BJP wants to outlaw religious conversion and ban the slaughter of cows as well as gain control of those portions of Jammu and Kashmir currently controlled by Pakistan or China.
The BJP has been in power before, and actually improved relations with Pakistan rather than starting a war, as its rhetoric might imply, but L K Advani seems to be more extreme than previous leaders of the party. His prominent role in destroying the mosque at Ayodhya would make it hard for him to improve relations with India’s substantial Muslim minority or its neighbours.
There are many regional parties, which between could easily have a majority, but that would make the world’s largest democracy ungovernable. Congress, which has recanted its socialist past, seems the least bad option.