Why I.N.D.I.A. needs Karachi 2.0

It’s clear the Opposition bloc stands against the RSS–BJP’s Hindutva agenda. Now to spell out what it stands for, writes Shubham Sharma

INDIA bloc leaders at the alliance meeting in Mumbai, Sept 2023
INDIA bloc leaders at the alliance meeting in Mumbai, Sept 2023

Shubham Sharma

The Karachi Resolution of 1931 was a pivotal moment in the history of India’s struggle for Independence. It allowed the Indian National Congress to combat the Muslim League’s vituperative communalism by showcasing to the people of India a visionary document that spoke of nationalisation of key industries and mineral wealth, fundamental rights, equality before the law, neutrality of the State in regard to all religions, protection of minorities and universal adult suffrage.

It included labour rights such as a living wage, healthy work conditions, limited hours of work, and protection against the economic consequences of old age, sickness and unemployment.

Right up to the Partition, the Muslim League did not have a document or declaration to match the Karachi Resolution in either content or vision. On the contrary, the League just kept amping up its communal demands, culminating in the Lahore Resolution of 1940, which demanded the separate nation of Pakistan.

Something similar is unfolding in India today. After failing on all governance fronts, the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its ideological progenitor, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), are trying to divide the people of India in the name of religion.

The targeting of Muslims in BJP-ruled states is now open and brazen. The manner in which Ramesh Bidhuri, BJP member of Parliament from the South Delhi Lok Sabha seat, abused fellow MP Kunwar Danish Ali of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the most recently concluded session of Parliament, and the fact that he could get away with it, was a new low in this downward spiral.

It is abundantly clear that the RSS–BJP’s polarising machinations will continue in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. They will do whatever it takes to win the election, and the biggest casualty of their unrelenting communal campaign will be the Muslims.

To fight this effectively, the Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) needs to be on a war footing.

The threat to India and Indians from communalism today is as great as colonialism at the time of the Karachi Resolution, albeit with a slight twist. Under colonialism, it was a foreign people who caused the schism, and they were easily identifiable; under this communal regime, it is supposedly some folks within, some people who ostensibly swear by the same Constitution but lay a greater claim to the country, that cause division and disunity.

As a result, they are not so easily recognisable and succeed in passing off their brand of communalism as nationalism. The RSS–BJP have mastered this crafty masquerade.

The Karachi Resolution sprang from a series of three events: First, the ‘Purna Swaraj (Complete Independence)’ Resolution of 1930, which spoke of complete freedom from British colonialism; this found its philosophic and programmatic echo in the Karachi Resolution.

In other words, the question of what swaraj (self-rule) would look like was answered at Karachi. Second, the martyrdom of left-wing revolutionaries such as Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, which propelled the Congress to offer a radical programme to the restless youth, workers and peasants of India. Third, the rise of a left-wing within the Congress, especially the radicalisation of Jawaharlal Nehru and his younger comrades, including Subhas Chandra Bose.

Tej Bahadur Sapru hit the mark when he said the Karachi Resolution was a “heavy price (Gandhi) paid for the allegiance of Jawaharlal”. The young Nehru, during his tour of the Soviet Union and Europe, had seen for himself that India would need a socio-economic programme to energise and incite the masses to fight the foreign power in the hope of a better brighter future.

I.N.D.I.A. needs a new imagination

Today, I.N.D.I.A. needs to pass a resolution, for the sake of ‘India, that is Bharat’, on complete freedom from communal politics and communalism of all shades. It is necessary for three reasons:

First, the RSS–BJP have left Indian secularism to die and rot and unless I.N.D.I.A. breathes life back into that corpse, they will cremate it in 2024.

Second, the generation that is growing up in these dark times will be victims of ‘communal commonsense’. To them, this religious schism in society will be a self-evident reality instead of it being an artificial political construct foisted upon them.

Third, if Hindutva wins again, all forms of dissent will cease to exist. The fate of religious minorities, especially Muslims, will be extremely uncertain; if not statutorily, for all practical purposes, they will become second-class citizens.

Just like Nehru and his comrades had done at Karachi, I.N.D.I.A. must offer something similar to the toiling masses of India. A universal healthcare system financed through corporate taxation could be one such crucial component.

The Indian middle classes will also be big beneficiaries of such a policy since they are just one major disease away from falling into poverty. The Covid carnage stands testimony to this.

Other protective promises such as a revised and respectable floor wage, an end to contractual jobs in the public sector, right and fair price to farmers for their products, classification of anganwadi workers as ‘teachers’; are some policy measures that could constitute Karachi 2.0.

Apart from these welfarist and re-distributive measures, I.N.D.I.A. must offer a complete ‘detoxification’ plan to rid Indian democracy of the poison of hate that has penetrated deep into the tissues of its body politic.

A concerted attempt must be made to instil confidence among the religious minorities, especially Muslims. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019–National Register of Citizens–National Population Register should be immediately rolled back and all lingering issues regarding migration into eastern India must be immediately resolved in a manner that does not provide fodder to the RSS–BJP in the future.

At least in the states of north India, Urdu must be treated on par with Hindi, and the language and script taught in schools. Unfamiliarity with the Urdu script and language, born in the barracks of Delhi, should be a matter of shame.

A personal anecdote will not be out of place here. In 2014, at my previous university in Delhi, I saw a Hindu Pakistani friend carrying a Hanuman Chalisa composed in Urdu’s Nastaliq script! The fact that the script should first appear ‘Muslim’ to a deeply secular person like me is telling—it reveals a disconcerting generational bias.

For my grandfather’s generation, Urdu was not a ‘Muslim’ language. He was proficient in Urdu as well as Hindi (written in the Devanagri script). Isn’t it shameful that most Indians of my generation cannot even read the works of geniuses like Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Ghalib in their original form?

I.N.D.I.A. must also declare its commitment to reverse draconian laws such as the 2019 amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), returning statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and revoking the suspension of Article 370. It must oppose the government’s attempts to give a new meaning to sedition by bringing in the dubious Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023.

It should pledge that all attempts to create a false nationalist/ patriot–seditionist binary will cease. In places like Manipur, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission must be created to soothe the wounds of inter-communal strife.

It has been nearly a century since the Karachi Resolution was passed. It challenged minority communalism then; Karachi 2.0 can finish off its majoritarian counterpart.

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