The exit of Indira Gandhi’s faction from the Indian National Congress in Novem¬ber 1969 was not a common split; according to the author of this book, it was perhaps the ‘most momentous upheaval in the organization’ since the split between the Moderates and Extremists at its Surat session in 1907. In fact it was a collapse of the umbrella party—the Indian National Congress. On both occasions the factions representing the younger and more ‘radical-upcoming’ generation of political elites challenged the Congress establishment. These factions initially seemed to suffer a setback, but even-tually emerged as the dominant group capturing the organi¬zational legacy.
The author—looking . back after years—thinks that the 1969 ten split was a nodal point in its actual impact on the subsequent course of Indian politics. Many of the current political forces and trends can be traced back to the nature and pattern of this event.
The author also claims that his work is the first systematic and scientific study of the split, treating it as a focal point of analysis and employ¬ing two analytical perspectives, namely, a macro-phenome¬non at the national level and a party schism at the micro-level.
A conceptual framework is developed to analyse the phenomenon of schisms in political parties. This is ex¬plained as the outcome of interaction among three major factors: (a) elite tensions with¬in the party, (b) change at the level of social and political mobilization in the layer society—that is, changes in consciousness in a class society, and (c) institutionalization of the party system. The 1969 split in the Congress party is used to illustrate the utility of this model.
The catalyst behind the 1969 Congress split, the author says, seems to have been the con¬flicts over power among the post-Nehru Congress elite—which, in addi-tion to purely personal differences, also came to display elements of ideo¬logical and generational differ¬ences. This situation was fur¬ther exacerbated by the disagreements between the proponents of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary func¬tioning. He points out that these differences, however, followed rather than preceded the first signs of conflicts over power among the senior party leaders. As a matter of fact, once the personal rivalry among leaders surfaced, ideo¬logical, generational and other considerations were brought in to cloak political ambitions. Indira Gandhi and her allies succeeded in projecting them¬selves as the proponents of a new level of social and politi¬cal mobilization as opposed to the Syndicate, whose public image appeared more conser¬vative.
One of the drawbacks of studies based on modern western political concepts is that you have to unnecessarily pack events and statements into categories which are not relevant to the political re¬alities of countries like India, where the facts of life cannot be easily diagnosed in a clinical manner. Wherever this is done, the outcome is the fetishization of models constructed upon unqualified facts which obscure rather than clarify vital aspects of social reality. This book suffers from the ail¬ments common to other such works which reduce political analysis to the level of a clinical autopsy.
Almost three-fourths of the book is devoted to developing and using ‘conceptual tools’ to identify the members of various factions, their political back-ground and their political orientations. The source of this identification is derived from a massive dissemination of the personal factors hardly reliable for a serious historical analysis. But this is not Mr Singh’s original sin. He does all this to follow a framework, very cumbersome though con¬vincing, in the ethos of Ameri¬can political science analysis.
Ideology, class, political eco¬nomy and crass political opportunism are anathema to such a method of analysis. These terms have to be replac¬ed by politically acceptable terms like ‘social stratification’ and ‘interest groups’—con¬cepts based solely upon econo¬mic indicators and addition¬ally, in the Indian context, upon caste factors. The out-come is that we do not learn more than what we can from the newspapers. The added advantage of this analysis may be that newspaper information is neatly categorized and given a respectable look garbed in harmless conceptual jargon.
However, judged by its own standards, the book is the result of painstaking research which would satisfy the factor-curiosity of an average Ameri¬can student of Indian politics. As far as the conceptual framework is concerned, it is a praiseworthy synthesis of the theories of caste, consensus and crisis. To Indian readers it would provide information and relevant facts regarding an era marked by turbulent political opportunism.
Ghanshyam Pardesi is a Delhi-based journalist.