(The author is a senior Indian journalist and commentator. He can be contacted at [email protected])
The thumping victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recently concluded parliamentary election has resulted in a disarray among the Opposition parties. Although Indian democracy always leaves an important space for Opposition politics yet the Opposition in India, whatever shade of colour it may have, has seldom agreed to agree. Too many motives, too many cross purposes come into play to stymie such a process. It is becoming apparent that the political parties remaining on the opposite spectrum of that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) do not realize or visualize the role they are expected to play in the ongoing Indian political canvas.
Just consider the attitude of Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati, the two principal figures on whom the Opposition parties had banked on to defeat the BJP. Rahul had made ‘chowkidar chor hai’ the principal slogan for attacking Narendra Modi. But after the publication of results he resigned from the position of the Congress president and has not been uttering a single word on the Rafael issue. Is Rahul suffering from a crisis of conviction in regard to the charges he has levelled? The Opposition has thus lost a principal focus on which it could regroup itself after the poll debacle. Right now no one has any right to pass any value judgment on the issue since a significant part of it is sub judice. But Rahul Gandhi’s reticence has dampened the spirit in the Opposition camp.
Resignations by several MLAs from both the Congress and the Janata Dal(S) in Karnataka have sent a little different message. It is that political parties in India easily sink their differences and form ruling combinations whenever there are blandishments of power and pelf. Otherwise there was very little common between the above mentioned two parties to come together and form a ministry in Bengaluru. As a result, the ministry went into deep water as the said MLAs weighed on which side the bread is more buttered.
There was a time, particularly from 1952 to 1984, when Congress dominated the Indian electoral show and several other parties like the Jan Sangh and several Socialist groups composed the Opposition. This monopoly was first broken in 1967 when Congress could win only 283 seats. With stalwarts like Nath Pai, Acharya Kripalani, George Fernandez and Madhu Limaye around, the Opposition bloc commanded considerable respectability. The Communists were vacillating and supportive of Indira Gandhi. Still Communist figures like Indrajit Gupta, B.T. Ranadive, Bhupesh Gupta and others sometimes played the role of a responsible Opposition.
In independent India political dynamics and respective political roles have always been determined by proximity to power except in 1977 when Jayaprakash Narayan, in spite of remaining far away from power and pelf, could unleash the gigantic force of a combined Opposition against Indira Gandhi. Here again the Janata experiment crumbled as several top level leaders fell prey to blandishments of power.
Since 2014 Indian political landscape has fundamentally changed with the BJP replacing the Congress as the lead political party, a status which the INC used to enjoy till 1984 by capturing around 60 per cent of Lok Sabha seats in spite of getting around 40 per cent votes. It is true that in 2014 the BJP got only 31 per cent votes while the remaining 69 per cent was shared by many Opposition parties, regional or national. Based on this arithmetical calculation some Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and others had come to the conclusion that an Opposition-led government at the Centre was possible.
Where have they gone wrong? The answer lies in the fact that they failed to read the subterranean unitary current that flows beneath the apparent façade of federalism in the minds of the Indian electorate. This unitary perception always looks towards the presence of a towering figure who can bind together different streams of aspirations. It was Jawaharlal Nehru till 1964. Congress became prone to dissensions and internal cracks from 1964 to 1969 as no such leader was around. The Syndicate of the 1960s was unequal to the job. Indira Gandhi provided the requirement of such a strong leadership in spite of the fact that by way of her dictatorial family oriented rule she made the country weaker. In 1977 Jayaprakash Narayan could remove the Congress from power because of the fact that Indira was no match to him in terms of personal image and acceptability with the people of the country. Indira could return to power but only after Jayaprakash’s exit from the scene.
After Indira, the Congress has failed to project any person to whom the nation can look forward to for leadership. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh’s dual leadership during the UPA regime can best be called mediocre. That is why the Opposition groped in the dark during the run-up to this year’s parliamentary election and regional satraps worked at cross purposes. Mamata Banerjee was loathed to accept Rahul Gandhi as a future prime minister. Sharad Pawar had his own ambition. A classic case of totally unreliable partnership was provided by Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. They have already announced the demise of their alliance. Only in Kerala the United Democratic Front (UDF), a Congress-led conglomerate, has succeeded and provided a seminal canvas for putting up a credible Opposition to the BJP-led government at the Centre. But it has to be kept in mind that in Kerala the UDF’s principal combatant was the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), a largely regional grouping.
The just-concluded Lok Sabha election has again proved that the country will not accept any mélange of leaders. Due to this neither the Third Front, once championed by the CPM, nor the Federal Front of Mamata Banerjee could not even take off before the election. The Congress is now a rudderless ship. No worthwhile personality is in sight who can lead and rejuvenate the party. Will Sonia Gandhi take over again? However, a fragmented Opposition bloc is not good for democracy. But given the limitations of most of the Opposition parties no viable leadership from amongst them is visible in the horizon.