Caught in Face Polity

rahul in gujarat

While opposition parties are busy deciding on face that can take on Modi, they first need to create an alternate pro-active platform rather being a reactive and divided house

By Anil Anand

Who would win the Lok Sabha elections-2019? Two years is too long a period in politics of any variety to guess an outcome if one goes by the proverbial logic that even a night before the polling day could prove to be a game changer. At the same time it is not necessary that the proverbial logic holds true for all times to come.

Currently Indian political scenario is passing through a different stage with BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerging as the strongest party and by the same yardstick Congress, supposedly the premier opposition party, getting decimated with the same speed. Under the prevailing circumstances the talk of a ‘Mahaghatbandhan’ (grand alliance) of the opposition parties did sound a fascinating idea as a counter to a more centralised BJP and its led dispensation at the Centre. But then politics more so in India can never be bereft of twists or turns.

Indian politics has undergone a sea change, of late, with power centre totally shifting from Congress to BJP and the accompanying change in the pattern of governance and ideological idiom. There are no surprises in that and there are no surprises either in what has not changed.

Forging unity among opposition parties has always been a tricky proposition. Ever since, the political characters and leaders have changed as the generations have passed by but not the trick itself. Who should be the leader of the pack? This is the trick with no clear cut answers or the stake holders in the unity effort deliberately not permitting the riddle to be resolved and instead indulging in machinations of the worst order to strengthen their claims.

The ‘Mahaghatbandhan’-2017 efforts are the victim of the same malady or the leadership bug. On the face of it serious claimants like JD (u), now since crossed over to the Modi-camp, had gone public clarifying that they have no Prime Ministerial ambitions which in some ways is confirmed by his crossover to the NDA where no vacancy exists in the strong presence of Modi. Nitish’s latest move is another manifestation of political expediency and has nothing to do with his ambition to be the Prime Ministerial candidate at least in the NDA’s present context.

Back to ‘Mahaghatbandhan’ jugglery, Nitish certainly was a big player and would have remained so had he stayed back. But did he move out as he had no clear cut assurance of being projected as the prospective combine’s PM nominee? There are indications to this effect at least that he was promised a key role at this stage which could have ultimately led to his further promotion.

That brings one to the crucial question as to what ails the blinkered opposition in failing to unite and seeing writing on the wall. Yes, leadership is a crucial issue when the opposition is confronted by a powerful leader in Modi who is a good communicator and a deft strategist, and it entails that the contours of battlelines be clearly drawn for the voter to ultimately make a choice. But there are certain prerequisites to that at least in the context of latest unity efforts.

Shouldn’t the priority be to set up a strong platform first to give feeling of semblance of real unity rather than flaunting the leadership ambitions? The answer is yes because Congress, though the largest of the opposition parties, is a decimated self and in view of its floundering new leadership cannot lay claim to united opposition’s leadership. By the same logic other parties have no pan-India presence and ultimate significance of all these parties, Congress included, would lie in the number of seats they win.

A strong platform should have been the priority of the Congress-led opposition both in the pre-Nitish and now post-Nitish scenario. His exit from the camp and predicted defeats in Presidential and Vice Presidential elections, has certainly weakened the ‘Mahaghatbandhan’ plank. But to be fair to Congress vice president he never staked claim to either the proposed alliance’s leadership or be its Prime Ministerial candidate. Even then it is hard to fathom that his party would readily agree to play second fiddle.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Modi-Amit Shah duo has gone all out in unsettling the opposition efforts at uniting with Nitish joining their bandwagon and the irrepressible Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav finding himself enveloped by CBI-IT-ED raids, the unity still stands a chance though every day lost could prove costly at the end. The simple reason is that Modi would be going for his second successive Lok Sabha elections and this time with a Prime Ministerial innings behind him. In 2014 he was fresh armed with a new style of high-tech campaign ably assisted by his own grand communication skills but he would enter poll arena in 2019 with some baggage.

Despite its grandstanding assisted by a section of the media, it would be naive to say that Modi has fulfilled all the promises which he had made during last Lok Sabha campaign or that questions cannot be raised on some controversial decisions of the government such as demonetization and conflicting Indo-Sino and Indo-Pak relations apart from failure on other policy matters including the ex-servicemen OROP issue.

The opposition parties should keep the leadership issue on the backburner and try and build a strong platform if they wish to remain in reckoning in the next Lok Sabha elections. A sound counter-narrative with calculated aggression, and not the no-holds-bar kind of the rival, should be the other priority. The challenge would also be to keep the flock together as the BJP leadership has already made their intentions clear that nothing is unfair in politics despite their oft-repeated clamour if not commitment for clean politics.