Opposition Parties in a Strategic Muddle Prof D.K Giri

In News & Views, Political

The entire opposition and critics decried the present government as undemocratic, anti-farmers, sectarian and crony-capitalist and so on. They wish it had lost power yesterday. Yet, their strategies to defeat the ruling party befuddle perceptive observers of Indian Politics.  I count myself in as one of those.

Opposition is truncated at the moment.  BJP is far bigger than any opposition party. It electorally appears to be formidable despite several missteps it has taken. Admittedly, only a combined opposition, in a coherent alliance, preferably a pre-poll one, could defeat BJP. Common people are exasperated with the ruling party:  price rise, lack of employment opportunities, suppression of dissent etc. The discontent is deep but it is not erupting for want of a solid alternative.  The TINA (there is no alternative) factor works in favor of the ruling party as it once did for Mrs. Gandhi.

The foregoing scenario is not all gloom and doom. There is hope. There is a lesson from our recent political history. Jayapraakash Narayan, JP as he was fondly called by friends and colleagues, the legendary socialist leader, plunged into resistance in 1975, when Indira Gandhi was politically unchallenged, rallied the people  against the Emergency, combined the opposition parties, created a new party, and ousted Indira Gandhi from power. We are in a similar situation now.

History could repeat albeit with some difference.  That is, we may not have a repeat of pan-India people’s movement like the ‘total revolution’ led by JP, but one could certainly forge an alliance between the opposition parties to take on BJP. We may not need a tall leader like JP to do that. A smart strategist, a kind of specialist in partnership brokering or alliance formation could do that. There is immense ingenuity in our political community to craft the opposition unity. The only drawback is the unwillingness of opposition leaders to listen to saner and sagacious suggestions and their tendency to fall for apolitical and non-ideological advices by the modern-day political consultants.

Let us examine the above formulation. Let us start with the Trinamool Congress, by far the most enthusiastic of all at the moment to move to the center, after three successive wins in Bengal. It is true, as they may think, that, unless an ‘alternative to Congress’ is created in the opposition space, it will not be easy to challenge BJP, especially as Congress is dithering, and their leadership issue is unresolved. Rahul Gandhi, the de-facto leader is not being accepted for various reasons; his leadership reluctance, unpredictable movements like sudden foreign jaunts, and most of all, his ill-prepared and badly articulated public pronouncements. He is said to be a good man with genuine, well-meaning, natural instincts. But his advisors have not served him well to project his true image. Politics is about building images, and managing perceptions.

On the other hand, Trinamool Congress has done well so far. It has a determined, a decisive and a daring leader, although she could be seen as eccentric at times. However, leadership observers would condone it, as most charismatic leaders are self-driven. Mamata Banerjee has done well in Bengal but not beyond so far. She has not cut much ice in her earlier forays into pan-Indian politics. This time around, she shows more strategic planning and tenacity of purpose. But she has already made a faux pas by taking on UPA in Mumbai where Shiv Sena and NCP are sharing power with Congress. Naturally, Shiv Sena reacted to Mamata’s outburst against UPA, but it is not natural for TMC to instantly retort Shiv Sena . At the same time Mamata’s consultant has disparaged Rahul Gandhi. Is that in order? Certainly not, politically not correct.

I am of the view that (TMC’s Forays Beyond Bengal, Brighter Kashmir, 1 December 2021) that the race for the position of the leading party in opposition is open. That party should be the fulcrum of opposition unity. I also say TMC can, in due course, take that spot if Congress keeps dodging the urgent issues facing their party- leadership issue, revamping the ideological platform, reorganising and repositioning the party, profiling the party anew, formulating a new set of policies reflecting the new ideology and so on . Also, one more defeat can derail Congress. Yet, the idea was not to attack Congress but to draw a bigger line without erasing the existing one as advised by brainy Birbal to Akbar, the Mughal emperor. Their pronounced strategy in Goa was to defeat both Congress and BJP, the latter is ruling, so where was the question of defeating the former.

In Uttar Pradesh, during the last elections, both Congress and Mayawati attacked Samajwadi party, with which both parties had alliance before. Of course, Mayawati had earlier joined hands with BJP too. Again, the target here was BJP which was the incumbent government, not Samajwadi party. Political parties take on competitors too during elections. But in the present scenario, the strategy of the Opposition should be to dislodge BJP.

In Karnataka, JD(S) which came to power in the past with the BJP support is negotiating with it again. JD(S) and Congress have had an uneasy alliance. Although after the last Assembly elections, Congress extended unconditional support to JD(S), the latter could not hold on to power, was manipulated out.

The problem in party building or alliance formation is either lack of ideology or organising principle or both. Parties suffer from ideological confusion and fall prey to opportunism in seeking power. If we draw a line between BJP and the rest excepting the other religious parties, only one party has not joined hands with BJP that is the Congress party. Even the Communists extended outside support to Janata Dal government in 1989 where BJP was an alliance (National Front) partner.

There could be three strategies on the opposition unity. One, a new leader emerges to be seen as the prospective prime minister and all like-minded opposition parties rally behind that leader. That leader will be identified on the basis of his/her popularity among the masses. The popularity in turn can be evaluated on the basis of the mass mobilization he/she does on issue(s) facing the country. This could be relatively easily done by Rahul Gandhi as the leader of the largest opposition parties with some mass base across the country. Let him launch the third freedom movement.  For instance, what Gandhi did against the British (first freedom movement),  what JP did it against the Emergency (the second freedom movement), in both these cases, the leaders had no ministerial ambitions, both of them  chose the PMs, or VP Singh did against Bofors, or what Anna Hazare and his protégé Aravind Kejriwal did against corruption and for a Lok Adalat) or Prafulla Mahanta did against illegal settles in Assam and so on.

Second, let Congress party manage its own affairs, no opposition leader should run it down, in the interest of the opposition unity. Let ideology be the guiding principle of politics without which opposition unity will be like a wild-goose chase. Parties will not know who to go with. Leaders are already party-hopping from right, left and the centre.   In any talks on opposition unity, the leadership issue crops up. The question that haunts the negotiators is who will be the leader.  This could be settled before or after the elections by using a democratic procedure. The MLAs and MPs of all opposition parties should elect through a secret ballot the leader of the Alliance.

The third strategy could be to the stepping stone the second. The opposition parties begin to work in alliance from right now on shared issues facing the people, price rise, unemployment, sectarian violence, primacy of the constitution, autonomy of the educational institutions, space for dissent and empowering the civil society organizations and so on. This working cooperation locally should lead to electoral alliance, seat sharing and manifesto alignment. Having done that, after the elections form an alliance government, irrespective of number of seats won by respective parties. The Leader/PM will be elected by the MPs on a secret ballot and the rest of the Ministers could be appointed on the strength of the party in the Parliament.

Let me end with a few popular adages, “when there is a will, there is a way.”  The parties should demonstrate that will in the interest of the country, and the process could be managed by the knowledgeable people in partnership building etc. There is even a Partnership Brokering Association. The second adage therefore is, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.  The political parties should look beyond themselves for this support in rebuilding their parties or building a new coalition. I have explained in a foregoing article in this magazine, (“The Congress party’s Udaipur Turn”, 24 May, Socialist Factor) why the parties must seek help from non-party intellectuals. To endorse this outlook or strategy, let us quote one wiser saying by the French strong man, former president Charles de Gaulle, “politics is too serious a business to be left to politicians alone.”

Prof. D.K.Giri is a political analyst and a commentator.

He could be reached on 9958126130 and [email protected]

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