India’s opposition has failed to learn from its own history that every time it joined forces – in 1976, in 1989 and in 2004 – to avoid multiple contests, it succeeded in bringing down the party in power.
THOSE who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. You do not have to be a psephologist to predict the outcome of the critical General Election that India will hold two weeks from now if the opposition does not get its act together.
On the one hand, you have the ruling BJP and Narendra Modi, ably aided and abetted by the various arms and front organisations of the powerful RSS and India’s richest business houses and corporates and their media, who are determined to hold on to power at any cost. They are sparing no effort or expense to perpetuate the myth of an Indian superpower led by a strong leader who can rein in Pakistan to win these elections. They are desperately courting regional players as if their very future depends on it.
On the other hand, you have assorted opposition parties and their leaders who notwithstanding their fervent desire to throw out the BJP and Modi cannot bring themselves to sacrifice their Himalayan egos to act and speak in one voice for the sake of the nation and all that is at stake. They are all busy attacking each other, rather than put up a united front against the forces that have emerged as a clear and present danger to India and the Idea of India.
BSP’s Mayawati seems to detest Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi more than she hates Modi and Amit Shah. In Delhi, former Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit, the old warhorse who has inexplicably been given the reins of the party in the capital, devotes all her time and energy plotting against Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister, and Aam Aadmi Party leader. No wonder the attempts to forge an alliance between the two parties have flopped.
It is the same pathetic story everywhere. Except for Maharashtra, Bihar and Karnataka, where the Congress has managed to firm up electoral alliances with Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Lalu Yadav’s RJD and Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (S) respectively, the grand old party has failed to form strategic coalitions anywhere else, partly because of the reservations of its state leadership and partly because of the ambitions of leaders like Mayawati.
Apparently, the mercurial Dalit leader of the BSP is still peeved with the Congress because of its failure to do business with her in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. She also views Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi as a challenge to her own prime ministerial ambitions. Besides, the Gandhis’ attempts to revive the moribund Congress in UP and their outreach to Dalits and Muslims also said to make the BSP supremo insecure. Priyanka’s recent visit to the convalescing Dalit leader Chandra Shekhar Ravan was also interpreted as a challenge to Mayawati.
Unlike his more persuasive mother, Rahul hasn’t been too successful in rallying opposition forces under one banner. Notwithstanding her political inexperience, Sonia Gandhi deftly brought together diverse parties and leaders with competing interests and agendas under the UPA flag. This when the BJP government had been helmed by the immensely charismatic Atal Behari Vajpayee, known for his gravitas and incomparable oratory, and formidable Lal Krishna Advani, the original architect of the party’s growth and success.
Under Rahul, the Congress has failed to spawn such a grand alliance against the BJP despite his sincere and relentless efforts against the BJP and even when all opposition parties seemingly agree on the existential threat this order poses to the future of Indian democracy and how it has methodically destroyed all institutions.
However, it is unfair to single out Rahul and the Congress for this failure to stitch such an alliance of secular parties. Regional players such as Mayawati’s BSP and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party must equally share the responsibility for this fiasco.
The protection of Indian democracy and its democratic and secular institutions is not the responsibility of Congress alone. By repeatedly spurning the Congress’ invitation for an electoral alliance, the BSP and SP have now ensured a triangular contest in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state that plays a decisive role in defining the profile of the government in Delhi.
A triangular contest in the battleground UP where the Muslims form nearly 20 per cent of the population is bound to benefit the BJP directly. While the Muslim vote is likely to be fractured between the three parties, the BJP is certain to use this to religiously polarise and attract the Hindu voter. Which is, needless to add, a recipe for disaster.
In 2014 too, at the height of the so-called Modi wave, UP witnessed a triangular contest with the SP, BSP being separately pitted against the BJP. As a result, the BJP won handsomely even from the predominantly Muslim cities such as Rampur, Moradabad and even Deoband, home to Dar ul Uloom, the hallowed Islamic seminary.
This is likely to happen all over the country including in states such as West Bengal where the BJP is locked in a bitter fight with the regional party in power. Even chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who first proposed the one-to-one contest against the BJP throughout the country – that is, one opposition candidate against the BJP — in order to avoid the division of anti-BJP votes, has herself failed to walk the talk.
Mamata has been fighting the Congress, once her parent party, on the one hand, and the Left parties on the other, poaching their MPs and MLAs. This even when the BJP government in Delhi and its minions in the state are sparing no effort to topple her.
A similar drama is being staged in the two Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh with regional parties and the Congress all fighting each other to directly benefit the BJP.
In short, in the face of an aggressive BJP with its winning narrative of “one strong leader and one disciplined party,” the opposition presents the sorry spectacle of a divided house whose inmates are busy fighting each other, rather than brace for the coming storm.
Rather than confront the BJP and its barefaced lies claiming credit for every national feat — the latest being the circus over India’s entry into the elite space club with the Mission Shakti when the country had attained this capability way back in 2012 — not to mention the failure on every front, the opposition is busy plotting against each other. They failed to tell the nation that antics like the strikes on Balakot in Pakistan and shooting down a satellite in space could not make amends for the disastrous governance.
Instead of supporting and complementing the efforts of the Congress, the only party with pan-India presence, that managed to put the Modi government on the mat over corruption, unemployment crisis and mismanagement of the economy, the opposition refused to look beyond their own nose and self-serving agendas, squandering the momentum and the historic opportunity it presented.
Whoever is to blame for this mess, the country will pay for the criminal failure of the opposition.
India’s opposition has failed to learn from its own history that every time it joined forces – in 1976, in 1989 and in 2004 – to avoid multiple contests, it succeeded in bringing down the party in power. If the BJP has the last laugh, come May 23, notwithstanding its disastrous performance on all fronts, you know whom to thank.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a former newspaper editor. Email: Aijaz.firstname.lastname@example.org