Saturday, April 1, 2017

Joining forces for 2019

Pankaj Sharma

26 March 2017

Even now if Rahul Gandhi masters the art of controlling a political conversation and makes a concerted effort to bring other opposition parties under one umbrella, the Bharatiya Janata Party's bulldozing rise can come under check in 2019. Despite the BJP's landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Assembly polls, the scope for Congress and other opposition parties to right-size the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo in the next general elections has not shrunken. Two years is enough time to follow a road map, provided it is designed by hardworking political heavyweights of the opposition clan and not by overrated amateur 'Harvardians' who have grabbed policy chairs in almost all the major political outfits. It is primarily because of these apolitical professionals that major opposition parties including the Congress who refused to recognise the emergence of BJP as the central force in national politics in the last three years. The professional election managers' inability to read the indications of an emerging polity is primarily responsible for today's political scene. Engaging some bright young minds in providing logistic support and other inputs could be the demand of the time, but leaving the responsibilities of making necessary policies and holding important political negotiations to them has proved fatal. Unless the course of competitive politics is decided by political workers and not by theorists in opposition parties, democracy in India will produce similar poll outcomes in favour of BJP.  We have a mini-general election almost every year in our country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has learned the technique of turning every election into a plebiscite on his leadership. He knows how much the results of state Assemblies matter in shaping the political competition at the national level. The opposition, unfortunately, has been failing to recognise the complex dynamics of social change in the past few years. The absence of any appropriate political response to the challenges posed by the changing social mindset has resulted in BJP's phenomenal rise. The united opposition will have to strategise for Assembly elections in two states by the end of this year, and another eight by the end of 2018. Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat will go to polls in December 2017 if not preponed. Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura will have elections in February 2018. Elections for the Karnataka legislature will be held in May '18. The winter months of 2018 will witness the polls in Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. General elections will take place in April-May of the following year, but five states are scheduled to go to polls immediately after that. Therefore, the elections for Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim will also be held with 2019 Parliamentary polls. Only a unified opposition can destroy the BJP's dream.  Opposition parties have no option but to position themselves according to the changing nature and pattern of Indian polity. The party system has to be accommodated with the demands of competitive politics and political contestation. Unless opposition parties unite on a common terrain of ideas, principles, and philosophies, while ignoring their petty regional compulsions, there is no stopping the BJP led by Modi-Shah duo. The parties in opposition have to realise that BJP's dominance has gone out of any proportion not only in numeric terms but more substantively. It has spread its wings in a large number of states, receiving support from untraditional social quarters and setting the tones for political debates. BJP has crossed the rules of established paradigm and has created a myth of Modi's leadership in the minds of people. The united opposition has to counter BJP in all these areas.  The BJP has proved again and again that it can go to any extent in a battle for the acquisition of power. It has been successfully trying to make state specific issues irrelevant through 'modiaisation' of elections. The hype surrounding the crusade against black money, an overdose of nationalism and micro-management of polls are going to be its strength in electoral politics in the coming years too. The united opposition has to find an answer to Modi's hegemony, his Hindutva card and political economy. It has to fight a long battle in the minds of the people and earn their trust by convincing them that there exist a real collective alternate to Modi's leadership. Without doing it, Modi will continue ruling the country in his whimsical way despite the fact that BJP has just around one-third of the popular vote in his kitty and the opposition is roaming around with two third votes because they are scattered. Congress and the rest of opposition have a historical responsibility to make the nation understand that Modi is no messiah of development. The ideologues of grand opposition will have to put their heads together to find out the ways to plug the draining out of the emotional investments of the people towards the BJP of Modi-Shah. Rahul Gandhi's Congress needs to show its political courage more than anything else. It requires an articulation that can convince the majority section of the society that the policy of inclusiveness does not mean appeasement of any particular class and nationalism and Hindutva are two different things altogether. Critical issues never get any attention if raised by lightweights. Rahul Gandhi must make it a habit to personally, not through tweets or through his faceless spokespersons, address the critical issues. Whenever he speaks, there is an impact. Instead of agreeing with those who make efforts to seize the initiative of opening more and more windows, a real leader must ensure that all the possible doors have a welcome sign for all the well-meaning people and ideas.

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