In my previous article “Where is India heading”, I had reflected on the ruling BJP aggressively pushing its Hindutva agenda and, by inference, its growing confidence about the inevitability of remaining in power till at least 2024. This deduction was bolstered by the lost-in-the-woods attitude of a mindless and incoherent Opposition. The certainty of seven more Modi years has been slightly diminished by recent events around the world, which may or may not have an effect on the Indian electorate.
Let us start with USA and ‘OMG’ Donald Trump. After the illogicality and absurdity of the orange crusader’s astonishing ascendancy to the Presidency, even serious-minded Americans were forced to contemplate a foretaste of a new, populist and irrational world order.
Then came the French election. Trump clone Marie Le Pen made it to the Presidential run off, but was soundly trounced by a more traditional Emmanuel Macron.
In Britain, PM Theresa May gambled on pushing her Britain First, Brexit policy by calling a premature snap election in the hope of securing a huge majority which, in turn, would empower her to negotiate from a strong position with the European Union. The gamble failed miserably. To use a Star Wars analogy, Luke Skywalker and his cohorts have begun to strike back at the Empire.
Modi versus Trump
On the face of it, Trump and Modi are twin personalities. Both are master orators, expert at coining the right phrase to appeal to the masses. Both know exactly the right thing to say to their target audience, designed to excite and inflame passions, often at the expense of logic and ground realities. Both have expertly used populist rhetoric to reach their present positions.
There is one important difference, however. Modi is an astute politician who understands that his fortunes are linked to his party; and that the BJP will allow him to call the shots only so long as he keeps on winning elections for them.
While Trump is a megalomaniac who believes he can do it all himself. As long as he can keep on spewing his populism to keep his base happy, he thinks he does not need a political apparatus behind him. However, as his falling popularity ratings indicate, even his sons-of-the-soil supporters are showing that there is a limit to how much nonsense and irrationality they can stomach. Trump may eventually prove to be the agent of his own downfall.
For a troubling few recent months, it seemed that the world was retreating into isolationism. Fiercely nationalist political parties seemed to be on the ascendant, unmindful of what is going on in the world around them, with Trump as their guiding light. But as the polls in Britain and France have shown, not everyone is endorsing their warped philosophy. Modi is trying a unique tact. He is trying to project himself as an international statesman abroad while, at the same time, pursuing a populist and nationalist line at home. So far, he is successful because he has no credible Opposition.
Wanted – A Strong and Meaningful Opposition
This can change, however. Remember the popular Vajpayee government fell flat just one year after pushing its India Shining agenda, which failed to resonate with the people. If the Opposition is to have any hope of unseating Modi in 2019, it has to subsume its self-interests and work towards a common goal of ousting the BJP. Above all, it has to transform from a destructive entity into a constructive one. Merely demonizing Modi and getting hysterical about his every word and action just does not work. One would have thought that after three years of futility, they would have seen the light; but it is still not too late.
So, what can the Opposition, and particularly the Congress, do to regain lost ground? Many pundits believe that getting rid of Rahul Gandhi would provide an instant solution, but I believe this approach is too simplistic. Granted that Rahul is not the brightest bulb in his party, but he was not the reason Congress acquired such a dismal reputation during the last two years of its rule. Actually, the UPA did not do too badly in terms of governance. In fact, many of the welfare schemes currently being touted by the Modi government were actually initiated during UPA rule. What dealt the death blow to the Alliance was the humongous and very public corruption perpetrated by its senior leaders. Modi expertly latched onto this failing and using his oratorical skills, convinced the electorate that UPA was an alliance of crooks and beyond redemption.
Instead of focusing on Modi, who is personally incorruptible, the Opposition should spend more time investigating members of his party. The NDA’s USP is – the public has not been exposed to any large-scale corruption by the senior leadership. This may be true, or the BJP may be very good at keeping this nefarious activity out of the public gaze. Even so, we all know that there is not a single political party in this country whose members do not have a hand in the till. The Opposition needs to expose this mid-level corruption and publicize it. The Opposition needs to make a dent in Modi’s and the BJP’s holier-than-thou-image.
Not unlike Trump, Modi made quite a few campaign promises he knew he was incapable of fulfilling. The infamous promise of bringing back enough black money from abroad to put Rs.15 lakhs in the pocket of every citizen springs to mind. Then there was the well-publicized extravaganza about facilitating crores of impoverished Indians to open bank accounts. The reality, of course, is that a significant proportion of these accounts have zero balance; and many are being used by black marketers to park their illegal wealth. Also, the much touted development agenda has failed to make any significant improvements in the standard of living of millions of Indians. The Opposition needs to shine an unrelenting spotlight on these failures and illusions and keep them in the public gaze.
What has lent urgency to the Opposition getting its act together is the BJP’s newfound arrogance and sense of invincibility. The way the BJP is aggressively pushing its Hindutva agenda, and turning a blind eye towards patently unconstitutional acts of vigilantism and ultra-nationalism, demonstrates its supreme confidence in their ascendancy and their certainty of remaining in power for at least the next seven years. The BJP has also callously indicated that it does not need the support of the country’s minorities, particularly Muslims, to stay in power. This is a disturbing trend. In fact, a group of eminent and respected ex-IAS and IPC officers has recently published an open letter to the government expressing their grave concern over these very issues.
The Opposition needs to present itself as a viable and credible alternative to the ruling dispensation. In a democracy, no political party needs to be given licence to do whatever it pleases without accountability. Therein lies the path to authoritarianism. These are not the principles our nation was founded on.
Firoze Hirjikaka is a retired civil engineer and a freelance writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org