Why Opposition must talk about alternative politics to defeat Modi in 2019
All talks currently are centered around parties and leaders, not policies and visions.
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With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failing on most fronts and moving more towards an aggressive Hindutva, all anti-BJP forces and even some former party leaders and allies are scouting for alternative formations to take on the party.
Sadly, all talks on alternatives are about some parties coming together to cobble up a formidable Opposition or top leader/s who would lead the charge. There is hardly any talk on alternative politics or politics of an alternative vision for India.
Options on the table
Congress with its partners is the natural choice. But a national party with just 44 MPs in Lok Sabha and ruling only three states is not in any bargaining position. Second on the list, is the talk of a federal front that Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, is trying to put together and in which is Banerjee is ready to include every non-BJP party, including the Congress. The third option the idea of a people's front mooted by
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhara Rao. This option talks of an alliance of Opposition parties, minus the Congress.
What's wrong with these alternatives?
The problem with all three is that they are driven by parties and leaders and not on ideas and alternative governance vision. Any sustainable political alternative will have to be one that has substance and content and provides a break from the past.
If this doesn't happen Prime Minister will sound more credible to the voters when he tells them, "All Opposition leaders want Modi out. I want corruption out and development in." The Opposition would lose even before the game starts.
Failure of a similar alternative in the past
Facing a severe backlash after the Emergency, Indira Gandhi at the hands of a motley group of united Opposition forces, despite trying to portray the 1977 general elections as "me versus them" and reiterating "they want Indira out, I want poverty out".
Indira did not know the art of controlling the media, did not have an army of fake social media warriors, Emergency by perception and in practice was openly anti-people, and hence she was defeated. But Modi is stronger on all these counts.
The Janata Party that came together on the anti-Indira and anti-Emergency plank fell apart in less than 30 months on the questions of leadership, differences over policies, appeasement of various pressure groups and regional divides.
In this failure of a "united" Opposition against Indira, ironically, lies Modi's biggest hope for 2019.
Right alternative - uphold the Indian Constitution
While those wanting to replace the BJP government at the Centre will need a common minimum programme and an alternative political vision, they must first pledge to protect the Indian Constitution and its basic tenets. Commit to true secularism where the state does not negate any faith but also does not become party to any faith.
It must promise no Hindutva and no Muslim appeasement. Pledge to ensure a socialistic welfare economy because the marginalised people, with their per capita income far below subsistence levels, cannot survive unless supported to ensure minimum access to food, clothing, housing, public health and assured education.
They must vow to protect democracy and hence leave media, entertainment, culture and education to be run not by bureaucrats but professional experts. And, above all, pledge to protect the legislature by not bulldozing Parliament sessions. They must also protect the independence of the judiciary by not interfering in the appointment postings, promotions of judges.
Safeguarding democracy also needs police reforms, administrative reforms, judicial reforms, and electoral reforms. It needs implementation of the institution of the Lokpal, apart from protecting the independence of the constitutional bodies such as the Election Commission and the Chief Information Commission.
Uphold rights of all communities, avoid appeasement
Second, all communities need to be assured that India is theirs, but they need not be appeased to make them feel so. Also, if forest rights are not given to the tribal users of minor forest produce, and land rights are not given to the tillers, there can be no visible change to the country-side and Maoism may not end. Social assimilation will need distinct ways and means to empower women, ensure their security in public places, raise conviction in cases of sexual assault, and enhance their socio-economic participation.
Alternative economic vision for India
Third, a united Opposition must promise a slew of economic measures, including viable minimum support price for farmers' produce and implementation of MS Swaminathan recommendations to mitigate agricultural distress, gradual recovery of all non-performing assets (especially in cases of willing defaulters), banking autonomy with SOPs and with RBI independence ensured, recovering black money in land, jewellery and foreign assets, and encourage investments in education and health with tax holidays and other benefits.
This plan also shall underline a fair share of funds from Centre and states, respect for federalism, and execution of a more robust one nation one tax system through a uniform Goods and Services Tax. Interestingly, it is important to increase investment in education and health up to 25 per cent of the total Budget.
Finally, there has to be a development plan for each Lok Sabha constituency. Each constituency should be given to that non-BJP party, which has shown the best strength in it for a one-on-one electoral fight.
Winning the battle of perception
Modi stands tall in the battle of perception. There is feeling on the ground that "there is no alternative" to Modi, tall man with a 56-inch chest against an army of political dwarfs. The perception is that he is not personally corrupt. Playing to the same narrative, which the compromised media shall assiduously promote, will be suicidal for the Opposition.
The only way to combat it is to put forth an alternative qualitatively different narrative. Like, one tall arrogant dictator versus people's grassroots leaders. Like, selective chasing of corruption by Modi government while all corruption charges on BJP functionaries go un-investigated. Like, majority religion-upper caste's dominant narrative versus a united India approach. The alternative narrative has to be on these lines exposing the doublespeak and hidden agenda of the Modi-Amit Shah dispensation.
Let a collective leadership of a united Opposition, named People's Federal Alliance (PFA), evolve with a distinct common minimum programme and approach and take India to a more holistic, sensitive, people-centric development oriented future devoid of an overdose of rhetoric and aggressive emotions.