Why India can't afford to not have an Opposition

Shiv Visvanathan
Shiv VisvanathanApr 29, 2018 | 12:00

Why India can't afford to not have an Opposition

Unfortunately, each party is obsessively focused on itself.

As the BJP juggernaut moves ruthlessly towards 2019, middle class India virtually treats victory as a fait accompli. However, there are dangers in this fatalistic acceptance of a majoritarian democracy. Brute majorities are rarely catalytic or creative in politics. The need for a creative Opposition becomes much more urgent and persistent. Yet, there is sadness here.

Downplayed idea

The idea of a powerful Opposition has been downplayed. Watching the current musical chairs parody of the setup, one wonders whether the word “Opposition” should be used for the motley assemblage of Mayawati, Mamata, Naidu, Stalin, and Yechury. Their behaviour is virtually hysterical, without any sense of strategic networking. The recent meetings of the CPM despite Yechury’s efforts are indicative of this trend. Indian democracy is far from realising that Opposition is critical to its life blood.


In a majoritarian era, the idea of an Opposition is almost treated as anti-national. At one level, one needs to reiterate the theoretical and historical possibilities of an Opposition in a multiparty world. While in a two-party system, where the loser is the Opposition, an Opposition in a plural frame is a many-layered drama.

An Opposition is a trustee to the varieties of dissent, marginality, radicalism, eccentricity even to the dream of alternative imagination in a society. It sustains the dream of difference arguing differences need a variety of representation and that it is differences that sustain the dynamics of a democracy. In this sense, an Opposition is an act of memory, an ethical reminder of possibilities beyond the currently conventional and victorious. In sustaining the ethics of representation, an Opposition is a reminder of all the possibilities a regime needs to explore.

One realises that what has been spelt out abstractly needs the drama of the concrete. How does one keep such an anarchic gang of politicians together? The necessity of a manifesto, a vision, becomes urgent. Unfortunately, each party is obsessively focused on itself. There is no clear critique of the BJP and, therefore, little debate.


What little debate that exists has been triggered by the recent tussles between north and south after the Finance Commission. A north-south Opposition is too stark and dualistic. It provides a pretext for an Opposition, not a text. What it critically raises is the question of federalism and finance, the question of how each state can be more autonomous in a federal world. Here the emphasis is on a plural world of choices, which the BJP has little understanding of. While this triggers the debate on the Opposition, one realises that the everyday raw material for difference has to be sourced elsewhere.

kcr,-mamata_inside_042918093327.jpgA north-south Opposition is too stark and dualistic.

Layered world

A civil society is a many-layered world which can provide the diversity an Opposition requires. It is not just a question of minorities. The minority-majority Opposition is only one drama of difference. India is a diverse marginal world, where our margins have large geographies and larger imaginations. An Opposition has to bring a network of marginalities’ ways of life together. Dissent is a major intellectual activity and the dissenting imaginations of the last few decades need to be put in some kind of syncretic touch with each other. Imagine if tribal groups, the MKSS in Rajasthan, the anti-Narmada dam movement, the coalition of peasants fighting drought, the NGO battling the imposition of biotechnology in agriculture were to get together to rework an idea of agriculture. These networks would anchor an Opposition whose vision goes deep into the future. The future as an Opposition to the majoritarian present is an idea that one must develop. The BJP, pre-occupied with inventing the past and claiming ownership of the present, has little sense of the future as a different world. By using the future as an imagination, as a heuristic of new possibilities, an Opposition, as it turns creative, can demonstrate the impoverished status of the current majoritarian world.


yechury_042918093429.jpgUnfortunately, each party is obsessively focused on itself. 

Knowledge base

The university as a knowledge base aids social movements as a trail of critique and experiments becomes critical to the next step. An Opposition has to argue that the emasculation of the university affects more than the university. It destroys the knowledge systems and economies of a society. Amartya Sen’s legendary creature, the argumentative Indian is a native of the university, as an institution. In many ways, the university as a plural domain of ideas is oppositional by preference. India desperately needs ideas, alternatives, and more inventive imaginations as we are being out-thought and outfought as the BJP celebrates its mediocre ideas. A university articulating an Opposition to a mediocre regime can be the basis of a different debate. Unfortunately, ideologies have turned the university a pluralistic entity into a dualism of right and left.

An Opposition, which is instrumentally political, will be inadequate in the long run. As Gandhi argued, the political without the ethical is emasculated. It is reduced to a short-run imagination. One of the real tasks of an Opposition today is to revive and invent the Gandhian imagination, rescue it from the museum and the mothball. Gandhi offers possibilities, a sensitivity to suffering beyond the current language of politics. Politics recharged as a lifestyle, an ethic and an experimental imagination is what the idea an Opposition needs. If one does not move to such fundamentals, one will get embroiled in the superficialities of party politics, pursuing the logic of a desperate electoral arithmetic. An Opposition with a vision of India will find the right opportunities. The current lot will keep stumbling in a fatalistic way having already accepted BJP victory. One needs to desperately go beyond such an unquestioning acceptance of the future.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: May 15, 2018 | 17:47
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