Writing on the wall: Only a united Opposition can stop the Modi-Shah juggernaut
With anti-BJP parties looking to gain majority of the votes, by coming together they can unseat Modi in 2019.
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We seem to be headed for some interesting times in the year ahead. For the sadharan (ordinary) citizens, reading the morning papers over a cup of tea, the political future of our fair land appears rather muddled.
The bhaktas contend that the recent setbacks to the ruling party in by-elections to state legislatures and national Parliament are insignificant. As a senior party member said on television, you have to take a few steps back to make a long jump ahead, a clever but singularly inept statement, since it implies that the "step back" — defeats in by-polls — was a deliberate strategy to help future "leaps forward" .
Gaffes on national TV apart, their belief is clear: The charisma of their supreme leader, the ruthless back office "skills" of their political managers and the fundamental strength of a "united and resurgent" Hindu identity will overcome considerations of caste, poverty, unemployment, inequality, local and regional loyalty and other issues that move voters.
Those in opposition to the ruling dispensation — "sickulars" and others — insist gleefully, however, that the end is near, the writing is on the wall and that this is the beginning of the end for the Hindutva brigade. Religious identity per se has never been enough to unify a fractured social and political fabric ridden with local and regional considerations of economic interest and related issues of power, privilege and patronage.
The arithmetic being put forward is simple. The Opposition parties put together are garnering a majority of votes and, therefore, if they come together they will win the national elections in 2019. Drilling down a little, the logic would appear to be that the regionally significant Opposition, if aligned with the remnants of the once nationally significant Congress, can muster enough votes to win the forthcoming national and state elections.
This reasoning requires one of two possible scenarios to emerge.
In states where the Congress has been reduced to insignificance, the regional satraps who have battled each other for years for positions of power and the very substantial fruits thereof, have to put aside the past, work together and "share and share alike" the loaves and fishes of office.
At one level, it is a question of personal egos, and the ability to let the dead past bury its dead and make a new cooperative future. At another more serious level, this requires the fundamental social realities, and the vote banks that emerged from there and underlie the political differences between these regional leaders, to be dealt with.
If for example, the different political bases that sustain these competing politicians are based on caste and class issues — rich, landowning "upper" castes versus poor landless "lower" castes — then the sustainability of their gatbandhan will depend on the extent to which the underlying socio-economic fissures can be papered over or otherwise contained in the interests of political unity. If the contradictions at the grass-roots level are particularly strong, the efforts at unity are likely to be doomed.
In states where the Congress still has a political presence, the problem of longstanding political differences and conflict in state-level politics will be aggravated by the ghosts of the Congress' past. The fundamental issue here is the difficulty of stepping down from a position of enormous entitlement and unquestioned power to one where you are just another team player, an important one perhaps, but still, just one of the "boys" instead of the capo di tutti capi.
Generations of power and privilege have a tendency to create a sense of entitlement that makes the adoption of realpolitik, and the malleability and accommodation that it requires very difficult, especially when the realpolitik requires a "stepping down" to lower levels of power and significance.
The writing appears to be on the wall. Opposition unity — a phrase that, given Indian political history, is generally considered an oxymoron — appears a necessary condition and perhaps, just perhaps, a sufficient condition for stopping the Modi-Shah juggernaut in the forthcoming elections.
But can all concerned actually see and act on the writing on the wall?
Remember that there are none so blind as they who will not see.
We are certainly going to see some interesting developments in the year to come.