The whiff of elections marks the onset of the season of hope and the time for the assorted factories of opportunism to be back in business. Founded on shifting ground, there is no established route to success. The efforts at opposition unity currently on display is as unplanned as it gets with far too many moving pieces at play to show, for now, a discernible game plan.
There is, however, a constant. And that is the relentless capacity of the ruling dispensation to conjure up images of a nation under siege, of being hurt at the core by its own. History is a tool not be drawn inspiration from but to string together stories of how the nation was hurt from within – a systematic strategy to tear down hallowed reputations and create villains out of nothing.
Two instances will establish the point. The NDA government decided to celebrate Jawaharlal Nehru's 125th birth anniversary in 2014 and even set aside a small budget for projects to commemorate the event. But, then, it proceeded to pull him down almost immediately. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library no longer has Nehruvian philosophy as its centrepiece and the lives and thoughts of other prime ministers are now discussed at the institution. While that might not be such a bad thing, this has gone hand-in-hand with efforts to erase Nehru from the history books. Meanwhile, a hallowed central university that bears his name has at its head a person of opposite ideology and thinking from Nehru's while the university itself has become the target of so-called nationalists.
On to the other example. Manmohan Singh was recognised by far to be a meek and ineffectual prime minister even by his own party -- capable of doing neither good nor evil. But prior to the Gujarat assembly elections last year, the most important elections in the NDA's book after the Lok Sabha and Uttar Pradesh elections, and on the back of a meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar's house where former Pakistani diplomats were present, Singh was accused of joining hands with the Pakistanis to ensure the defeat of the BJP. Another anti national had thus been created.
It is perhaps no surprise that with the monsoon session of Parliament round the corner and opposition-sponsored no confidence motions in the offing an unsubstantiated report in a small Urdu paper was picked up out of nowhere to target Congress president Rahul Gandhi with the biggest slur of all in current politics – minority appeasement.
A re-reading of recent politics will reveal that such a strategy against the Congress party is unnecessary. It won a mere 44 seats in the last Lok Sabha elections, indicating just about the entire country voted against it. It has won some significant elections since then and made a reasonable noise about them. But, these victories have been erratic.
There is another strand to this. The latest attack on Rahul Gandhi has drawn few to his defence. The subtext to this is that India's Grand Old Party is pretty much on its own after over 130 years of existence. It is perhaps paying a price for being at its lowest point in history -- from being all-encompassing during the national movement, to being accommodative during Nehruvian times, authoritarian during Indira Gandhi's tenure, arrogant during the coalition era to being mostly a fringe player now, and regarded with suspicion by those who have supped with it earlier.
Evidently, its capacity to deliver has almost no takers. The Trinamool Congress, for instance, which had at one time pushed the Congress to take on the task of opposition unity, saying it alone could do this being a national party, is now positioning itself to do just what it had once suggested the Congress should do. Other parties in the anti BJP space have betrayed a similar lack of enthusiasm in the Congress party.
The Congress and opposition parties have not been able to introduce new elements into the political equation. Attacking the rightwing hate factories in the high noon of majoritarian politics has not been very successful. It was a laudable endeavour nevertheless. Yet it must be said that the politics of disruption and creation, the new normal under prime minister Narendra Modi, has no parallel in the opposition camp. An aggregation of itsy-bitsy ideas cannot constitute political strategy to take on a formidable opponent. For the opposition, it is going to be a long walk to success, to paraphrase the famous lines from the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, whose centenary was observed during the week, and who is regarded as the ideological twin of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.