Grace and dignity must define Modi

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As the overwhelming party in power, BJP must set aside a seat for leader of the opposition

The general election this summer, the run up to it and its aftermath, have been distinguished by a cacophony of incoherent voices drowning any meaningful debate on good governance and nation building, with the result that the media bombast that dominated the poll campaign continues to resonate in news coverage and discussions well after the sun set on the grand ol’ party. So convincing and overwhelming has been the mandate for single party rule that doubts are now being raised not only about the viability of the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, but the relevance of one. This is not without reason or precedence.

For one, the second big­gest political party in the current election, Congress, with 44 elected members, has been reduced to less than 10 per cent of the seats in the 16th Lok Sabha, the minimum benchmark for staking claim to the leader of opposition’s chair. Two, there have been precedents when the Lok Sabha has gone without a leader of the opposition, as between 1952 and 1969, when the Congress juggernaut dominated both national politics and parliament. This was repeated between 1980 and 1984 on Indira Gandhi’s return to power following the collapse of the Janata Party government. Constitutional experts have opined that there is no scope for the representative of an alliance or a political grouping staking claim to the opposition leader’s chair, as is being suggested by a possible grand alliance of three regional parties to keep the Congress out of contention. The matter must now be squarely settled by the treasury benches occupied by the BJP’s 282 members under their parliamentary leader and prime minister Narendra Modi.

Every functional democracy needs conscience keepers outside the corridors of power to keep the government on a defined trajectory so that it delivers public good. Therefore, it is imperative for a ruling dispensation to subject itself to objective scrutiny from an opposition so that it may keep its promises without deviating from constitutional obligations. Or else, the polity would be seriously compromised if it insists on a once-in-five-year-vote to steamroll decisions without being periodically questioned. By their very ess­ence, democracies need voices of dissent and disagreement — not blackmail — in parliament where policies are vetted and laws are framed. And above all, they need leaders of substance to articulate the aspirations of the unrecognised so that they are not trampled under the stampede of majoritarianism.

After all, deep scrutiny and opposition watch alone led to the UPA’s undoing, and its resounding drubbing at the hustings. Had that not been the case, the Congress party’s compromises and corruptions would have remained unquestioned through its 10-year stint in power under one of its cleanest prime ministers ever.

Will the BJP oblige? That’s anybody’s guess, considering that the party fought a nasty campaign to oust the Congress from power for an undisputed run at governance. The larger issue here is one of political ethics on how to treat the loser in war.

History, on which the BJP swears its foundation, sets horrendous precedents. Ov­er the ages, the vanquished has been universally brutalised and impaled in full public glare and left to rot and be fed to scavengers. In modern global geopolitics, so-called war criminals are outright snuffed out by brute military force or psychologically impaled at the International Court of Justice before being sent to the execution chamber. It is somewhat less savage in Indian politics, where state investigation agencies and tax hounds are routinely set upon the opposition to impale their reputations in public. Should this then be the fate of the princeling who fought to be king, his reputation already in tatters?

History also has exceptions to the rule.

When Alexander the Great invaded India in the last of his global conquests and defeated King Porus in the battle of Jhelum, the Macedonian victor asked the vanquished Indian how he would want to be treated in defeat. “Treat me as one king would another,” Porus reportedly replied, earning him Alexander’s respect and reprieve. In treating the vanquished with grace and dignity, victors of rare honour carve their virtuous names in the pages of history.

Our understanding of grace is largely derived from Christian literature as the love and mercy spontaneously heaped upon us by god because god desires us to have it. Eastern mystics and philosophers too have long propounded on compassion as the ultimate and divine justice. Modern, intellectually driven societies also emphasise on grace, compassion, dignity and universalism of mankind, free from parochial concerns of race, religion and conviction. They believe that the planet, and the entire universe, are large enough to accommodate the needs and aspirations of all.

Where does all this come from?

The innate power of compassion, mercy and dignity in the human heart arises from the inherent cruelty of nature that has no spiritual connect with the living in its overarching embrace of time and distance. Which is why tsunamis and earthquakes happen frequently without nature ever shedding a tear for the departed thousands. Such unrepentant cruelty has also defined political campaigns and conquests through the ages. Which is why the sole purpose of intelligent living in our times is to enrich each other’s lives to help us cope with the pain of our everyday suffering.

Narendra Modi chose to make his tryst with destiny by leading an intellectually rigid political formation to power, riding on an overwhelming wave of voter support. He has tamed dissidence within his party with shrewdness and the heavy hand of popular outpouring. Now that he enjoys an unprecedented mandate to rule with a free hand, there is nothing to stop him from pushing ahead with the brute force of his nature. Which is all the more reason why he now needs to make a compassionate connect with his larger constituents who do not define themselves by his personal ideological leanings. This he must for the sake of larger good.

Modi has already made a smart beginning by inviting leaders from neighbouring countries to break bread at his inauguration this Monday. Once he is sworn in as prime minister, he must move once more so that the opposition, or what is left of it, gets a leader in parliament to map his moves. The viciousness with which all sides contested this election is now history. A chair must now be gracefully set aside for the leader of the opposition and given to the person who deserves it best. And who else could that be other than the leader of the second largest party in parliament, no matter how many members stand up to his command. In that alone will democracy be truly served.


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