The Mandsaur firing could have been a rallying point for the rabble masquerading as opposition in India. Armed with the tip of the spear, they could have mounted a nationwide challenge on this ticklish issue, but they failed abysmally. The expression in military lingua franca refers to a combat force that is used to puncture the enemy’s initial lines of defense, to be quickly followed by concentrated forces which destroy any remaining threat. Ineptitude, lassitude and absence of intellectual capital dominated their mind space instead to leave them paralysed.
Bipolarity is the lifeblood of a democracy, but Indian opposition has been crushed under the weight of Modi’s majoritarianism. It has lacked vision and nor has it been inventive enough or had the necessary bandwidth to raise the level of engagement with the treasury benches. Its attacks have been episodic and bereft of sting. Think of the staccato style fusillade bushwhack of the BJP which brought the UPA to its knees repeatedly — K Natwar Singh, Shashi Tharoor, Ashwini Kumar, Pawan Bansal, Shivraj Patil, TR Baalu, Dayanidhi Maran, A Raja, et al — who had to resign as Union ministers because of different taints. With the UPA repeatedly succumbing to sustained pressure from the BJP and a bellicose media, there was a veritable procession of ministers. Against that when media went ballistic on Sushma Swaraj and Vasundra Raje, the BJP closed ranks against the interlopers and said nobody would resign.
Twice during the last 36 months, the opposition had its toe in the door, first with the gargantuan Vyapam scam and then with the bloody Mandsaur agitation. Ironically, both times, the events were Madhya Pradesh based and both times, the advantage was frittered away by the rag tag bobtail outfit that goes under the nomenclature of opposition. Squandering away major political gains both times and more so this time round when farmer unrest had begun to dominate the nation’s narrative, the fractured and fragmented opposition — each and every one of the satraps with egos the size of football fields — opted to highlight peripheral issues and did not proceed to crusade with constructive criticism.
The aggregation of myriad political forces on the opposition side cannot decide on the way forward, in the past it was a platform of anti communal sentiment which bound them together. Now with the Congress leadership itself weakened considerably after the rout in 2014, unable to decide whether Rahul Gandhi — the Prince who runs away from his coronation — should be projected as the face of the GOP, state bosses of different hues with clout and influence in their own spheres of leverage and authority dominate the discourse. Which leaves Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee as the regional chieftains who still matter. Nitish is fettered with Lalu Yadav and his family’s travails and tribulations, while Mamata, a known Kali bhakt is battling a polarising and deeply divisive BJP in West Bengal. Jayalalitha is dead, Mulayam Singh, emasculated and Behenji Mayawati, a pale shadow of the political heavy hitter that she was. Which leaves the Communists and fringe players like Sharad Pawar’s NCP. And they don’t matter. What we have is intellectual menopause and no understanding of realpolitik which gives one heft in the art of warfare.
Rural distress and unrest could have been that theme which could have galvanised the ruptured opposition because it is a volatile issue that can bring down governments. Maharashtra, MP and Tamil Nadu which had been struck by a winter drought were on fire, all that the Congress and other political parties had to do was rally around the kisan. Barring sporadic comments of how Modi’s jai jawan and jai kisan mainstreaming had flopped, there was no architecture or edifice on which a strategy could be predicated. It was all hit and run and that too half hearted. And this stems from Rahul Gandhi himself. For while he will attempt to raid Mandsaur, he is not convincing as a full time politician willing to give his heart and soul to the craft. A triple incumbency is what Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh are battling with in MP and Chattisgarh respectively, but there is no persuasion left in the Congress to take them down. Cutting the umbilical cord with dynastic confusion is the only out for the Congress, the baggage has to be swept clean.
Nature it is said abhors a vacuum, ergo, Modi assumes a larger than life persona against this backdrop. Rahul Gandhi cannot convince India nor himself and definitely not the trolls on the internet that he is a full time politico, one who is rooted, grounded and is willing to devote 24x7 time to the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best. Worse still, he is far removed from the world of realpolitik. Somewhere, this famous Otto Von Bismarck quote evolved into “It’s not about what’s right or what’s best. It’s about what you can actually get done.” It’s associated with realpolitik, a political philosophy of setting pragmatism over your ideological goals. But then the GOP doesn’t have an ideology, it is an amorphous mass of politicians who practiced left of centre politics, which fell into a trough called socialism.
Barring the period where PV Narasimha Rao decided to save India even as the balance of payments crisis threatened to engulf us, as the rupee-rouble trade with Soviet Union collapsed due to glasnost or perestroika or whatchamacallit, the Congress thought process has been driven by left of centre welfare economics model. That Modi quickly made a course correction and veered a hard left and decided to transpose the learnings of men like Gandhi and Nehru who realised very quickly even back then that India resides in its villages showed that he has the sagacity to drop ideological vestiges. Despite being under pressure on both the strongest suits of any right wing formation — economic reforms and national security — his stock and stature rise almost daily.
The handling of the entire presidential and veep candidates by the moth eaten opposition is laughable at one level. Last time round the wily Pranab Mukherjee checkmated Sonia Gandhi and became President. This time their attempts at fielding candidates were ludicrous. Cow vigilantism or farm peril is something that any Indian should be concerned about. Majoritarianism has, however, shut everyone up, as voices are lost in the tower of babble. The Congress and other opposition forces have to regroup, realign and find new innovative themes to tackle the brute numbers of the BJP. Despite having the tyranny of numbers in their favour in the Rajya Sabha, they have not been able to wrap their heads around vital issues with radical ideas.
It is unimaginable that the Grand Old Party with such deep political roots is so shallow in its thought process that it is unable to play the role of an intelligent and productive opposition. Sonia Gandhi plagued obviously by ill health has tried to unite the opposition, but with her son acting as a millstone around the Congress neck, she has been unable to make any headway. One cannot believe that the Congress party cannot find an alternative to Rahul Gandhi — Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ahmed Patel — something has to emerge from these ashes, for at the moment, it is a cakewalk for an impervious and oblivious treasury benches.
Somewhere, it is is only in parliament that there is any level of resonance for the opposition when it still manages to stall proceedings, but beyond that its equity itself has been neutered. It has neither volubility nor motifs to argue with across the vast swathe of India, it is losing its relevance in an eco system where the idea and idiom of pluralism needs to burnish brightly.