Where is the Opposition? Or, more importantly, who is the real Opposition? If we are still asking these questions at the end of a year that offered two big hopes for oppositional politics – the resounding defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party in West Bengal and the abject surrender of the Narendra Modi government in the face of the farmers’ movement – something is seriously wrong with the theory and practice of Opposition. We cannot just hope or wait for the Opposition to do a course correction. Citizens must intervene now.
The need for an effective Opposition has never been stronger than now. Not a week passes without the Modi government marching ahead with its assault on democratic institutions (the Election Commission and Parliament), brazen disregard for political norms (continuation of Ajay Mishra Teni as Union minister), and undermining of constitutional values (PM inaugurating Kashi corridor). Even supporters are beginning to get tired of the monumental lies of the current political dispensation and are yearning for a convincing message and a credible messenger.
At the same time, they see little hope in the Opposition. Far from leading the country in this battle to save its soul, the Opposition is at war with itself. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) appears to have opened multiple fronts in an undeclared war on the Congress: Goa, the Northeast, and various other states. The Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab is aiming to unseat the Congress, not the BJP. Uttar Pradesh, the only place where the Congress shows some agility, is where it is set to damage the Samajwadi Party. We are witnessing a thinly-veiled, no-holds-barred struggle to occupy the position of the principal challenger to the BJP.
Competition within Opposition parties
To be sure, every Opposition party is well within its rights to lay claim to this spot. And some healthy competition can only do some good to the complacency within the Opposition camp. Besides, we do not need a complete Opposition unity. I have argued in this column earlier that a grand mahagathbandhan, a hold-all electoral coalition of all the opposition parties, is neither necessary nor desirable for taking on the BJP in the next parliamentary elections.
Yet the current war within the Opposition camp is perilous. It exposes an inability to overcome partisan interests in favour of larger national purpose, a fatal flaw for those claiming to lead the nation. It confirms the worst fears of the people, that the Opposition cannot work together. These internecine battles among the Opposition parties, and within parties like the Congress, erode the credibility that the Opposition stands to gain due to the misdeeds of the Modi government.
Worse, there is no sign that things might get better soon. The war within the Opposition camp is unlikely to end early or conclusively. The cast of characters and their mutual animosities are here to stay. There is simply no one leader within the Opposition camp who can see and show the big picture and offer moral or strategic guidance cutting across party lines. If the defeat of 2019 has not taught the Opposition parties a lesson, it is not clear if anything else would. In all probability, the Oppositional space would continue to remain messy and confused, mired in small-minded games, mutual acrimony, and internal conflicts. That is precisely what the BJP would hope and plan for.
A citizens’ movement
Here is a proposal to tackle this impasse. Citizens who are wedded to the Constitutional values and willing to pay some cost to defend these, but are not attached to any of the mainstream Opposition parties, must come forward to save the space. As long as they are steadfast in their commitment and stay away from partisan intervention, they can provide the glue and the glow that the Opposition so badly needs. A group of concerned, committed, and credible citizens can serve as the magnet that brings many existing energies together and shows a clear direction.
Such a group of citizens must simultaneously work on three tracks. First and foremost, it must engage in the battle of ideas in the short, medium, and long run so as to create a community of believers in the idea of India. Mainstream Opposition parties simply don’t have the bandwidth for this essential task. This calls for simultaneous work in the arena of art, academia, mass media, and social media. This might appear an uphill task given the political patronage, money power, and media control of the present rulers. Yet, we must not forget that cultural resources for resistance to hegemonic power are not meager. We have with us the most powerful currents of our civilizations, the legacy of our freedom struggle, and the text of our Constitution. Some of the finest creative minds have refused to surrender to the hegemonic power. Specifically, the task is to evolve a new language to defend our Constitutional values, convert it into creative communication in the Indian languages and then organise a “truth army” to take on the “troll army”.
The second arena involves strengthening movements, agitations, and struggles. In the last seven years, this is where the present regime has faced reverses, be it land acquisition ordinances, equal citizenship movement or the farmers’ movement. This is the biggest reservoir of fresh energy so badly needed for the politics of resistance. A citizens group can intervene here by identifying and connecting various ongoing movements that remain below the radar of national attention. The challenge here is to coalesce various movements or even initiate new movements on some of the most pressing issues of our time that affect the people directly. The issue of massive and growing unemployment and catastrophic loss of livelihood, for example, is waiting for a national political expression.
The final arena, where all other efforts must culminate, is that of the electoral battle, principally the Lok Sabha election of 2024. The BJP is not as powerful as it looks. It certainly is not invincible. More than the Opposition alliance, we need Opposition coordination and a unity of purpose. This is where a citizens group can help, by bringing together multiple energies within and outside existing Opposition parties. It can suggest a coherent agenda and a strategy, unimpeded by the narrow interest of a specific party or leader, as long as it remains strictly non-aligned vis-à-vis the internal tensions and contradictions among or within Opposition parties. All this can help expand our notion of opposition itself, aimed at not just creating a vipaksha, but a pratipaksha that exudes hope and offers feasible alternatives.
The end of 2021 reminds us that we have just two years left for reclaiming the Republic. At this juncture in history, ‘opposition’ is too serious a job to be left to the leaders of the current Opposition.
Yogendra Yadav is among the founder of Jai Kisan Andolan and Swaraj India. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)