With Narendra Modi-led BJP riding back to power with a brute majority and the Congress not really improving on its 2014 tally, many political experts argue that the opposition is almost dead.
Some have said that the Congress is heading towards extinction and that’s bad for Indian democracy, almost conceding that the only meaningful opposition could have been provided by the Congress.
The general belief in political circles is that for an opposition to be effective, it must have challenging numbers in the Lok Sabha or assemblies. Only then, can it check the ruling alliance.
Indian political history will tell us that such an argument is misleading and faulty.
How Indira bounced back
In 1977, the Janata Party, under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan, defeated the Congress, almost wiping it out in the Hindi belt. The Congress secured 154 seats while the Janata Party won 295 seats. But the low numbers did not stop Indira Gandhi from hitting the streets and taking up public issues.
And if she hadn’t done so, the workers, the farmers, the dissatisfied youth would have. People’s grievances do not wait for legislative numbers. In fact, when people realise that they do not have a voice in Parliament or legislative assembly, they know they have only one way out – ‘direct action’.
Remember Lohia doctrine
The opposition would do well to remember how Ram Manohar Lohia in the 1960s first thought about defeating the Congress by uniting all non-Congress forces. In that sense, he was the first architect of the idea of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’.
The Congress had won the 1962 Lok Sabha election under Jawaharlal Nehru with a clear majority – it secured 361 seats. The party looked unbeatable.
But the 1967 elections witnessed a change – the Congress under Indira Gandhi managed to retain majority in Parliament, but the tally came down to 283. Further, the Congress lost power in eight states. This marked the arrival of non-Congress parties in Indian politics.
The Lohia doctrine of anti-Congressism, however, suffered a blow in 1971. The ‘grand alliance’ of the Jana Sangh, the Swatantra Party, the Congress (O), the Praja Socialist Party and the Samyukta Socialist Party was defeated convincingly by Indira Gandhi’s Congress.
But in the next six years, a grand alliance under Jayaprakash Narayan managed to defeat the Congress, forming the first non-Congress government at the Centre in 1977.
Rise of BJP
In fact, the legislative numbers’ argument also falls flat when we look at the rise of the BJP.
How did the party survive, grow and expand during the years when it had little presence in Parliament, in terms of numbers?
It won just two seats in 1984 Lok Sabha elections – the Congress had won 404 seats then. Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost the election from Gwalior. Yet, the party did not go into an ‘extinction mode’.
What has changed?
There are enough examples in Indian politics to prove that parties have come back to power after suffering big losses in previous polls. So, legislative numbers are a wrong indicator to declare a party dead.
Is the problem deeper? India had governments with absolute majority under Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. Barring the 19-month Emergency, India and Indians have never really felt that democracy was under threat.
Has something changed after 2014? Do people in private don’t trust the Modi-Shah-led BJP? Is that the reason they feel the need for a ‘strong’ opposition, which can keep the party in check?
Opposition is not dead
The BJP’s aggressive politics is for all to see.
Its brazen ‘acquisition and takeover’ game, as seen in Karnataka, may help it shore numbers in state assemblies. The party may ultimately win the legislative numbers game.
But that will neither double the income of the farmers nor help the unemployed get jobs. These corporate-style acquisitions will not bring any relief to the minorities, who are experiencing rapid marginalisation.
Lack of opposition in Parliament doesn’t mean there won’t be any opposition to the government’s way of functioning on the streets. Democracy is not defined by the walls of Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha.
People are at the heart of a democracy and they know when, where and how to fight for their rights. I don’t see any end for democracy in India. The party that can tap people’s energy and voice their grievances will stay relevant, even if it doesn’t have enough numbers in this Lok Sabha.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.