The Communist Party of China (CPC) is curious about the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India. Chinese leaders were “shocked” to know how the BJP trumped the CPC to become the largest party in the world. The BJP’s organisational heft in elections amazes them.
What they may not know is how BJP-led India, the world’s largest democracy, has a real chance of achieving through elections what they enforced through coercion and repression in China — the “multi-party cooperation”, a misnomer for one-party rule.
In the Chinese political system, the CPC is the sole ruling authority but eight “non-Communist” parties “cooperate” by participating in state affairs and giving policy inputs whenever and wherever required. These parties together have 11 lakh members; the CPC has nearly nine crore. It prevents “power rotation” and “nasty competition” among parties, Chinese president Xi Jinping said last year. He is trying to re-brand it as a “new type of party system” — different from the Western model but more in sync with the Chinese adage “only your feet know whether your shoes fit well”.
Party politics, made in China
As China seeks to justify its authoritarian political system, India is witnessing a debate on its own. An 11-member BJP delegation was in China for a week in August-September on the CPC’s invitation. A couple of weeks after they returned, BJP president Amit Shah raised questions about the political system India has adopted. “After 70 years of Independence, a question was arising in everybody’s mind whether our multi-party parliamentary democratic system has failed, whether the… system would be able to achieve our goals, would make a Bharat that our Constitution-makers had envisaged,” he said on 17 September.
This debate has started when the Indian polity is witnessing a voluntary multi-party cooperation and the melting away of the opposition parties even though they are putting up a valiant fight on Twitter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tells Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina “not to worry” about the National Register of Citizens (NRC) even as Home Minister Amit Shah vows to drive out “termites” (his nomenclature for Bangladeshi infiltrators).
So, if Modi has no plans to send them back to Bangladesh, is he planning to keep them in detention centres/refugee camps? There are no opposition leaders to ask this — not beyond sundry press conferences. A powerful BJP functionary told this writer the other day in Kolkata, “Don’t you bother about what happens to them. We have to first identify them.” Pressed further, he added in exasperation, “They will be disenfranchised first, then made ineligible for all government schemes, civic amenities…. Let them work as manual labourers.” That’s the BJP’s plan for ‘infiltrators’, whose numbers it estimates to be at least two crore.
Indian opposition’s voluntary cooperation
Barring some noises from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and a few pressers and TV bytes by others, there is no opposition worth the name to communal NRC politics. How many opposition leaders did you hear protesting when the Enforcement Directorate decided to register a case against veteran politician Sharad Pawar, timed on the eve of Maharashtra assembly elections? Did you hear any noise from any non-Congress leader — or from even most Congress leaders — when central investigation agencies went after P. Chidambaram or D.K. Shivakumar? These politicians may not be paragons of virtue and innocence but similar moves by central agencies in the past used to draw huge opposition outrage in solidarity.
So where are the opposition leaders? Well, most of them have chosen to “cooperate” with the BJP, not going beyond token protests or criticism and siding with it when needed. See how quickly Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has forgotten about his once vociferous demand for special status for his state.
Many political pundits would stammer and fumble if they were to face rapid-fire questions today: Is Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) a part of the BJP-led NDA? Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is an ally of the BJP, isn’t it? Do Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party provide outside support to the NDA at the Centre, the way they once did for the Congress-led UPA? Has the son of jailed RJD leader Lalu Prasad, the former Bihar deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, given his word to the BJP that he would be a good boy?
Congress resigned to fate
The Congress may still be holding out against the BJP, but the principal opposition party is fast becoming a social media entity, with party activities mostly confined to cyberspace. The implosions in the Congress seem inexorable. Speak to any of its leader in poll-bound Maharashtra or Haryana and you will be flummoxed by their confidence level: “We will do better than what Rahul Gandhi did in Lok Sabha elections. BJP leaders think we won’t get the post of the leader of the opposition (which requires winning at least 10 per cent of the total seats in the assembly). We will prove them wrong.”
The Congress today looks resigned to fate and at the mercy of the BJP — in case it has any role in the multi-party cooperation model. There are a few opposition leaders such as TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and DMK president M.K. Stalin in distant corners who are putting up resistance but they are insignificant in the BJP’s larger scheme of things.
Opposition parties in India are clueless today. Modi has changed the game completely. They were used to playing snakes and ladders. Put in a rugby game by Modi-Shah, they are mortally scared. They would prefer to sit it out. It may be a risky strategy though. Voters may not be excited about the snakes and ladders game again.
No wonder, many opposition parties are now looking at the Chinese multi-party cooperation model to recoup and survive. Sceptical about the multi-party parliamentary democratic system, Amit Shah may not mind it— for 50 years of the BJP rule, so to say.