Oppn unity need of hour

Oppn unity need of hour

In 2012, even as the news of his election victory in Gujarat came in, Narendra Modi had headed off, not to the party headquarters in Ahmedabad where celebrations were underway, but to the home of Keshubhai Patel, who Modi had got the better off in the election. Without wasting any time, Modi, then chief minister, was reaching out to his opponent in the hope of securing his backing to become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, a battle he won in 2014.

This is characteristic of Narendra Modi — using the momentum of one achievement to move towards the next. A day after the unprecedented sweep in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, he was already looking ahead, not by talking about 2019, his next major battle which many in the opposition are already conceding, but by talking about 2022 (about transforming India so much by the 75th year of India’s independence that the country’s founding fathers — Gandhi, Patel, Ambedkar — would be proud). By so doing, he had already started batting for 2019.

And, BJP president Amit Shah is already into Project 2019, talking about focusing on the 120 Lok Sabha seats where the BJP has been at its weakest in southern and eastern parts of the country.

It is true that the general elections are still more than two years away and a lot can happen in this period in a country like India with the multiple challenges it faces. The Opposition is in a state of disarray and is demoralised. And it has to contend with a duo who, in terms of the drive and ability to work 24x7, is heading a well-oiled and matchless election machine which combines macro sweeps like the creation of caste axis and an attention to detail.

The fact is that the entire opposition put together is no match today for the Modi-Shah duo, the  coming together of a master communicator and a master planner. Modi has touched a chord in people—and aroused  hopes—in a way few leaders have been able to do in independent India.

The opposition does not have a charismatic figure like Modi to take him on, though hypothetically speaking, situations can throw up leaders.  No one party, as of now, is in a position to pose a challenge to the BJP. Even if the non-BJP parties were to come together — which is a tall order but one they will have take seriously given the writing on the wall and the speed with which the saffron spread is taking place — there is the taller order of finding a face acceptable to all, with a pan-India appeal.

Theoretically speaking, the Congress should have been the natural party to lead  a non-BJP alliance, being a  pan-Indian outfit,  though this too is becoming questionable. The Congress is caught in its old dilemma—its inability to do without a Gandhi at its helm.

So either Sonia Gandhi or her children Rahul or Priyanka should lead, else the party stands the risk of breaking up into several groups. But with Rahul at its head for all practical purposes — Sonia Gandhi is not well, and Priyanka has not shown any signs of taking the leap, she did not even campaign in UP this time, except one meeting in Rae Bareilly — the party has not been winning elections.

With no change expected in this situation, a likely scenario is an  outflow from the Congress to the BJP  in the coming months. Given the way the BJP was on the rampage in UP, Uttarakhand, and earlier in Arunachal Pradesh, it would not be surprising if the BJP steps up this effort in all those states which will go to the polls, later this year like Gujarat, or those in the Hindi  heartland next year, like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh, and of course Karnataka,  and the four states in the North East.    

No clear narrative
Nor do the opposition parties have a clear narrative around which an alternative can emerge, one which can resonate with people. Secularism was a thread which bound the non-BJP parties together. But the UP results have shown a Hindu consolidation for Modi, cutting across castes, even those castes which were considered vote banks of the SP and BSP.

This consolidation provided the centre piece of Modi’s support, reinforced  by new social alignments, of the upper castes, the non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits, an aspirational young India rooting for Modi, and Modi’s own charisma acting as the overarching umbrella.  

Mayawati openly flaunted the 97 tickets she was giving to Muslims, and there was a reaction amongst a section of the Dalits at  being taken for granted by her. In a family of Yadavs in eastern UP, three out of 10 voted for the BJP because the Samajwadi Party’s candidate in their area was a Muslim—had it been a Hindu Yadav, they would have voted for him-- and these three were younger people in the family, obviously drawn to Modi for a variety of reasons.

In hindsight, it seems that SP leader Akhilesh Yadav’s alliance also created a reaction amongst some of the Yadavs and other potential Hindu supporters because it was seen only as an attempt to give importance to the party’s Muslim vote bank.

There was a reaction in large sections of Hindus to secularism as practiced by some political parties and these sections  equate it only with “appeasement” of Muslims, even as Muslims remain amongst the most backward communities in India in terms of education and employment.

So clearly, the opposition parties will have to find a new political narrative. Youth in particular are tired of the old idioms, and the old style of politics. Undoubtedly, the state elections that lie ahead in 2017 and 2018, will help build a momentum for 2019.

As things stand, the opposition can only hope for Modi to make mistakes. Unless he makes big mistakes, 2019 seems to be going his way.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi)

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