Missing in politics: a generosity of spirit

Missing in politics: a generosity of spirit

If the resignation of a number of senior and middle-level leaders and MLAs at the state level to join the BJP has given a setback to the Congress in recent weeks, the public statements of some of its leaders at the central level have added to the embarrassment of the party.

The embarrassment is particularly strong because the leaders making those statements are among the most visible and articulate in the party and their statements are seen in some ways to be complementary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There is even suspicion that these leaders, too, maybe preparing to leave the party and join the BJP.

All of them have denied any such intention but that has not set the doubts at rest. The first flutter was caused by Jairam Ramesh when he said that if Opposition leaders demonised Modi all the time, they would not be able to confront him. He also said that Modi’s governance was not a “completely negative story’’ and it would be wrong to blindly oppose everything that he did. Shashi Tharoor and Abhishek Manu Singhvi have defended Ramesh. 

The statements would not have created so much controversy in less polarised times. It is a measure of the divisiveness of the polity that a good word about or an acknowledgment of a popular decision and action of an opponent becomes unacceptable to large sections of a party and invites suspicions of ulterior motives.

Such a stark divide across which communication and scope for mutual recognition and acceptance does not exist has in fact been created by Modi and his new style of politics. He has not accepted that other parties and leaders have done anything good, and that has shaped the essential political discourse since 2014.

A generous interpretation of the controversial statements would be that Opposition parties should present their own agenda to the people and should not waste all their fire by targeting Modi. It is now being accepted that one reason for the poor performance of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha election was their inability to present an alternative to the electorate and the BJP’s success in communicating better and more positively with the people. It is not just a matter of electoral strategy but of political attitudes, too. 

But the question would still remain if these leaders had to make their statements in the public arena, creating controversies and suspicions, and could not have prodded the party into an internal debate on them. Parties would gain by free debates on such issues and the Congress should be ready for them. It can try to confront its embarrassment and turn it into strength.