Waiting for a new vision

New Delhi: Congress party workers celebrate with posters of party President Rahul Gandhi and JD(S) chief HD Kumarswamy after Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa announced his resignation, in New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI Photo/Manvender Vashist) (PTI5_1

Barely a few days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated four years in power at the Centre, a euphoric show of solidarity around the idea of a grand anti-BJP coalition of opposition parties at the swearing-in of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government in Karnataka set in motion a possible ‘Modi versus the rest’ contest in 2019. The question is, will the fragile unity of the disparate opposition parties sustain till then?

Speculation is rife that the phenomenal bonhomie seen in Bengaluru is a prelude to the “final march” to victory in next year’s Lok Sabha elections. If a recent opinion poll conducted in 19 states is to be believed, nearly half the voters are opposed to giving the BJP-led dispensation another shot in power.

The poll found, not surprisingly, anti-Modi sentiment to be “especially strong” among the minorities, with three-fourths of Muslims, three-fifths of Christians and well over half the Sikhs, Dalits and Adivasis feeling they had become “victims of violence and atrocities”. Adding to their anti-Modi numbers was a sizeable section of Hindu voters, too. 

Suddenly, in the run-up to parliamentary elections in 2019, we are confronted with a sense of déjà vu. In a country of 1.3 billion, do we always have to make do with either an NDA coalition, now under Modi-Shah management, a Congress-led UPA, now under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, or a ragtag Third Front of a bunch of regional satraps, who can’t decide who among them is the leader?

This lack of political choice, which Lal Krishna Advani once dubbed the TINA (there is no alternative) factor, is woeful in a country as big and diverse as ours. The reason for the cynicism this state of affairs evokes is that we have already seen threadbare all of them, and we know they all come with serious failings.  

Alliances have been cobbled up more as a matter of convenience, sometimes to keep Congress away from power, sometimes to keep the BJP away, but almost never as a matter of ideological convergence. The post-poll alliance in Karnataka, for instance, galvanised non-BJP leaders as disparate as Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee to dream of forming a combined opposition to fight Narendra Modi in 2019.

Which is all very fair, except for the possibility of such an alliance imploding mid-term. A national consensus is often lost in the welter of regional aspirations. If we want to break out of the NDA-UPA rut, the Third Front has to work extra hard to remain united and durable, but no credible anti-BJP alliance seems possible at this time without the backing of the Congress party. 

The problem boils down to the fact that despite being the world’s largest democracy — our voting population itself is larger than the population of Europe, South and Central America and Australia combined -- we face a lack of quality choice. More often than not, we find ourselves picking the least bad choice.

As Parliament, the RBI and the Supreme Court have often been sought to be subverted, and the investigative agencies have been used not to serve the interests of justice but to bully dissenting voices into submission, we have seen how political parties override all norms of democracy, even those who claim to be a “party with a difference”.

It has been noted how, with the election of Donald Trump as American president and Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister, the social milieu has changed in the diverse democracies. Hate crimes have increased and, more than ever before, people sense impunity and feel free to abuse, threaten and even kill Dalits, minorities and all dissenting voices.

Now, given the fact that the BJP is in power — alone or in coalition — in as many as 21 states, and therefore a majority of the Indian population is now under BJP rule, the social ramifications are alarming, because it literally means a free run for its politically monolithic but socially divisive rule.

Battle of attrition

None of this is to say that under Congress rule it was all hunky dory. But if the dual leadership structure of Manmohan Singh as prime minister and Sonia Gandhi as UPA chairperson riled us no end, no less risible is the ideological sweep of the Sangh Parivar over our incumbent prime minister and their attempts to subvert and subjugate our hallowed institutions of learning. Modi must be aware that socially disruptive cultural agendas like cow vigilantism have created great social unrest across the nation.

But India’s vote-bank politics and the endless games of polarising voters, by fair means and foul — sometimes even by orchestrating riots, propping up militant and insurgency groups, by false propaganda and spreading misplaced fears — has given birth to an unholy battle of attrition.

Seen individually, there is no political leader or party that is above board. And quite frankly, despite the right noises being made by Rahul Gandhi, he looks way too callow and seems to be no match for the battle-ready Modi.

When Modi shot to prominence in an unprecedented tsunami of popular support, the nation pinned high hopes on him. Modi has wasted his mandate not only in areas such as agriculture, foreign policy (relations with China and Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal, the US and Russia), fuel prices, industrial output, job creation and in education reform, but in more fundamental ways by undermining welfare programmes such as MNREGA under the pretext of streamlining the economy and reigning in wastage, and by remaining indifferent to the woes of farmers and the middle class, making them chase a mirage called “acche din”.

While BJP president Amit Shah might still find some strategy to win in 2019, it is time for the cheerleaders opposing Modi, including Congress, to draw up an alternative roadmap and a vision for the country ready.

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