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The Opposition is back

The Opposition is back

Elections are over and an NDA government is in place, but the battle to restore democracy, after 10 bruising years, must continue

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Last Updated : 12 June 2024, 02:28 IST
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The general elections of 2024 have been extraordinary. An NDA government has now been sworn in, led by those who cobbled up the numbers but have lost the narrative and credibility. Paradoxically, those who fell short of the numbers have won the battle of ideas. Equality, pluralism, and collective leadership have triumphed over cronyism, Hindutva and autocracy.  

That the Narendra Modi-led BJP, which contested on domineering slogans like “we will get over 400 seats,” and “Modi’s Guarantee”, which centred its campaign on Modi’s media-amplified “divine, non-biological” personality, which made Modi its sole candidate in all 543 seats, could not even reach the majority mark of 272, conveys only one message. Verdict 2024 is a rejection of Modi’s brand of authoritarian politics. But the battle for democracy cannot end just because elections have concluded. It must continue with renewed vigour.

In his own constituency of Varanasi, Modi managed to win, but with among the lowest margins ever by a sitting Prime Minister. The mandate is clear: the voter has voted against Modi and his politics and governance. By bolstering the I.N.D.I.A alliance in key places, citizens have shown a desire for a strong Opposition. The voter wants multi-party democracy, not one-man/one-party rule. The voter has rejected Modi’s attempt to establish a China-style one-party State.

Yet, the core task of advancing democracy remains. The responsibility of the Opposition is to advance democracy. The voter clearly detests hubris and there is a public demand for humility and sane governance. Indian voters are in no mood to tolerate high and mighty leaders or divisive, abusive language of the Modi variety.

The last 10 years have seen the most terrifying democratic backsliding, the nadir being the arrest and imprisonment of two Chief Ministers of Opposition parties just before the elections. The mainstream media, captured by the Modi regime, ensured that the Opposition was almost entirely invisibilised or constantly mocked. The mainstream legacy media disseminated religious hatred and Modi’s brazen lies. The legacy media has become a source of undemocratic discourse and impulses, ridiculing and suppressing dissent and refusing to do the basic duty of journalists, namely, to pursue the truth. Bare-handed citizens and gutsy under-funded digital outlets kept alive the challenge to the Modi regime. 

The task before the Opposition is now to nurture the culture of questioning and public accountability. The NDA government must be pushed to uphold our national motto, Satyameva Jayate, and compelled to tell the truth. No fudged data or jugglery with numbers can be allowed. International ratings on hunger or human development or press freedom need to be taken seriously.

The courts, too, disappointingly did not push back strongly enough on the Modi government’s executive overreach. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld harsh amendments made to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) by the Modi government, giving untrammeled powers of arrest and detention to the Enforcement Directorate. In 2019, the Supreme Court delivered a judgement which held that although the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid was an illegal act, the government could still proceed with the construction of the Ram Mandir at the disputed site. It is almost ‘divine’ justice that in these elections, the BJP has been resoundingly defeated in Ayodhya.

The Modi government has used anti-terror laws to crush dissent and terrorise journalists. In 2019, the Modi government amended the harsh UAPA to apply to individuals, and not just organisations. This amendment was upheld by the courts. The way the Supreme Court upheld the Modi government’s abrogation of Article 370 was criticised by the late eminent jurist Fali Nariman. Now, the courts must be more determined in checking abuse of executive power.  

A key task for the Opposition now is to restore the primacy of Parliament. Parliament can no longer be a notice board. In the Modi years, 146 Opposition MPs were suspended, 300 questions were struck off the record, crucial bills were passed as Ordinances first, and Modi did not answer a single question in Parliament. With the voice of the Opposition now restored by the voter, the undermining of Parliament must end once and for all.

Modi is trying to destroy India’s federal structure by toppling Opposition-ruled governments in the states and denying Opposition-ruled states central funds. In 2024, there have been big wins for the DMK in Tamil Nadu, which has swept the state; Trinamool Congress, which has shown a terrific strike rate; the Samajwadi Party, which has beaten back the BJP in its bastions; and the Opposition alliance in Maharashtra, which has held firm against the BJP. The people have endorsed India’s diversity and endorsed state governments. The BJP has been saved by its allies, and owes its third-term government to the Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP and Nitish Kumar-led JD(U). Clearly, the multi-party system is precious to voters. There is no room for condescension and heavy-handedness anymore; parties must work together to build ties based on mutual respect.

The Modi brand of politics of hatred, lies, and suffocating personality cult has been roundly rejected. The Opposition must take care to avoid all these pitfalls, and work towards greater democratisation. A decade of bruising politics is coming to an end, the wounds are still raw, and the task of restoring democracy will not be easy. Still, here are five suggested guiding principles for the Opposition: Constantly demand greater accountability from those in power; stand with victims of injustice; engage with all stakeholders and diverse opinions, including of those who didn’t vote for you; work to restore real federalism and the rights of states; and stay humble and try and rebuild the politics of cooperation and consultation. Courageous voters resisted Modi’s crippling propaganda and State tyranny to vote for democracy, and they have roared out a crucial message: India is bigger than any individual.

(The writer is a senior journalist and Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP)

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