Can opposition come together?
By Poonam I Kaushish
“The worst thing in this world, next to anarchy, is Government.” Undoubtedly, Henry Beecher was a futurologist who had November 2016 India in mind when he uttered these words. Which so aptly describes the turmoil on the streets, endless queues for cash, left people begging for their own money, disrupted the agricultural cycle, destroyed business even as Prime Minister Modi tom-toms his fight against black money and demonitisation is a success. Yet the show goes on.
Amidst this mayhem and turmoil as people debated the positive and negative effects of demonitisation, politically it saw the banding together of 13 disparate Opposition Parties to oppose the Prime Minister’s scheme. Succinctly encapsulated by his predecessor Manmohan Singh: “Organised loot, monumental mismanagement and legalised plunder” of the common people. He warned of a drop in the GDP “by about 2 percentage points… an underestimate”.
Undoubtedly, this Opposition onslaught during the ongoing Parliament session has disturbed the BJP and could upset its applecart in the near future. For nine days running both Houses have been adjourned without an iota of work over demonitisation by the largest Opposition unity seen even as the Government failed to create a divide amongst the Congress, Trinimool, AIADMK, DMK, NCP, SP, BSP, BJD, RJD and JD(U) by underscoring their inherent contradictions and take advantage. Notwithstanding that the NDA has an overwhelming majority in the Lower House.
Perhaps, what is agitating and worrying the Saffron Sangh is that not only did these Parties submerge their mutual conflicts by challenging the Government’s well thought out counter-narrative but that “neutral” Parties like Jayalalitha’s AIADMK, Mamata’s Trinimmol and Naveen Patnaik’s BJD joined the Congress-led Opposition to vociferously challenge the Government inside and outside Parliament.
Given that till date both Parties have discreetly helped the BJP-led NDA by either staging a walk out at crucial times be it voting or registering their protest. Joined by the Samajwadi when ever it suited it. Recall, during the furore over Lalit Modi and Vyapam scandal which washed out last year’s Parliament’s Monsoon session the AIADMK and BJD never joined the Opposition. Nor when many compatriots had boycotted the Lok Sabha in protest of Speaker suspending 20-odd Congress MPs, the two stayed put.
But for reasons best known to Jayalalithaa, it is a mystery why the AIADMK has turned against the BJP in spite of many Ministers and the Party’s top brass regularly visiting the Chennai hospital. Adding to Modi’s discomfort is its Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena coming out against demonetisation.
Pertinently, despite being in a minority in the Lok Sabha the Opposition is rubbing in a reverse message: They might not have the numbers but are successfully putting the Government on the mat. The obverse holds true in the Rajya Sabha where the Parties are using their numerical strength to hold the house to ransom.
However, the biggest takeaway of this Opposition unity is that stormy petrel Mamata is clearly positioning herself for leading the Opposition charge against the BJP in 2019, dethroning JD(U) Nitish Kumar. She has not only emerged as a key strategist but also honed her political acumen. One, she bandied them together, kept her ears to the ground advising them on what should be there next move.
Two, by reaching out to bête noir Left Brigade to join her anti-Modi bandwagon she has demonstrated that if the cause is important she is willing to bury the decades-long hatchet and join forces for the collective good. Mamata takes advantage of Sonia’s fondness for her and regularly keeps in touch with erstwhile Congress cronies, NCP’s Sharad Pawar too has a soft spot for her, has built an equation with JD(U)’s, Samajwadi’s Mulayam, AAP’s Kejriwal and Udav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena.
Further, realizing that not a few regional satraps are lily-livered cowards whose expertise lies in deal-making with the Government of the day she has got JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, Samajwadi, NCP, AAP’s Kejriwal’s party and Abdullah’s National Conference to join her protest in Delhi.
Her spit and fire and uncompromising posture have been visible for years. But Mamata came into her own after breaking from the Congress in 1998 and post her battle with the Tata’s at Singur vis-à-vis land acquisition in 2008. She has won two consecutive Assembly elections after defeating the 34-year rule of the CPM in 2011.
Undeniably, it is early days but her Partymen and grudging rivals have nicknamed her the ‘She-Modi’. Mamata like her rival is single and perceived to have the same skill set as Modi: Popular, great orator who ‘connects’ with people, rabble rouser, persistent, appetite for risk and is Teflon-like whereby no scandal or negative feature sticks to her. She has emerged unblemished post the Saradha and Narada scams, ditto Modi after Godhra in 2002.
In fact, some Congress and Janata old timers are comparing her Mandalite VP Singh when he galvanised the Opposition against Rajiv’s Congress over the Bofors gun scandal in 1988. On the downside she is known to be whimsical who wants all her whims indulged, has a fiery temper and anybody who seemingly airs divergent views is axed from grace. Mamata is also transparent about wanting the crown.
Meanwhile former Prime Minister Deve Gowda head of Karnataka’s miniscule JD(S) too has been pluming for opposition unity to ensure the communal BJP’s defeat. But he does not have Mamata in mind and instead made plain that all like-minded secular forces should rally behind Mulayam. Adding, this was imperative as they had paid a heavy price in 1997when differences within the Janata Dal family led to their downfall and fragmentation.
Will and how this unity will hold remains to be seen. Would it dissipate post the Parliament session? Or hold during the forthcoming State assembly polls? Given that other than the BJP, Congress, Samajwadi, BSP and if one stretches it perhaps JD(U) and RJD as neither the Trinimool, the two Tamilian rivals DMK and AIDMK and Odesha BJD have any stake in either UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand
There is no gainsaying that the BJP has only itself to blame for the mess it is in. At the same time for any credible and proper Opposition unity, if not perfect, to survive and lead, it should be headed by the largest, second or major Party leader. With Congress’s Rahul being dismissed as a non-serious political player sans respect by others and AIADMK’s Jayalalitha unwell the sixth largest Party Trinimool’Mamata has taken it upon herself to lead from the front.
It is too early to say whether this unity will hold as it would depend on how long the cash crunch continues and how it affects the economy at large. Modi’s emotional speeches of it serving the greater national good have struck a chord with the poor and middle class who seem to have bought his line that demonitisation is punishing the rich. No matter it has created a class divide for the first time.
Moreover, Modi’s gambit will only be put to test next year during Assembly polls, so the idea still has time to evolve. Specially against the backdrop that a Government in power has a huge capacity to dole out patronage, win over enemies and influence people. However, either which way it is good for India’s democracy to have the Opposition finally playing its part: Constructive opposition with the winner taking it all! —— INFA