Droupadi Murmu, India’s youngest President, won 64% votes. Some would dare say that despite an all-powerful Prime Minister Narendra Modi backing her, she won much less votes than many of her predecessors. Even Ram Nath Kovind won more votes when he was elected President. The opposition, drowning in its delusions, has every right to rejoice at that. But the hard reality of Indian democracy today is that the opposition has never been so divided and listless. It looks fractured, directionless, visionless and leaderless. Even when the Congress had an overwhelming presence for many decades, the opposition was weak in terms of numbers but never so ineffective.
That the opposition is adrift is also evident from the fact that Mamata Banerjee, who proposed Yashwant Sinha’s name, said if she had known Droupadi Murmu would be the government’s candidate she would have not supported Sinha. Sinha was senior Vice President of Mamata Banerjee’s party. He was virtually abandoned during the campaign and Mamata Banerjee did not let him go to Bengal to seek votes. When the opposition chose Congress leader Margaret Alva as the vice-presidential candidate, Mamata Banerjee announced she would not support her as she was not consulted.
The opposition has lost two consecutive parliamentary elections. The third is less than two years away but there is already a murmur that it will be a cakewalk for the BJP.
The only debate, many say, is whether the BJP will win more seats than in 2019.
The opposition’s deep slumber is baffling as its leaders face central agencies, particularly the Enforcement Directorate, on a daily basis.
Last week should have been an eye-opener. Three prominent leaders of three different parties are facing the music. First, Sonia Gandhi, the top leader of the opposition, was grilled by the Enforcement Directorate. She has been summoned again. Before her, Rahul Gandhi was interrogated for more than 50 hours for five days.
Second, Delhi Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena has asked the CBI to investigate the liquor policy of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and the role of AAP’s number two leader after Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia. Another senior minister, Satyendar Jain, is already in custody for more than a month and there is no sign that he will get bail soon. Third, Bengal Industry minister Parth Chatterjee has been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate over charges linked to a teachers scam in West Bengal.
Almost every political party is on the crosshairs of central investigating agencies, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
Just last month, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray was demolished on the orders of the central government. Before that, opposition governments were pulverized in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
The Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan somehow managed to dodge Operation Lotus.
Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren government is now on the line. Chief Minister Soren is in deep trouble over allegations of corruption and his party’s support to Droupadi Murmu has been linked to his desperation to buy peace with the Modi government.
By now, opposition parties may have realised that the BJP led by Modi is a different political force. It aims to make India “opposition-mukt”. It is part of a bigger design to finish all opposition and disagreements as it does not want to listen to any voice of dissent, be it in an institutional frame-work or non-institutional.
The attack on NGOs, civil society organisations and the Press is part of that process. The targeting of political parties by central agencies has a similar goal.
What is surprising is that opposition leaders still have not cottoned on to the naked truth that only a united opposition can fight and win – otherwise each party will die a slow death. The old saying is still true – united they stand and divided they fall.
But why is there no effort to come together to fight Modi? I can count three basic reasons:
1. It is quite apparent now that these leaders, despite their tall claims, fear Modi and are busy negotiating a truce with him behind the scenes. There are unconfirmed reports that TMC, AAP, NCP and JMM and a few others have all reached out to the central government. Sharad Pawar had met with the Prime minister and Amit Shah in the past. There is a report of Mamata Banerjee meeting Jagdeep Dhankhar and Himanta Biswa Sarma in Darjeeling, West Bengal. AAP contesting assembly elections in Goa, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat is also seen in the context of dividing the anti-BJP votes and helping the BJP. Mayawati’s lack of political initiative is less of a mystery when you link it to the BJP’s grand plan.
2. Regionalisation of politics has bred state-specific parties and leaders who lack a national outlook. They are busy protecting their own turf and they don’t look beyond their noses. During Congress rule, there were three mainstream groups with well-defined ideologies- the socialist parties, the communist parties, and the Jana Sangh and its future avatar BJP. They were small but had national vision and national ambition.
Today, the BJP is in power, the communist parties are facing extinction and socialist parties are dead. They had a structured party system. From foreign policy to economy, they had a well-defined thought process. There would be debates and discussions and resolutions passed during sessions.
Now, regional parties have taken over with internal system being replaced by a one-man or one-woman structure. Parties have become government-focused. To capture power and stay in power by any means is their singular goal. For that they are willing to make any compromise.
3. The dearth of big leaders with a towering presence has created a void. Earlier, small parties had leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, Jai Prakash Narayan, Madhu Limaye, Chandra Shekhar, VP Singh, Devi Lal, NT Rama Rao, Ram Krishna Hegde, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Jyoti Basu, EMS Namboodiripad, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. Despite ideological differences and disagreements, there was mutual respect. They were competitors, not enemies, bound by the common sentiment of protecting democracy.
They were convinced that one-party dominance was not good for democracy.
Today, the country is big but its leaders are small. The lack of ideology has made their egos bigger than the country.
There is no one of the stature of Harkishen Singh Surjeet who could pick up the phone and compel everyone to come under the same roof, as he did in 1996.
Today, Mamata Banerjee can’t stand the Congress, Rahul Gandhi can’t speak to other leaders, Sharad Pawar is past his prime. Kejriwal has no sense of history or institutional memory; Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati lack vision; KCR and Jagan Mohan Reddy are too enmeshed in their states. MK Stalin, unlike his father (MK Karunanidhi), has no interest in national politics; Akali Dal and the Left are too weak. The National Conference and the PDP, in today’s context, are on the wrong side of the narrative.
So, who will fight for democracy?
The opposition is on its deathbed and close to flatlining. Without any doctor or a prognosis, the possibility of a full recovery is dim.
(Ashutosh is author of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Editor, satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.