The opposition political space in India has been seized by dynasts, and the worry is the silence of the intelligentsia, party members and masses. In contemporary politics, what is more perturbing is the combination of political opportunism and the crumbling doctrine of coalition. The dilly-dallying by regional parties, the directionless approach of the ‘grand old party’ of the country, and the subsequent loss of narrative are contributing to the rise of what one can call the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ‘hegemony’ in India.
Rajni Kothari introduced the concept of ‘The Congress System in India’. He underscored, “The Indian system can be described as a system of one-party dominance ... It consists of a party of consensus and parties of pressure. The latter function on the margin and, indeed, the concept of a margin of pressure is of great importance in this system.” In the present context, the growing hegemony of the BJP in Indian politics can be seen in this light. The BJP has developed an efficient and large political network. The nature of the political party has changed since its inception and the progress from the cow belt to the coffee house presidencies is remarkable.
Creating a Space for Consolidation
'Schattschneider' theorised that the essential function of parties is to obtain “popular consent to the course of public policy”. But in today's context, the idea of politics, regimentation, and discernible attributes is changing. Though the BJP is in a comfortable majority at the Centre, regional parties have better control of their states, such as in West Bengal, Delhi, Tamil Naidu, Odisha, Andhra, Kerala, and Telangana.
The Indian National Congress-led states have their own problems of leadership, and for survival, there is an immediate need to rethink the Congress’s internal democracy and strategy. The All India Trinamool Congress is promptly and robustly making a prominent space in national politics under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. From ‘khela hobe’ in Bengal, ‘khel zatlo’ in Goa, the twist in Meghalaya, to its entry into Tripura, the Trinamool has performed impressively with the assistance of the IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee). Similarly, the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) expansion under Arvind Kejriwal has been an interesting case study in recent times as to how ‘populism’ can fetch you considerable acceptance in a first-past-the-post system.
The challenge lies in creating a space of consolidation under one umbrella for the Opposition, and not something like Maharashtra or Jharkhand, which are struggling with apprehensions of withering away every passing day.
In a multi-party parliamentary setup, the significance of a coalition between different political parties rests on the coherency of policies, socio-cultural connect, political determination, sustainability, and similar economic determinations. The wheels of democracy do not turn with arrangements, rather they are designed on constitutional traditions, political conventions, and socio-cultural fraternity.
Why Poll Strategists Have Become Important
India is standing at a political juncture where the voice of the Opposition camp is fading and the fragmentation has created a new space where ‘poll strategists’ and ‘enterprises’ are playing a vital role in shaping the outcomes of elections.
We need to underscore two phenomena here – the role of enterprises in electoral politics and the role of civil society. If we study these two processes in the context of recent politics, then we will find two leading faces for both. One can disagree, but for me, the face of the former is Prashant Kishor and the latter is Yogendra Yadav. They have equally created a definite space for ‘self’ and ‘others’ in Indian politics. Prashant’s work, through his agency and then in a personal capacity as a strategist, has been a remarkable case study in the Indian political scenario, proving his mettle in various electoral contests and campaigns across the country.
Yogendra Yadav has been the face of the most successful people’s movement of 21st century India, in the form of the ‘Jan Lokpal’ movement and the ‘Kisan Andolan’ through mobilisation. The most effective task was the popularisation of these movements, and Yogendra must be credited for the same as he successfully took it to all sections of the civil society.
But again, both have their own set of limitations and failures as there is no sustainability and adherence in their modus operandi.
The journey of Prashant from CAG, IPAC, a political cameo in JDU, then principal advisor in Punjab and Trinamool – ‘All India’ in every sense and now an indirect reformist for Congress after being directly in contradiction with them – has been full of tussles, and this is evident in one of his interviews with India Today.
Similarly, Yogendra has anchored the movements but was rejected by Kejriwal, and now Rakesh Tikait is the political face of the farmers’ movement. One can say that his inability to capitalise on political opportunities and the tendency to fade away from the mainstream between or after movements are to blame.
Despite the Differences
It is the Opposition’s responsibility to figure out “How, When and Who” will unify the various rival parties at the Centre. The ‘grand old party’ must resolve the issues of leadership, internal democracy and alliances for its own good. Similarly, the regional parties ought to knit a consensual framework amid and despite all their differences.
The Opposition will have to design a determined and collaborative coalition to preserve the space for dissent in both Parliament and the streets. That alone can improve the democratic capabilities of the civil society and the government. The development of a nation is possible only when a warranted government is confronted by a competent Opposition.
(The writer is the founder of the House of Political Empowerment [HoPE] Research and Innovation Foundation, based in New Delhi. He is a KASYP fellow and research scholar at the University of Delhi. He tweets at @DigvijayHoPE. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)