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Modi’s CM Meet & Bengal are ‘Proof’ That Oppn Seeks Quick Gains

Bengal is the clearest sign that Opposition is more keen on short-term gains than mounting a real challenge to BJP. 

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
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On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed chief ministers on how to deal with rising coronavirus cases. The gathering – in which Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was not present – seemed a largely cordial interaction to discuss ways to counter the COVID pandemic.

While opposition parties have repeatedly criticised the abrupt lockdown in 2020, mass migration of workers on foot, the damage to the economy and the lack of immediate provision of financial help to the poor, Modi addressed the meet in a didactic tone, as opposition chief ministers mostly heard him out with rapt attention.

The meeting suggests that the PM can prevail on opposition CMs despite his government being attacked by opposition parties on a regular basis.

Weeks back, in the context of a much-talked gathering of ‘Congress dissidents’, or ‘G-23’, at Jammu, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said he appreciated that Modi “did not hide his true self”, in sharp contrast to Rahul Gandhi’s attacks on the prime minister.

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The above examples indicate that shrill and rhetorical attacks on the BJP and its purported undermining of democratic institutions are not followed up by action that indicates that opposition parties want the BJP out of power.

The continuing political dominance of the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made many wonder why the Congress isn’t able to become a viable alternative.

The inadequacy, however, isn’t that of the Congress alone, though it is true that it has to acquire much more consistency and ideological clarity to become an effective opposition party.

A Disjointed Opposition

One of the major flaws of the opposition is its failure to unite despite ample signs that the BJP’s dominance may not wane on its own any time soon.

The example of Bengal is instructive.

Despite steep gains registered by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha – the party that once had no presence in the state got 40 percent of the votes cast and 18 seats – the other parties have not been able to put up a joint front.

The All India Trinamool Congress-CPI (M) rivalry has ensured that there is no seat adjustment. In alliance with the Congress, the Left has in fact gone for adjustments with the Indian Secular Front (ISF), a party founded by the Muslim cleric of Furfura Sharif shrine, Abbas Siddiqui. The alliance seems in no position to dent the BJP.

If anything, it may only wean away some Muslim votes from the TMC, apart from ensuring that secularism fails to be a plank on which the election may be contested.

The Congress had done the same in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh. When the Samajwadi Party and the BSP buried their differences since 1995 to come together, with the RLD, too, joining in, the Congress decided to contest alone. Not just that, Priyanka Gandhi also visited Chandrashekhar Azad Ravana, sparking speculations whether the gesture was to attract some Dalits — particularly Jatavs (leather workers) — by caste-votes that have been the prime vote bank of the BSP.

Once the BJP trounced the alliance, Mayawati soon called off the BSP’s understanding with the SP, making it clear that opposition parties cannot unite.

All this happened despite the fact that spectacular shows of ‘unity’ had been attempted at pre-election rallies, particularly the aforementioned one at Kolkata where Mamata Banerjee said she would not allow the BJP to open its account in the state.

Earlier, Arun Shourie had repeatedly called upon the opposition parties to ensure that there should be only one candidate against the BJP wherever possible.

However, this was not to be so.

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Development of ‘Anti-Congressism’ as an Idea

There were times when the Congress used to be a dominant political party, much like the BJP of today. But, by the 1960s, opposition parties had begun to realise that they needed to attempt electoral adjustments to defeat the Congress.

This had led to the development of ‘anti-Congressism’ as an idea. It had no other binding glue than the desire to make electoral inroads through seat adjustments with opposition parties that were no match for the Congress when they contested alone.

Yet, the adjustments did work and could dent the Congress a few times. In the 1963 Lok Sabha bypolls, the Lohia socialists, the Jana Sangh and the Swatantra Party made seat adjustments on four seats and won three of them. Ram Manohar Lohia was himself elected as MP from Farrukhabad as a joint opposition candidate. The same happened in 1967, when the Congress lost power in many states because of electoral adjustments between the Jana Sangh, Samyukta Socialist Party and the Swatantra Party. Within the legislative assemblies too, Samyukta Vidhayak Dals (SVDs) were formed to taste power briefly: in Bihar and UP, the CPI, the Jana Sangh and the socialists formed unstable SVD governments. In Punjab, the CPI, the Akali Dal and the Jana Sangh came to power in a similar manner.

The 1970s even saw opposition parties first coming together to participate in the JP movement, and, after the Emergency, merging to form the Janata Party – the Jana Sangh, the Bharatiya Lok Dal, the socialists and the Congress (O) had merged together to form the new party – to oust the Congress from power in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls.

This is a tested model that allowed opposition parties that had nothing in common in terms of ideology to join hands to dent the Congress. Even VP Singh’s Janata Dal went into seat adjustments with the BJP, and Singh became Prime Minister with outside support from the BJP and the Left.

What a Directionless Opposition Is Interested In

The formation of the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra in 2019 through a post-poll alliance between the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress seemed to suggest that anti-BJPism was finally emerging. But later elections disproved this.

The Congress and AAP did not come together in Delhi early in 2020. Despite this, AAP won the elections. In Bihar, Asaduddin Owaisi tried to dent the RJD-Congress alliance by fielding candidates in some Muslim-dominated seats and also tasted some success. Even Chandrashekhar Azad Ravana stitched up an alliance with Pappu Yadav.

Bengal is the clearest sign yet that opposition parties are more interested in short-term gains and enhancing their tallies than mounting a real challenge to the BJP. The gains, too, aren’t generally impressive.

As of now, it seems the opposition paradox of shrill condemnation of ‘collapse of institutions’ under the Modi government and, yet, not being able to close ranks to counter it electorally is here to stay.

(Dr Vikas Pathak is a media educator and a senior journalist who has worked with The Hindu, The Indian Express, Hindusthan Times, etc. He’s the author of 'Contesting Nationalisms'. He tweets @vikaspathak76. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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