Rashtra Manch: Stop Getting Distracted By ‘Modi hai to Mumkin hai’
India, not Narendra Modi, was the point of discussion at Sinha’s Rashtra Manch meeting, reveals Sudheendra Kulkarni.
“Are you people going to discuss the formation of a third front at the meeting?” A journalist asked me when he came to know I was going to participate in the meeting convened by Rashtra Manch founder Yashwant Sinha at Sharad Pawar’s residence in Delhi.
“Is this meeting about an Opposition strategy to dislodge Narendra Modi’s government in 2024?” Another journalist asked me.
Much of the media build-up to the meeting on 22 June was of this kind. Is a non-BJP, non-Congress front in the offing? Is this confabulation aimed at preparing the Opposition’s roadmap for 2024?
In reality, the media speculation was wide off the mark.
Media Wants to Show A ‘Divided’ Opposition That’s no Match for PM Modi
Such speculation, at least on part of the pro-government section of the media, is not without an agenda. And the agenda is to show that the Opposition is not really united, and cannot ever be united, to create a single front against the BJP.
Hence the conclusion: “The BJP will be unbeatable at the Centre in 2024, even though it may have lost an election in this or that state.” And this narrative is further strengthened by the other, related component of the agenda — to show that the Opposition has no “face” to challenge Modi.
It is indeed true that the Opposition is in no position to answer this challenge yet.
Hence the second conclusion: “Modi will be unbeatable in 2024 because the Opposition has no leader who can match his charisma.”
The Rashtra Manch meeting did not fall into this trap because both Sharad Pawar and Yashwant Sinha are veteran leaders. They both have seen many summers in Indian politics and know how to protect a good idea from being subverted.
‘Narendra Modi is Not the Issue, India’s Issues are the Issue’
In fact, Sinha described the purpose of the meeting very aptly. “Rashtra Manch ke saamne Modi mudda nahin hai. Rashtra ke saamne jo mudde hain, vo mudda hai.” (“Modi is not the issue before this meeting of Rashtra Manch. The issue is the many pressing issues before the nation.”)
This is smart politics. Talk about issues, not personalities.
Because when the Opposition begins to raise issues such as:
- the government’s handling of the Covid crisis;
- the government’s handling of the economic crisis;
- unemployment, which is worrying millions of youth in India;
- the plight of farmers;
- why have the prices of petrol and diesel crossed the century mark?
- why have more sedition cases been filed against activists in the past seven years than in all the previous years since Independence?
- why have Centre-State relations deteriorated to their lowest point ever?
And so on, the BJP and the pro-BJP media, cannot turn around and say, “Oh, but who else if not Modi?”
Issues make them (pro-government media) uncomfortable. Their comfort zone is Modi.
Stop Getting Distracted By ‘Modi hai toh Mumkin hai’
Ever since coming to power in 2014, the BJP has made the national narrative Modi-centric. “Modi hai to mumkin hai” (With Modi, it’s possible”),
This became their boastful slogan, but the time has come to hold this slogan aloft a big banner on which all the issues before contemporary India are also listed. This will make the people who voted for the BJP ask some stark questions, such as:
- Is high Covid-related mortality and the low pace of vaccination also mumkin under Modi?
- Is suppression of the real number of Covid deaths also mumkin under Modi ?
- Is the utterly undignified disposal of dead bodies in the holy Ganga also mumkin under Modi?
- Is unprecedented joblessness, best documented by the telling research reports of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), also mumkin under Modi?
- Is continued depression in farmers’ incomes also mumkin under Modi?
- Are attacks on the federal structure of the Constitution also mumkin under Modi?
- And is compromising the integrity of the Election Commission and other institutions of democracy also mumkin under Modi?
- Is the rapid shrinkage of space for freedom of expression also mumkin under Modi?
- Have all these, and many more such things, also become possible because of Modi?
The BJP and its media mouthpieces cannot answer these questions. And their very silence will convince people about something they are now slowly coming to realise that “yes, we have been betrayed. These indeed are the issues that affect us and affect the nation. But the BJP and its government are trying to distract our attention from the issues that matter.”
Therefore, Sinha was brilliant in his description of the purpose of the meeting that generated so much excitement across the country. “Modi mudda nahin hai. Mudde mudda hai.”
We discussed all the afore-mentioned issues before the nation, and many more. And some important action points also emerged, which the country will know going forward.
Rashtra Manch is Non-party but not Non-political
As a matter of fact, Rashtra Manch (which literally means ‘National Forum’) is by no means the only organisation that is deliberating on these issues.
There are thousands of non-political organisations across the length and breadth of India — representing students, youth, women, kisans, workers, lawyers, journalists and other professionals — who are as concerned about these issues as we are. Who care as much for the country as we do. And the very fact that they are boldly articulating their concerns in the public domain, coupled with the fact that these concerns are also shared by many thinking people within the Sangh Parivar, is making the BJP nervous.
However, the one significant difference between Rashtra Manch and these non-political civil society organisations across the country is this: the Rashtra Manch is non-party but not non-political. Since Sinha founded it three years ago, it has attracted both leaders of various political parties and also many non-party political activists like me.
The Draw of Yashwant Sinha
In his long and distinguished career in public life, Sinha has forged close ties with people across the political spectrum. He has served as India’s finance minister under two Prime Ministers — Chandrashekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was also India’s external affairs minister in the Vajpayee government. He was one of the senior leaders of the BJP for over two decades and he has recently joined the Trinamool Congress and become its vice president.
Because of his personal stature, Rashtra Manch has emerged as the only forum in India today which can bring people from various non-BJP parties on a common platform for meaningful and action-oriented dialogue on important issues before the nation. As such, its importance is going to grow significantly in the months and years to come.
Not Anti-Congress; Need Broadest Representation
“Oh, but why were there no representatives from the Congress at the meeting?” A journalist asked me. Good question.
But there is no scope for any speculation here. Since its inception, many important leaders of the Congress, responding to Sinha’s call, have participated in Rashtra Manch’s discussions. Indeed, at yesterday’s meeting, Pawar, the most experienced active politician in the country today, pointedly emphasised the need for the broadest possible representation and participation of political parties in the forum’s activities. “Congress, Shiv Sena, DMK, and all others like them should be included,” he said.
The fact that this advice has come from a leader who is the architect of one of the most innovative coalition governments in India’s recent history — the one in Maharashtra led by Uddhav Thackeray and includes the Shiv Sena, Pawar’s NCP and the Congress — speaks volumes about the likely architecture of Opposition unity in the run-up to the next parliamentary elections.
Yes, I repeat, Modi was not the subject of discussion at yesterday’s meeting of Rashtra Manch. But India was — because of the extremely grave issues the last seven years have created before the nation.
(The writer, who served as an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is founder of the ‘Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation’. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni and welcomes comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.
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