Opposition still disjointed, in disarray
Down the centuries, Delhi has played a key role in the nation’s scheme of things, long before a single political and territorial entity took shape....
Kejriwal’s effort to spread nationally on a rickety organisatio has been rightly cited as the reason for his defeats. At the end of the day, organisation matters at different levels. This is a lesson for all parties, national or regional, but few heed it. This is particularly true of the Congress that shows no sign of recovery. Political developments do not wait for course correction by one party or the other, not even elevation or removal of individuals
Down the centuries, Delhi has played a key role in the nation’s scheme of things, long before a single political and territorial entity took shape. Thus it is that even the national capital’s civic elections acquire their way-beyond importance, when the winner, having completed three years in power at the federal level, is embarking on a modern-day Rajasuya Yagna.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has retained power in Delhi’s three civic bodies, so soon after winning a huge mandate in the most populous and important Uttar Pradesh, having won in Uttarakhand and wrested power in distant Manipur and Goa despite falling short of the majority, is now seeking to repeat its triumph in not just the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but for some time to come.
The situation that arises is similar, but more complex than what had ensued in 1980 when Indira Gandhi returned to power and when the Congress hit the bull’s eye in 2004 and again in 2009. Greater diversity prevailed then in terms of power shared in the states among various political contenders. Both national parties then held large areas, but no national predominance and regional parties were largely left to themselves.
This is no longer the case. As BJP ascends, space for others is shrinking at a fast pace. The present situation is qualitatively different in that unlike the Congress then, there is a total lack of complacency in the BJP since the 2014 Lok Sabha victory.
It is bent on implementing its agenda of making the country “Congress-mukt,” and is logically pushing it further by taking on the regional parties as well. These are no longer slogans – astute political management and buoyancy among the BJP cadres aim at nationwide sweep. Only future will say how far they will succeed.
There are already rumblings in Odisha where a section of Biju Janata Dal is working against Chief Minister Navin Patnaik. In West Bengal, Trinamool Congress is intact so far, but Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is rattled by BJP’s aggressive postures, what with its chief Amit Shah landing, not so much in Kolkata but in the areas from where Naxalbari movement had begun five decades back. Smaller regional parties, like in Arunachal Pradesh, are already changing labels to fall into the BJP’s sphere of influence.
IN UP, Samajwadi has tasted defeat and Bahujan Samaj Party tasted it second time over. As DMK seeks to set its house in order in Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK is in turmoil post the death of Jayalalithaa. Although in power, the parties of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad in Bihar are not having a comfortable ride. Personal rivalries and internal contradictions abound.
The Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar has lost much of its ground among the civic bodies and in the cooperative movement. Shiv Sena, a BJP ally reduced to junior status in Maharashtra, is having the best of both worlds – enjoying power, yet critical of BJP that must sustain this uneasy relationship. Under the BJP onslaught nationwide, the regional parties in power in the Telugu states cannot be complacent.
The BJP’s Delhi victory and the defeat of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) need to be seen in these contexts. A minnow, AAP had posed the first challenge to the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government by wresting 67 out of 70 assembly seats within six months of the Lok Sabha victory.
Subsequently, however, the Arvind Kejriwal Government engaged in daily – indeed, hourly – tiffs with the central government, first over the control of its finances and of the Delhi Police and later on every conceivable issue.
Thirty-five of its MLA, mostly immature first-timers, attracted action from the police and the magistracy that showed unusual alacrity. Three BJP legislators were able to hold the Delhi Assembly to ransom and one of them even took part in violence outside the court during last year’s events involving Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students.
Kejriwal has made numerous mistakes, tactical long-term, in dealing with the Centre, even taking on Modi personally. Yet, run day-to-day by his deputy, Maneesh Sisodia, Delhi has had a fairly good government. Providing free water and cheap electricity, Mohalla Clinics to Delhi's poor, despite hands tied by the Centre, is no mean achievement.
One-sided media reportage projected the AAP-Centre tiff as excuses one too many. Some of it was evident even in the way the civic polls’ results were reported. AAP was shown as ‘routed’ and ‘defeated,’ when in the first place it did not have the civic bodies under its control.
The party’s Punjab foray began on a positive note, having four MPs. But the flip-flop by cricketer-entertainer-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu who eventually went to the Congress hurt its campaign. Worse was the perception, right or wrong, that the non-resident Indian Sikhs who joined the AAP campaign were Khalistan sympathizers.
Kejriwal’s effort to spread nationally on a rickety organisation has been rightly cited as the reason for his defeats. At the end of the day, organisation matters at different levels. This is a lesson for all parties, national or regional, but few heed it.
This is particularly true of the Congress that shows no sign of recovery three years after its worst parliamentary defeat. This time around, even the chain of command was missing. The way it extracted defeat from the jaws of victory in Goa and Manipur showed it in worst possible light.
Digvijay Singh’s removal from some of the key responsibilities has come as no surprise. Singh was found wanting even on earlier occasions. But how does one figure out this report that former Goa Chief Minister Pratap Singh Rane directly telephoned Vice-President Rahul Gandhi to seek ‘directives’ to grab the chance at government formation, but was instead asked to consult Digvijay Singh?
This is being cited as beginning of a piece-meal effort at reorganisation of the party at the top. How far will it go when the party, the country’s oldest, has yet to hold elections as stipulated by the Election Commission? Political developments do not wait for course correction by one party or the other, not even elevation or removal of individuals.
With the elections to the offices of the President and the Vice President due this summer, feverish consultations have begun among the parties, especially those in the opposition who aspire to put up joint opposition candidates. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is reportedly at the centre of these parleys.
One may wish them luck and hope that the opposition puts up a fight, even if it is token and symbolic. Come to think of it, barring the Sanjeeva Reddy versus V V Giri contest that was but the result of the Congress internal power struggle, all such efforts in the past had been symbolic. The Prime Minister of the day has had the final say – and last laugh. It is unlikely to be any different this time.
Since we began by analysing the return of the earlier scenarios under changed dynamics, it may be appropriate to take note of reported moves by socialists of various hues to review their age-old platform of anti-Congressism preached by Dr Ram Manohar Lohia.
Obviously, the BJP’s rise and the attendant rise of the right-wing forces has rattled the socialists and communists who saw Indira Gandhi as ‘authoritarian’ and Manmohan Singh and his government as too pro-West for their ideological comfort. How far this anti-Congressism helped the rise of the BJP is a matter of debate, for whatever it is worth in the current scenario.
Assuming this churning would continue even after the polls for the president and the vice president are completed, if this generates a measure of cohesion among the opposition parties, it might be good for the country and democracy.