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  Opinion   Columnists  05 May 2017  Oppn should focus on issues, not target Modi

Oppn should focus on issues, not target Modi

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist and author. His latest book is RSS: Icons Of The Indian Right.
Published : May 5, 2017, 12:12 am IST
Updated : May 5, 2017, 12:12 am IST

The first challenge is to identify the basic issues that worry people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo: PTI)

Logic teaches us to prepare in advance and not draw up alternative plans immediately after a big loss. I first heard the oft-repeated Hindi phrase “vinash kale, vipreet buddhi” in the late 1980s when then BJP chief L.K. Advani made this remark in the context of Rajiv Gandhi’s refusal to take the initiative to end one of the numerous parliamentary logjams.

I was reminded of this when a few weeks ago I read that Mayawati had extended the hand of friendship to the Samajwadi Party for the 2019 elections. I did a double-take: had she not turned her face away when approached for a Bihar-type mahagathbandhan before the Uttar Pradesh election? Moreover, is it prudent to negotiate even before recovering from a shock defeat?

The situation became more bizarre when Akhilesh Yadav responded positively and expressed willingness to sit across, break bread and discuss the proposal. The idea of Opposition leaders discussing possibilities of pooling resources always makes sense. It, however, did not appear wise to make moves even before the two parties had come to terms with their rout.

In recent weeks, not much progress has been made on the alliance between the BSP and SP. Samajwadi leaders are probably waiting for the post-verdict convulsions — and their resolution — within the party before making any fresh moves. Despite this, there have been visible interactions between other parties. This exchange of ideas among the Opposition parties marks a new phase of politics. The ball was set rolling by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s visit to Sonia Gandhi. This triggered parleys between different Opposition parties to discuss the coming presidential polls. The government too is holding discussions with its allies, but is yet to make any formal move. The political situation in Tamil Nadu is keeping everyone guessing on whether the ruling party has a majority in the electoral college.

BJP leaders have been asked if they will try to forge a consensus like Atal Behari Vajpayee, who secured Congress support for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. So far, the indications are that they would like agreement, but over the name they put forward. Consequently, the chances of Opposition parties concurring with the BJP on a candidate seem remote.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s declaration that the presidential election will determine the “idea of India” significantly increases the political capital he is willing to invest in this contest. Undoubtedly, the Opposition parties’ objective is not to discuss endlessly the possibilities of an anti-BJP front for a general election that is still fairly distant. Instead, the intent now is to adopt a common strategy for the presidential contest.

The numbers in the electoral college are so stacked that the Opposition can even convert a loss into a victory. This odd-sounding formulation stems from the BJP’s likely overtures for state parties’ support being hampered by its latest plan: ridding India of regional parties is one of its intentions. After threatening the political terrain of several parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Biju Janata Dal, there is little chance for the BJP to secure support for a candidate who is also Nagpur’s first preference. Mr Yechury’s assertion must be viewed from this perspective.

A united Opposition will thwart Big Brother’s ambitions. Unless there is a dramatic alteration in the political scenario, the presidential election this year will not be a tepid affair. It is too early to say if the contest will be as keen as in 1967 and 1968, but it is safe to say that the Opposition parties have a real chance to politically embarrass Mr Modi.

For the health of Indian democracy, the bonding among the Opposition parties for the presidential polls should not be an exercise which ends in derailment. It is even more important for the dialogue and cooperation to continue beyond this watershed. Exuberance will be foolhardy and mention of a Grand Alliance now can become counter-productive. The present exercise has to be guarded against failure as in 1970-71, when the gang-up against Indira Gandhi did miserably in the March 1971 elections.

The Indian voter has habitually seen Opposition unity as another form of anti-Congressism. Replacing this with anti-BJPism won’t work, mainly due to deep-rooted mutual antagonism. Vote transfer is not a mechanical process.

In UP, despite its single-digit showing, the Congress gained more from the alliance with the SP as a percentage of votes in the seats it contested, registered a higher increase than the SP when juxtaposed with individual performances during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

It must be recalled that the late 1980s was the last time when a pre-alliance Opposition front was put together. V.P. Singh was its fulcrum and corruption in high places its principal issue.

The anti-Congress front was eventually cobbled up after two crucial phases — mobilisation and protests. Beyond the presidential poll, any anti-BJP front will appear credible to people only in the event of issue-based unity. The Opposition parties must oppose the government on principles and policies. It must abandon targeting Mr Modi personally. Only lethargy stops the Opposition leaders from digging up the BJP’s undelivered promises and displaying the list to the people. The process of Rajiv Gandhi losing credibility has to be deconstructed. Mr Clean did not mislay the sheen on his own but because Opposition leaders drew the people’s attention to his failed promises, allegations and cover-ups. Since 2014, the Opposition has not mounted a single significant protest movement. It is time the various Opposition parties identify issues on which resources can be pooled. Seat-sharing and alliance formation can be left for later.

The first challenge is to identify the basic issues that worry people. A beginning can be made once the people’s frustrations are allayed and they feel that Opposition parties empathise with them.

If Opposition leaders thrust an agenda on the people, they will not swim alongside.

Tags: l.k. advani, mayawati, akhilesh yadav, rajiv gandhi