Students Claim the Opposition Space as Political Parties Dither...And Wither(?)
NEW DELHI: Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India in 2014, the one figure that has fascinated everyone in the opposition is the BJP's 31% vote share. No opposition campaign or political meeting is complete without stressing on the need to unite the remaining 69% voters who did not buy into the erstwhile Gujarat CM's pitch.
In states like Delhi, Bihar and West Bengal, regional satraps managed to unite various social factions to deliver overwhelmingly positive results using this formula. So when political leaders attending the Idea of India conclave spoke on Tuesday, it was obvious that the formula had many champions, with their very own versions.
"Regardless of our immediate political affiliations, we should all come together to fight this right wing tyranny," said Aam Aadmi Party's Ashish Khetan, referring to the Modi government at the centre. Khetan though was deliberative about this seemingly all-inclusive position, recalling his journalistic experiences to blame the erstwhile UPA regime for similar oppressive policies against minorities, farmers and other marginalised groups.
"In places like Malegaon and Andhra Pradesh where the Congress was in power, the police was used to exploit innocent youth from the muslim community on fake charges. For the first 9 years of UPA, land was forcibly snatched from farmers. Let's be clear, the UPA wasn't any different."
So effectively, Khetan pitched for a unity formula that excluded NDA and the Congress.
Manoj Kumar Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal stressed on the need for citizens, more than political parties, to unite in solidarity. "The only way we will be able to fight these dark times is when we all come together and be politically involved," said Jha whose RJD is part of a grand alliance with JDU and the Congress in Bihar.
Fresh after a victory over the Congress in Kerala, CPI Member of Parliament MB Rajesh spoke about the ironies within the idea of opposition solidarity. "One of our candidates in Kerala assembly was a student of JNU who had been struggling alongside Kanhaiya Kumar. But it was shocking to see the Congress candidate fighting against him calling him anti-national!" Incidentally, Congress VP Rahul Gandhi has himself been supporting the JNUSU movement.
So if you go by the speakers at the Idea of India summit recently in Delhi to review two years of the government, no political party has so far been able to break new ground even though the 69% anti-Modi vote continues to be the north star.
While it may sound like a post-script, but the opposition hope, if any, comes from unexpected quarters -- the agitating students of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Sample this: "Our quest for 100% purity of ideology has kept us from forging a unity that can take on this suppressive regime. That's why we are calling for a minimum consensus wherein all those who are opposed to the right can be included in the left," said JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar, invoking late CPI leader and ideologue AB Bardhan.
"The govt has themselves pushed us to play the role of the opposition... and we embrace that challenge," said Shehla Rashid amidst loud cheers from the audience attending the two-day Idea of India conclave to mark two years of the Narendra Modi government.
It was the students, attacked, jailed, pilloried, who actually had taken the trouble to think out alternatives. Kanhaiya was clear that the solution lay in a broad progressive alliance of the ‘majority’ that had fallen out with the current government because of its economic policies. As he said, the government is against the majority comprised of farmers, students, workers, Dalits, and others. The students, as they spoke, were aware of the emerging unity of the masses on economic issues that could be used to cut into the religious divide that the BJP and its affiliates are trying to push. And for this, the students have started work.
But have the politicians? Judging from the same heard-many-times-before speeches, No.