For the Diverse Opposition Displayed in Kolkata, Being Anti-BJP is Not Enough
The anti-Emergency Janata Party could not long sustain itself
The January 19 rally organised by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata saw the participation of 23 parties from the opposition. Young leaders like Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani, and disgruntled BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha, also made speeches at the rally.
Its explicit aim was to defeat the BJP in the forthcoming general election. Most of the participants expressed their dissatisfaction with the authoritarian policies and anti-people politics of the BJP; it’s driving a wedge between religious communities, with its agenda of imposing a Hindu rashtra (nation, state) in India.
One can understand the opposition parties’ dissatisfaction. The last four and a half years have seen an unprecedented rise in incidents of violence against religious minorities, as witnessed in cases related to mob lynchings in the name of cow-beef and associated rumours.
Prayer meetings of Christians have been attacked on the pretext that these were attempts at conversions.
Hate speech by leaders of the governing dispensation, and by public officials, has shocked the people.
To protest this violent intolerance, early in the NDA government’s term a number of eminent citizens who have contributed to literature, art, science and cinema, returned awards conferred to them by the state.
The case of Justice B.H.Loya, the increasing violence in Kashmir due to the highhanded policies of the central government, the sudden demonetisation of most of India’s currency, the lopsided implementation of GST, and the increase in the prices of petrol and other commodities, have hit most people.
While the opposition’s trying to come together is a positive sign and does reflect the growing dissatisfaction of most sections of society against the policies of the BJP-led government, the deeper issue relates to an elected government’s attempt to push the religious minorities to the margins of society.
So far the preferred question being raised is whether there can be an alternative to Narendra Modi, the powerful leader. PM Modi has the backing of the corporate world on one side and the RSS combine’s machinery on the other. Through a massive propaganda blitz they successfully created the image that Modi is the honest chowkidar or sentry.
But by now the realisation is dawning upon large sections of society that mere boasting does not bring in results. The plight of farmers and the rising unemployment along with the diminishing potential for jobs are shaking the sense of well-being in society.
So at one level the coming together of diverse parties is a good sign, but can it be sustained just on the negative plank of being anti-BJP?
One recalls that due to the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975 and the excesses committed during that period, the diverse opposition parties came together as the Janata Party, which trounced the formidable Congress in the 1977 elections.
Immediately after coming to power the Janata Party started disintegrating, paving the way of return to power for the Congress.
The Janata Party’s constituents were the Hindu communalists Jana Sangh, and shades of socialists along with dissident Congressmen. Its political agenda was anti-Emergency and Congress domination over the years.
The Janata Party could not sustain itself as the Jana Sangh component did not want to break away from its parent organisation the RSS, and the other components had power rivalries along with policy differences.
Nevertheless, single-party government by the Congress did yield to the era of alliances. Even when the transformed Jana Sangh, the BJP, came to power as the NDA and even now governs with other opponents as NDA 2, the parties allying with the BJP are with it more for the sake of power than policies.
The country has seen that even alliances work and can govern if their program is well delineated. This was observed particularly when Inder Kumar Gujaral and Deve Gowda were prime minister.
Even the Congress came to power in 2004 and 2009 again with alliances. During UPA 1, policies like MNREGA, National Food Security, Right to Education, and Forest Rights were brought in. The threat of authoritarianism was not there during these times.
The argument that Modi is a strong leader, and the country needs such a leader as the opposition doesn’t have one does not hold water, as alliances also throw up leaders who can rule by dialogue and consensus.
The main problem with the present opposition is the lack of a common program. The experience of the last four-plus years shows that although the other components of the NDA drag along with the BJP, it is the BJP and its parent organisation the RSS which have a program.
That program is retrograde, it goes against the plural nature of India, it is a program which wants to change India’s Constitution.
So, BJP rule has not only hit people in the economic sense, it has also been dividing society and making hierarchies steeper.
The opposition needs to evolve a program of its own. This must draw from the values of the freedom movement, and be rooted in the values of the Indian Constitution, for the erosion of pluralism, diversity and liberalism, are a matter of deep concern at present.
The opposition must chalk out the threats posed to the Indian nation, study the problems being faced by farmers and youth, the problems of religious minorities and the goal of an inclusive society.
It’s high time the ideas of a Third Front as envisaged by the TRS’s Chandra Shekhar Rao, chief minister of Telangana, are given up. Rao unsuccessfully met some of the leaders to float a non-BJP, non-Congress front. But realistically, no anti-BJP front can be conceived without the Congress, which even today is the single largest opposition faction in the Lok Sabha. Its victories in the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh elections show that it is indispensable for opposition unity.
The people who are suffering under the BJP government know well that for an inclusive, democratic dispensation, the type of conglomeration seen in Kolkata is the only option.
Surely a political agenda of an inclusive society, plural values, and principles of democracy and equality, is more important than just being stuck on who will be the next prime minister.