Phew! Eight weeks in to the lockdown yet there is no respite from the tu-tu-mein-mein vitriol between the Government and Opposition which continues to get shriller and more odious. Modi has let the country into an economic disaster, yells the Opposition, nonsense, his popularity has gone up, counters the BJP. Bringing to mind Frank Kafka’s adage: One idiot is one idiot. Two idiots are two idiots. Ten thousand idiots are a political Party!
Undeniably, the idea that Modi is Teflon-coated, migrant travails are idle chatter of a defeated and fatigued Opposition and nothing can bring him down might be bunkum for the bhakts. But worse is that the Opposition looks more like a bunch of stricken Covid 19 patients than like determined champions of the democratic mandate to hold the Government to account.
In fact, it is the Opposition’s failure to seize the opportunity or its unwilling to confront and corner the Government on substantive issues of migrant livelihoods and economic mishandling to demand accountability which has ensured that Modi retains his macho numero uno protector image of saving tens of thousands of lives, notwithstanding, IMF predicting that unemployment has already spiked to 26% with 18 crore people losing their jobs in the first few weeks of the lockdown.
Strangely, for reasons best known to it, the Opposition’s politics has largely been in suspended animation, while the BJP has happily been exploiting opportunities provided by the pandemic into even-larger political capital. Despite, the same possibilities being present for the Opposition to put the Government on the mat.
Lest the Modi persona devours it, the Congress interim prima donna Sonia called an 22 Opposition Parties meet Friday, which included Mamata’s TMC, Pawar’s NCP, Stalin’s DMK , Left and latest entrant Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. Others, regional outfits like Samajwadi and BSP have abandoned their turf. Alas, it ended in a whimper with a joint call to dub Cyclone Amphan a national calamity and help Bengal and Odisha on its road to recovery. Nothing more nothing less.
Clearly, the Opposition faces a catch-22 situation. Suspension of politics during the pandemic lockdown seems to be a secure strategy. But this approach gives Modi an even longer rope to skirt accountability. Because of the apparently hegemonic force of the BJP’s narrative, any Opposition to it runs the risk of being looked at as unabashed opportunistic and even ‘anti-national’.
Paradoxically, Covid 19 gives the moribund Opposition a unique opportunity to resurrect itself, but it is too timorous to claim it. Primarily, because of the disarray within the Congress, the largest Opposition Party.
Crippled by rank desertions, indiscipline, perennial squabbling among senior leaders resulting in a virtual free-for-all with big, small and petty leaders all pulling in different directions who at best can come up with tokenism and “me-tooism”. The older entrenched leaders refuse to let go and the Rahul brigade orphaned and dumped by their leader it is staring at an abyss.
Not a few senior leaders are worried that politics could spin out of control in the next three months. Privately they count how many more such acts may be in the pipeline at a time when the Party is caught in a whirlpool of political and electoral crises and is confronted with a firmly entrenched BJP topped with “Brand Modi.’
Slowly but surely the Congress finds itself in an existential battle and faces multiple challenges: With Sonia seen as an aging stop-gap President, Rahul as a ‘reluctant leader’ who lacks the reliable and dependable quotient alongside his sister Priyanka who carries the albatross of her Vadra surname. In fact, Congressmen are quietly questioning Sonia’s intentions and policy of protecting-her-son-at-all-cost.
Indeed, the Party has become a prisoner of the highly personalised, feudal functioning and outlook. In such a Congress system the entire pyramid fastens leech-like feeds on the “undaata”, living off her goodwill. Only those who serve loyalty flourish in the “nomination culture”. Said a disgusted neta, “The decision-making process is so slow. If Soniaji continues with her status quo policy then the Party will fall apart.”
The most unpleasant aspect is the withering of internal democracy. It has made the Party hopelessly dependent on initiative from the Congress President and tragically immobile in its absence. What is more, Congressmen keep scoring debating points against each other and turning every issue into a dissident versus loyalist question. Of sycophants who are as loyal as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita!
Bringing things to such a pass that it has became increasingly difficult to decipher who are the heroes and who the villains. Resulting in a blame game between the veterans and Rahul’s “rudderless coterie with each blaming the other for inertia, ghooskhori and lack of grassroot desi connect to counter NaMo’s Hindutva symbolism and nationalistic zeal.
Its recent lumbering attempts at criticism couched as ‘constructive advice’ come across as meek and innocuous suggestions, rather than potent political questioning. Two cases in point. The fracas with UP’s Yogi Government over 500 buses meant to ferry migrant labourers back from Rajasthan which displayed wrong number plates, registration papers of bikes and three-wheelers instead of buses etc. Two, even as it’s heart melts for migrants, it took Rahul 53 days to do one photo-op with them!
Importantly, the Congress needs to find answers to why it has become so weak and what should be the mantra to re-charge the Party apparatus? Notwithstanding, Sonia pitching for waging a “long and forceful war to recover ground.” Certainly, the diagnose of the problem is correct but the Party cannot come up with convincing answers to galvanize its cadres.
Specially, against the backdrop of the Party’s shrinking vote nation-wide and the need to expand its organization and social base in the States ruled by allies or Opposition Parties. An instance, in the run-up to the Delhi polls the battle had narrowed down to between BJP and AAP with the Grand Dame non-existent!
Either which way, it is crucial the Congress takes this risk now or it and other Parties imperil further marginalisation. Urban and rural poor who are worst hit by the economic cost of Covid present a constituency on a platter which the Opposition can directly address. Ditto the case with unemployed and laid-off workers.
Cynical as this might sound it could pave the road to put the Opposition on the right political track to underscore its importance among these voters by emerging as the voice of the poor and the marginalised.
Undoubtedly, the impact of the lockdown may make social issues more prominent again in terms of class, at the expense of caste as well as religious identities and communal tendencies. Consequently, the Opposition has to remain proactive through the current situation.
In the ultimate, the Opposition has to read the writing on the wall. There is no democracy without accountability. And when the aam aadmi is struggling for his survival, it is the Opposition’s inherent duty to demand political answerability. If not for the poor, then at least to secure its own political futures. For if it abdicates this, it would not only be inimical to its own political interests but also spell its collective doom.
Its déjà vu times of the 70”s, what was anti-Congressism then is anti-BJPism now. The Opposition needs a lesson in political ABC, aggression, bounce and confidence. Is it capable of turning a new leaf? It would do well to remember a Talmud saying: Power buries those who wield it. Politics is a heartless and unforgiving mistress.