Is today’s Opposition strong enough to take on the BJP?
The electoral muddle will start next year. How efficacious would it be to hope for a miracle so soon? The question itself contains the answer.
The thrilling script of Maharashtra politics has reached its logical conclusion, but the questions it raises will haunt Indian politics, politicians and those involved in it for a long time. Is the Opposition strong and united enough to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? Will a divided Opposition be able to accomplish anything in 2024? Isn’t the fall of non-BJP governments a setback to voters who don’t want a saffron coalition to rule?
Let us begin with Karnataka. In the May 2018 assembly elections, no one got a clear majority in the state. The BJP was the largest party, but the Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress came together to form the government. Despite having more Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), the Congress decided to give a chance to JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy and he became the chief minister (CM). At the time, it was thought that such a sacrifice was required to restrain Modi and Shah’s storm. This assumption might have been proved correct if the khichdi government had worked for five years and set new records in public welfare, but that did not happen. News of squabbles in the alliance and ministerial corruption emerged quickly. The government was becoming increasingly unpopular and could not last more than 14 months and four days. Then we saw a similar pattern in Madhya Pradesh and now in Maharashtra.
It is not surprising that the Opposition’s unity agreements are short-lived while the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s last longer. Following the successful experiment of Bihar, the BJP is attempting to replicate it by electing a CM from a smaller party in Maharashtra. The success of this experiment could lead to some new political equations in the coming days.
The Opposition frequently claims that the government usurps power by misusing central agencies. There is nothing new in it; these agencies have been abused in the past, too. Why is there such an abuse of power? Actually, those with stained records must find a way to conceal their scars. This is why those who enter politics to make quick money switch parties depending on the situation. Some parties even accept chanda or contribution in exchange for the party tickets. Those who have spent a lot of money to get there want a safe return on their investment. Furthermore, the majority of regional parties are controlled by a few families. These are more akin to privately held businesses than political parties. The issue arises when an aggressive leader’s second or third generation takes over. The party’s old guard is hesitant to accept his new style, and a schism develops. The Shiv Sena is the most recent example of this.
The second question is whether the scattered Opposition will be able to perform any miracle in 2024. True, many state governments in India are run by the so-called Opposition. Except for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, there are numerous Opposition parties in these states that are in a direct fight with the Congress. Non-BJP governments exist in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the south. They do not want either Congress or the BJP to flourish in their states. In the same league are the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, the Trinamool Congress in Bengal and the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and Punjab. Many efforts have been made to bring them all under one roof. In recent times, one such effort was the exercise for consensus on a presidential candidate. The entire non-NDA political spectrum was expected to rally behind Yashwant Sinha. This did not happen, and Sinha is now seen fighting only a symbolic battle.
Seeing the fate of these old and new alliances, the voter has realised that such a political melange cannot fulfil his wishes. He wants a strong and stable government, and the coalition led by the BJP has been able to demonstrate that. Assam, Manipur and Goa are prime examples. There, the defectors, or those who severed relations with the Congress or their local parties, won re-election. According to some indications, Maha Vikas Aghadi intends to fight the municipal elections together. This election will be a litmus test for the alliance’s health.
Now to the final question: Does this put an end to the hopes of those who desire a non-NDA government? The BJP and its allies received 45% of the total votes in the last Lok Sabha elections. This indicates that 55% of the populace opposed this alliance. Optimists think that a miracle can change the situation. There have already been two instances of this, but for there to be another, someone like Jayaprakash Narayan or Vishwanath Pratap Singh is needed. Is there currently any such political figure in view? Keep in mind that there are just 20–21 months left until the 18th Lok Sabha elections. The electoral muddle will start next year. How efficacious would it be to hope for a miracle so soon? The question itself contains the answer.
Shashi Shekhar is the editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal