Opposition yet to discover means for a fightback - Hindustan Times
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Opposition yet to discover means for a fightback

Jan 08, 2024 06:35 PM IST

The Opposition’s biggest difficulty is that if they attend the Ram temple consecration ceremony, they would be seen as toeing the BJP line

It is often assumed that Indian voters have poor memory: When elections come, they forget past voting mistakes. But does the same hold true for politicians? The INDIA bloc seems to exemplify this. Only a few weeks are left for the general elections to be announced, and still, they have done little to fix their past mistakes.

FILE - India's opposition leaders, from left, T.R.Baalu, M.K Stalin, Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarajun Kharge, attend a meeting of opposition parties where they announced their alliance named INDIA in Bengaluru, India, July 18, 2023. (AP) PREMIUM
FILE - India's opposition leaders, from left, T.R.Baalu, M.K Stalin, Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarajun Kharge, attend a meeting of opposition parties where they announced their alliance named INDIA in Bengaluru, India, July 18, 2023. (AP)

Trinamool Congress (TMC) had recommended naming Mallikarjun Kharge as INDIA convenor at the bloc’s last meeting on December 19. The TMC felt only Kharge was capable of opposing Narendra Modi. Reasons? He is the leader of the country’s largest political party and a Dalit. He has extensive political and administrative experience and is free of any taint. This “narrative” is also acceptable to the Congress. When Kharge was elected Congress president, there was talk of him also being considered for prime ministership if the party returned to power.

Janata Dal (United) members, though, were outraged that Kharge’s name was being brought up for prime ministership. They say their leader, Nitish Kumar, had taken the initiative to build INDIA and that the bloc’s founding meeting was held in Patna. Nitish ji not only can be the convener, but should also be the country’s next prime minister, they believe, considering that he has been chief minister for nearly 19 years, and under his leadership, the backward people and women of Bihar had gained immensely. They also say there is no problem with Kharge, but he has never served as chief minister, and so Nitish has a stronger claim to prime ministership.

Meanwhile, a significant shift has occurred in the internal politics of the JD(U). Nitish Kumar became president of his party, succeeding Lalan Singh. Along with this, many storms have started brewing in the politics of Bihar.

There was talk that Nitish could now switch sides and again join hands with the BJP. Some recalled that before the last general election also, Nitish had met with Sonia Gandhi and asked that he be declared the prime ministerial candidate. But upon receiving no concrete signal, he established a coalition with the BJP. This is why, as soon as Lalan Singh stepped down, there was a stir in the INDIA bloc. Nitish Kumar’s name was mentioned again for the position of coordinator. It is possible that he may be named coordinator in the following days. There is no doubt that he not only took the initiative but also made sincere efforts to bring the INDIA bloc concept to light. His claim to the position of coordinator is unquestionably strong. Whether they project a Dalit or non-Dalit prime minister, it does not suit the INDIA bloc to work like this. Aside from winning the party election, Kharge has so far disappointed those who supported him.

On the contrary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced a new type of politics to the Indian voter during the last nine-and-a-half years. People feel he is the prime minister capable of moving India ahead. He has total control of both the party and the government. There has been no prime minister since Indira Gandhi who has demonstrated such a grip over both the party and the administration. Not only that, his management machinery periodically forces the opponent to adopt a defensive strategy. The latest example is the ceremony for the pran pratishtha (consecration) of Ram Lalla’s idol, which will take place in Ayodhya on January 22.

Organisers of the event have invited all Opposition leaders. The Opposition’s biggest difficulty is that if they attend this ceremony, they would be seen as toeing the BJP line. If they refuse, political efforts to paint them as anti-Hindu will gain traction. The RSS and the BJP, on the other hand, have chosen to turn this function into a new campaign. Following the pran pratishtha on January 22, special trains would run till March 25 to bring Ram devotees from around the country to Ayodhya. Buses are also being scheduled to cover the 600-km geographical gap. It suggests that efforts are being made to recreate the atmosphere like 1991-1992 throughout the country. There is, nevertheless, a distinction between then and now. Previously, there was a strong sense of struggle among those who made it there; now, there is a sense of accomplishment. Will success be achieved in presenting the mandir as a victory?

The INDIA bloc has recognised this truth; its backers anticipate that they will have to create a “counter-narrative”. This has not yet occurred. In such a case, the question of whether there is still time left for this is unavoidable.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views are personal.

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