Albert Einstein said of the opposition, ‘Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.’ Is Indian democracy witnessing the same challenge? Are we witnessing a mediocre opposition?
A healthy democracy is a function of the coexistence of a strong ruling party and an equally strong opposition party. A weak opposition party and a strong ruling party are not healthy for any democracy. In fact, in the long-run, it is always an invitation for disaster.
We have witnessed its perils when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and the opposition was struggling. We then had many strong opposition leaders with a mass following, leaders who wanted to shape the future of India and were good enough to rule India, but not a single one of them was capable enough to lead the pack of those able leaders. It is very clear from the learnings of the 1970s that a strong opposition doesn’t only mean numbers but it should also be able to command the respect of people as well as the party in power. They should be in a position to argument well with positive disagreement.
In last three years, we have witnessed the decline of the Indian National Congress (INC) and many other regional parties across India. This has coincided with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party across many States, including in those where it had no presence or just limited presence. The declining vote share of the regional parties and the losing grip of the Congress across the country have meant a weak opposition. It will not be wrong to say that we are back to the era of the spineless opposition of the 1970s.
India has a strong government at the Centre but we need an equally strong opposition for balanced growth. It is also required to ensure that all perspectives are debated from all aspects before any decision is arrived at. More importantly, if we fail to nurture a strong opposition, the system of checks and balances would cease to work and we may even head towards an era of dictatorship.
Ram Madhav, general secretary of BJP, too believes in the need for a strong opposition. The beauty of Indian democracy is such that even the ruling party demands a strong opposition. Unfortunately, at present, there is no strong opposition at the Centre. There is no single party or alliance, which can counter the ruling party as a cohesive unit with an articulated narrative. We need an alliance of opposition parties with a minimum common agenda.
Congress Still Key
One is not sure if the opposition parties that are talking of an alliance have understood the importance of a common goal or the target is opportunistic gains. Lack of a coherent narrative is a key gap. A cohesive narrative is missing as each opposition party has its own hidden agenda and don’t even agree on a common strong leader.
If we go by the vote share of the opposition parties, the INC with roughly 20% vote share and as the largest national party should be the face of the opposition. The onus is on the leaders of INC to start working on uniting the opposition. Though it is not necessary that someone from the INC should be the face of the opposition, its role in uniting the opposition cannot be ruled out because any opposition face would need its blessings.
Given the opening that now exists for a good opposition leader, one should not be surprised if one of the strong and capable leaders of a regional party emerges as the face of national opposition.
The strong leadership of parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Biju Janata Dal or Trinamool Congress can emerge as the face of the opposition, if they work on it, manage to knit a coalition of various regional parties across States with an accommodative approach and get the blessings of the INC as well. But given the past experiences and egos of the leaders involved, it is a tall ask.
A New Narrative
In such a scenario, the INC becomes the de facto option. But the party needs a new beginning and a fresh perspective. The old politics of vote bank will not yield results anymore. The young and new-age leaders of the party need to step up with a contemporary agenda. The party needs to resolve its leadership issues, rework its ideology and reposition brand Congress from scratch.
This is a daunting task given the current state of the party. Its continuing losing streak is unlikely to inspire voters’ confidence. In the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, its tally was lower than even the Apna Dal. In many States, it has been decimated by the BJP.
But this is no good news for the Indian democracy. Congress-Mukt Bharat can be a good political slogan for the BJP but it is not healthy for the Indian democracy.
The INC needs to urgently focus on being a constructive opposition and weave a campaign around people’s issues that are beyond caste and regionalism and focuses on development, women’s security, terrorism and intolerance. It need to hit the streets and work hard on the ground. Such an approach will also help in bringing other opposition parties on board.
The time is right for the Congress and other opposition parties to restructure themselves, re-work their priorities, unite and reposition themselves as a cohesive unit. They must get going now to give the people of the country a good choice.
(The author is a digital political evangelist and New Media expert)