Shrinking Opposition Space

With the humiliating defeat of Opposition in the recently-held Gujarat Assembly election the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now doubly encouraged to see in the event a dress rehearsal for the 2024 Parliamentary polls despite their minor setback in a small enclave called Himachal Pradesh. The double-engine formula of BJP worked well in Gujarat but it failed miserably in Himachal. For the first time since the formation of Gujarat state in 1960, the house would be without an official leader of Opposition. As Congress has won only 17 seats of the 182-strong legislature, the tally is less than 10 per cent of the total strength which is mandatory to claim the post of leader of Opposition which enjoys the status of a cabinet rank minister. In truth Modi and his men are ruling the country without any effective opposition. All opposition parties, including the left parties, have virtually lost the course in the middle; they simply don’t know how to confront the saffron party’s aggression, politically and ideologically. More they talk of BJP’s Hindutva without attacking its economic base, more they get isolated from a large number of masses. People are losing faith in opposition parties because of their strategy of inaction. They remain in a state of calculated hibernation and get activated only during election. Whenever there is an independent initiative people support it as it was proved at the time of farmers’ movement. While post-mortem reports of ‘Gujarat model’ continue to flood mainstream media, one thing is certain that Congress is dying. It has no future unless the Gandhians show sincerity enough to oppose the BJP. All of them talk of united opposition only to get disunited at the time of need. The reason is simple: they have no principled approach to BJP’s divisive politics. The Bihar-based Janata Dal United is hoping against hope that they will unite all opposition parties through a grand alliance to defeat BJP in the coming Lok Sabha polls. For all practical purposes their grand alliance is a non-starter; it remains alive in press releases and TV coverages. Most opposition parties, barring Congress, are regional outfits having no national programme of their own. Ironically all of them want to play the national game in Delhi. Dishing out all the bold statements about opposition unity the newly elected JDU ‘national’ president Rajiv Ranjan Singh finally said “the task of opposition unity was difficult but not impossible”. Talking vaguely about unemployment and development, or for that matter opposition unity, makes little sense to the vast majority of masses who are in perpetual distress.

Reviving the opposition space under the banner of Indian National Congress is next to impossible as it has virtually lost its national status. They are now trying to get back what they have lost--- national credibility by way of launching a public relations exercise through their much-publicised ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’. Their declared aim is to fight divisiveness and reclaim the Constitution destroyed by the BJP. But in reality they are desperately trying to boost the image of Rahul Gandhi by playing with the gallery. And it is unlikely to work. The unemployed need employment and not Yatra. They need growth, not jobless growth.

True, BJP favours somewhat nakedly a few corporate houses but Congress is not a pro-worker party and yet they think toilers in the organised and unorganised sector as well will vote for them. Congress and its so-called allies in the ‘grand alliance’ never show any interest to fight the BJP-induced new labour codes that will ruin labour organising and destroy the rights the workers gained through arduous struggles and sacrifices. For one thing new labour codes will push India back to the British era when slavery was a norm. Most labour laws have been enacted on the basis of tripartite consultation or on the basis of reports of committees which have heard representatives of both management and workers. But in one stroke BJP has put the last nail into the coffin of labour protection. And the opposition just accepts it as inevitability.

 Intellectual dissent arising in universities and cultural organisations is crushed brutally and they remain silent. Institutions after institutions are losing autonomy and they finish their duty by issuing harmless press statements. Writers, social activists and human rights crusaders are languishing in jails for years without any trial and they find no reason to agitate on such sensitive issues. As per official parlance they are either terrorists or maoists though it is an open secret that they are implicated in false cases manufactured by the security establishment. For one thing many Congressmen are not opposed to Modi’s action to abolish Article 370 in Kashmir. They are happy that what their ‘weak leadership’ could not do in decades was done by the Modi brigade in a matter of few years! And yet they think they will be able to build a broader united front against Modi’s BJP.

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Vol 55, No. 26, Dec 25 - 31, 2022