Forget Gatbandhan, Go for The Jugular - New Opposition Strategy?

Raman Swamy

Realization is finally dawning among Opposition parties that the best way to prevent Narendra Modi from getting a second term as Prime Minister is to expose some skeletons in his cupboard.

Instead of chasing unworkable mahagatbandhan shadows, anti-Modi parties should collectively focus their time and energy on unearthing credible evidence of serious wrong-doing in the last four years. 

The joint strategy should be aimed at sufficiently tarnishing Modi’s Mr. Clean image in the public eye by sowing serious doubts about his integrity and intentions in the minds of the electorate much before the Lok Sabha elections.

The logic behind this line of thinking rests on several ground realities – i) forging a grand pre-election alliance is proving illusory and self-defeating;  ii) almost every opposition party is facing a severe cash crunch in the aftermath of note-bandi; iii)  in contrast,  the BJP’s coffers are over-flowing by virtue of being in power at the Centre and more than 20 states;  iv)  the BJP also is also far ahead in terms of manpower resources in the form of a vast army of RSS cadres and grassroots workers;  v) the mainstream media,  both electronic and print,  is largely pro-establishment and rarely provides a level playing field for free exchange of news and views;  vi) with the credibility of key institutions like the CBI having been shattered,  a cloud of doubt hovers over the impartiality of institutions that are directly involved in election management and supervision, such as the Election Commission and the law-and-order machinery as a whole.

In the given scenario, the constipated manner in which disparate Opposition parties have been attempting to forge unity is there for all to see.  For all intents and purposes, the so-called mahagatbandhan is a non-starter and indeed a failure.

Chhattisgarh provides a stark example. Congress rebel Ajit Jogi and Mayawati’s BSP coming together in ongoing Assembly election has left the local Congress party in the lurch. There is every reason to expect that in the coming six months before the Lok Sabha elections, there would be many more Jogis and Mayawatis in other regions across the country whose political compulsions and caste calculations will puncture the possibility of any combined effort to amalgamate anti-BJP, anti-NDA votes. 

Indeed, there are some plain-speaking political pundits who go to the extent of saying that after the results of the three Assembly elections in the heartland States become known, Opposition parties and leaders are likely to awaken with a jarring thud to the reality that Modi’s BJP cannot be defeated through the electronic electoral process. 

According to some dire forecasts, it will make no difference whether the gatbandhan which eventually emerges is ‘maha’ or just a loose patchwork of seat sharing arrangements.  Unless the parliamentary polls are conducted in a genuinely free and fair manner, perhaps under court supervision, perhaps with paper balloting in certain key States and constituencies, the result will a foregone conclusion, with the current dispensation being returned to power. 

Even if one were to brush aside such projections as alarmist and lacking solid proof, the unfolding drama on the national scene pertaining to irrefutable evidence that the premier national investigation agency in the country is riddled with rivalries, case-fixing and worse forms of political skullduggery, is a grim pointer to something rotten in the system.  

In other words, not everyone who points a finger or levels an allegation about corruption at the highest levels of governance and administration is a delirious conspiracy theorist motivated by self-interest or, in the case of political leaders, looking for excuses in advance of inevitable electoral defeat. 

It would be a fallacy to view the CBI crisis as a mere bureaucratic wrangle between two personalities.  It is not just an Alok Verma versus Rakesh Asthana story.  Nor is it restricted to the question of whether bribes were paid to hush up a solitary case involving a meat-exporter and if so, who were the guilty individuals and what were their motivations. 

The tentacles of the corruption scandal that is unraveling, spread far beyond the CBI.  Only a thorough and deep-excavation probe will uncover the names of all the dramatis persona linked to the murky goings-on and all the case-files that were on the Director’s in-tray at the time of the midnight coup. 

Hopefully, at least a few of these tantalizing threads of speculation will be tied up during the preliminary probe currently being conducted under the supervision of a retired Supreme Court judge.  

Till then one burning question will continue – was the Rafale aircraft deal under investigation and did it in any way trigger the sequence of subsequent actions?

The reason why this is relevant to the broader topic of political parties and general elections is that Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been harping on the Rafale controversy with such extraordinary zeal and consistency over the last several months that a) he is chasing a crooked shadow to nowhere; or b) he is privy to more information than has come out in the public domain. 

The feeling is growing in political circles that the Congress chief does not appear to be overly concerned about the failure of efforts to cobble together a conglomeration of anti-BJP parties before the crucial elections next year.   Instead he is training his guns at the Prime Minister with increasingly direct accusations of “crony capitalism” and “chowkidar chor hai”, especially in the context of the Rafale deal.

Meanwhile, in a parallel set of initiatives, the Three Musketeers of current day Indian politico-legal activists - Prashant Bhushan, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha - have not only prepared a dossier of Rafale-related allegations and submitted it to the then CBI Director, but have now also moved the Supreme Court to take cognizance of the mater, with some initial success.

By no stretch of the imagination can the three crusaders be linked to Rahul Gandhi or the Congress. Going by what is known, the only remote connection is the similar desire to uncover the truth behind the defense deal in order to nail the personal involvement of Narendra Modi in the alleged high-level corruption.

 On Thursday, there were clear indications that other Opposition regional party leaders are beginning to sit up and take notice of the developments. The unlikely trio of Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah and Chandrababu Naidu held a joint press conference which has the potential of being the start of something new. Whether or not the intention was to attempt to revive grand alliance efforts appears less relevant than the more urgent desire to come on board the Rafale campaign against the Prime Minister.  

Significantly, too, when Naidu met Rahul Gandhi later, the Congress president spoke of his readiness to “work together” - there was no specific commitment to poll alliances or gatbandhans. 

In short, the new Opposition strategy is to go for the jugular with corruption charges against Narendra Modi.   If the public image and personal integrity of the Prime Minister can be effectively tarnished in the coming months, there may be no need for a mahagatbandhan in March 2019 –a Modi-mukt BJP is certain to lose. 

Nov 3, 2018

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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