Even the majority community that the BJP hopes to consolidate by accentuating social schisms has seen through the game.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in Turkey holds vital lessons for the Opposition in India. On June 24, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Mr Erdogan personally swept both the presidential and the parliamentary elections. Scores of journalists and a multitude of political opponents were imprisoned, including Selahattin Demirtas, the trailblazer of one of the principal Opposition parties. The media was fervidly cheerleading. State institutions, including the electoral commission, bent over backwards to support Mr Erdogan’s re-election.
In his presser Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the principal opponent of Mr Erdogan conceded that his party had flopped in convincing the electorate about the efficacy of their platform. Turkish republicanism was not able to put forth with any degree of conviction a convincing alternative to Mr Erdogan’s blend of Turkish nationalism and Sunni internationalism. Bereft of a sharp economic vision, they could not catalyse the aspirations of people and translate them into a firm electoral choice for the CHP. The Republican alliance was simply perceived as an anti-Erdogan force. The fact that the CHP stood in contradiction of and in contradistinction to Mr Erdogan’s persona was abundantly evident to Turkish electorate. However, what the CHP represented remained beatifically ambiguous.
Herein lies the message to the Indian Opposition parties. While the country knows that they stand against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they do not know what do they collectively stand for. While Sharad Pawar was right in articulating: “A mahagathbandhan (anti-BJP grand alliance) prior to the elections is not practical. In fact, there is a lot of (speculations in) the media, a lot of write-ups about some alternative, some front like a ‘mahagathbandhan’. I don’t see any possibility of a ‘mahagathbandhan’ or anything. There are certain of our friends. They want that. But that is not practical.”
His reasoning for the above was kosher and conventional political wisdom lends itself to the fact that there would be state specific alliances or seat adjustments between Opposition parties where they complement each other or even where they maybe fighting for the same space. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are classical examples for the earlier part of the formulation above and Kerala and West Bengal for the latter part of it. In Bihar state elections, mahagathbandhan was a success till Nitish Kumar decided to do a somersault for reasons best known to him. He now seems inclined to see the folly of it. If Mr Kumar wants to return to the mahagathbandhan, he should be welcomed with open arms.
In UP, the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance that won two Lok Sabha byelections and then in conjunction with the Rashtriya Lok Dal a third bypoll must be expanded to accommodate other progressive forces on a honourable basis. Similarly even in Kerala and West Bengal all progressive forces must find a modus vivendi to come together sinking their differences for a higher purpose.
Beyond these mathematical equations that certainly are important in any electoral context the Opposition even if it is going to have state-level seat tunings or coalitions still needs an ideological construct that defines what it positively stands for. It also requires a face considered to be a safe pair of hands.
Mr Modi’s agenda is clear. With no substantive economic or diplomatic achievements to talk about he would rely on a noxious cocktail of majoritarianism, hyper-nationalism minority bashing by emphasising the otherness of the other. He would definitely love to have a short border skirmish to inflame xenophobia, but with Indian foreign policy in tatters he cannot afford the luxury of a two front situation becoming a reality. However, you cannot still bury this possibility completely.
The fringe that has become the mainstream in the past four years would only exacerbate lynching of minorities in the name of cow vigilantism and proscribing consumption of beef, etc. Inconvenient voices would be targeted like Gauri Lankesh was killed and the country would sought to be polarised between them and us. Kashmir unfortunately is the instrument of choice of the BJP to implement this noxious project.
The Opposition requires a mantra that can be encapsulated in two words — growth and healing. After four years of social viciousness and economic stagnation that has seen virtually zero job creation, flight of high net worth individuals, tardy investment by domestic corporates into the Indian economy, a ballooning and now unfinanceable current account deficit, and window dressed GDP numbers, the country is looking for a way out.
Even the majority community that the BJP hopes to consolidate by accentuating social schisms has seen through the game. The essence of Hinduism is live and let live. As they say: Lafda nahin mangta. The country is desperately seeking a return to the normal. They are fed up with the new normal. It requires healing.
Additionally, the Opposition must come up with an alternative vocabulary on nationalism. It needs to define that nationalism means — together we are stronger. India has a place for all its people. Its innate strength lies in respecting the dignity of each individual irrespective of caste, creed, religion, region or station in life. Secularism also needs a sharper formulation. It was a classical construct imported deliberately into the Indian socio-political environment by the founders of the Indian republic who were acutely cognisant that there must be a clinical separation between the Church and the state, especially in a profoundly religious country such as India. It does not mean Sarva Dharma Sambhava.
Finally it has to be clearly delineated where do the progressives stand on the issue of personal wealth generated through legitimate enterprise or entrepreneurship. Is getting rich a glowing virtue or still a noxious vice? How would they square it up with building an economy for 99 per cent of Indians who have not benefited from economic neo-liberalism? This is critical to attract the young aspirational young Indian. As Carl Schurz said in 1872: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” The time has come to set India back on track again.