Sunil Gatade | To take on BJP, Opposition needs to ‘cut off the ropes’
Any party in the Opposition space — the anti-BJP parties or non-BJP parties should ensure that they give their best to counter the BJP
It was an epic battle in Maratha history. One led by a brave general of Shivaji Maharaj. The general was more of a close friend and colleague of Shivaji who always knew what the Maharaj wanted and what was in his mind. Tanaji Malusare was no ordinary soldier, but a gem of a man and a fighter.
Some hail the battle in 1670 as a “surgical strike that shook the mighty Mughal empire”. The strike was carried out by a small band of Mawalas, as the soldiers of Shivaji were known, to capture the impregnable fort of Kondhana near Pune in the dead of the night through a surprise attack.
The fort was named Simhgad by Shivaji in memory of the “lion” Tanaji, who was killed by Mughal commander Uday Bhan after the shield of the Maratha warrior broke, making him vulnerable.
There are no Mughals or Marathas in today’s India. But the principle that was used in the battle which needs to be imbibed by the present-day Opposition in democratic India is the one that was used after Tanaji fell and the panicked Marathas started to flee.
Shelar Mama, the second in command and mama of Tanaji, played a vital trick. He cut off the ropes from which the Marathas had climbed the fort. As he took on Uday Bhan and killed him, Shelar Mama exhorted his soldiers that they had only two options — to jump off the fort and die as he had cut off the ropes, or fight back valiantly to avenge the killing of their commander. The tactic paid off, and the rest is history.
The Opposition parties need to adopt the “cutting off the ropes” principle ahead of the mother of all electoral battles — the next Lok Sabha election, which is just one year away.
Any party in the Opposition space — the anti-BJP parties or non-BJP parties (which are allergic to the moves for Opposition unity) —should ensure that they give their best to counter the BJP in their strongholds through formal or informal tie-ups, adjustments and understandings so as to give the impression that they have “cut off the ropes” and that they are genuinely taking on the incumbent.
Also, the impression that they have “cut off their ropes” to the BJP is also equally important in the current context. Barring the Congress, many parties have aligned with the saffron party formally or informally during the current Narendra Modi government or earlier in the days of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are past masters in the political game of “divide and rule” and could teach a lesson or two to the original players in the pre-Independence era.
An overarching Opposition alliance is unlikely due to several pulls and pressures and the machinations of the powers that be. There are also the “baniyas” in the political field who are out for a bargain, open or secret, whichever suits them best. There are also fiefdoms which want their turf to be protected by whoever occupies the chair in New Delhi. Some others have played the game of being the “reserve battalions” of the winning side, like the cat which drinks the milk with its eyes closed. The moral of the story is that different species are there in the Indian polity.
These include chame-leons, who know how to change their colour at the drop of a hat. For the idealist who wants a utopia, it is a minefield.
The JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar and some others may be crying hoarse from the housetops for Opposition unity, but it could be construed at least by a few that the Bihar CM is also an ambitious politician, and may want to extend his career by moving to the Centre.
Prime Minister Naren-dra Modi has his script ready if the Opposition pulls off its unity trick. “Ek Modi sab par bhari” is the slogan already coined by him, much like Indira Gandhi’s famous dig at the Opposition: “They say Indira Hatao when I say Garibi Hatao”. Mr Modi has learnt all the tricks on how to checkmate his opponents, both within and outside the BJP, and has started saying that the Enforcement Direc-torate has brought together all his detractors.
Mamata Banerjee’s declaration that she will go it alone in the 2024 polls may be an indication that the likes of Akhilesh Yadav, K. Chandrasekhar Rao are going to follow suit. The Congress-Left alliance in West Bengal has rattled Mamata as it is making deep inroads into her Muslim base, as the Sagardighi byelection result has shown. Mayawati, once ambitious, has gone into a shell and seems to be under tremendous pressure from the ruling party. The BSP has lost its hunger and its shine.
Arvind Kejriwal is seen as a slippery customer in the Opposition space, with a section of non-BJP parties seeing the ambitious Delhi CM as the “B” team of the BJP. Mr Kejriwal himself frowns on talk of Opposition unity. At present, he is caught between a cliff and a hard place with two ministers in his government forced to resign after being sent to jail over alleged scams. His supporters insist the entire Opposition needs to rally around the Aam Aadmi party in this matter.
The 2024 general election will not be an ordinary one as the BJP is realising it is running out of steam after nearly nine years in power, and has run out of fresh ideas and failed to generate new ones. This means all attempts at polarisation will reach a crescendo ahead of the polls, by whatever means. Mr Modi knows the last Lok Sabha battle was primarily won with his rhetoric after the Balakot strikes that followed the Pulwama incident as he had nothing to write home about on development. The chants of nationalism saved the day for the BJP.
If the Opposition parties want to be more than a match for Mr Modi, they have to fashion a strategy that would expose the claims of his being a strong leader and neutralise the Hindutva rhetoric. The more the focus is on misgovernance, growing poverty, unemployment and a stagnant economy, the job will be done. This will only be possible if all sections in the Opposition “cut off the ropes” to the BJP by declaring they would not cut any deals with Narendra Modi in future and vow to pull down the ruling party in their strongholds.
(The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi)