Anand K. Sahay | ‘Give and take’ is needed to make INDIA effective

The Asian Age.  | Anand K Sahay

Opinion, Columnists

The INDIA parties face their most severe test in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most significant state electorally.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, party leader Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and others at a press conference after the opposition parties' meeting. (PTI Photo)

The new Opposition coalition “INDIA” possesses two tendencies that could be at odds with one another, although it may be possible to finesse the obstacles. What’s noteworthy is that the primary consideration of the parties in seeking to come together is the desire to be on the same side, and seen to be on the same side, in mounting an electoral challenge to the Narendra Modi government, which all view as a crypto-dictatorship. Most also see it as outright communal.

This is the ideological side of the 26 parties which signed on to “INDIA” in Bengaluru. The trickier political side is how to reach satisfactory arrangements to avoid the division of anti-BJP votes in Lok Sabha constituencies. The first job is to identify such constituencies state-wise, and try to avoid potential one-upmanship.

Even in states where the parties opposed to the BJP are already in an alliance, as in Bihar and Maharashtra, the smoothness of the process of seat adjustments must be worked at even if the ideological glue holds.

The wisdom of the party leaderships will be on test as these large states are also important for the BJP in the numbers game.

In a very different category are West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where there is a single dominant anti-BJP regional party. In the former, will chief minister Mamata Banerjee be forthcoming in parting with seats and make a reasonable offer to the CPI(M) and Congress for the sake of keeping intact a larger ideological framework?

In the best interests of the Opposition coalition which, while holding promise, is still a work in progress, dominant anti-BJP parties in all states will have to adopt a “give and take” outlook. This is different from the initial proposition advanced by the Trinamul Congress and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party that the dominant challenger to the BJP in each state should be left free to decide -- in effect have a veto. As a practical quid pro quo, the CPI(M) and Congress should accommodate the TMC and SP in states where they matter more.

Tamil Nadu is perhaps the least problematic state for INDIA. Like in West Bengal, there is only one important regional anti-BJP player which runs the state government: DMK. It has had few difficulties with allies, the Congress and the Left, over the years.

In Kerala, however, the CPI(M) and its Left allies and the Congress are entrenched rivals. Any serious friction between them on seats may help the BJP, which is way behind in electoral arithmetic but has gained sufficient following of late to make its presence felt.

The INDIA parties face their most severe test in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most significant state electorally, and is the BJP’s strongest pocket of influence after Gujarat. The main anti-BJP regional formation, the Samajwadi Party, has core strength, but it is weaker than before. In western UP, the Rashtriya Lok Dal led by Jayant Chaudhry may be better placed than earlier due to its link with the peasantry during the farmers’ agitation that forced the Modi government to backtrack on key policy intended to benefit big business.

Where will an aspiring Congress figure in UP’s Opposition scheme? The question may prove important. The party has shown very weak results in Assembly polls recently, but had performed creditably in the Parliament polls of 2004 and 2009, surprising foes and friends. After Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra yielded a widely perceived major shift of the minorities’ vote towards it, the Congress’ fortunes are thought to have revived countrywide, including in UP. A rising tide lifts all boats and associating with the changed Congress can benefit all its associates.

In return for accommodation shown in UP, the Congress must make room for its INDIA partners from UP in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. In the event of a non-deal, the BJP will once again have the best chance in the nation’s largest state, although in today’s changed circumstances, the saffron party can’t be certain it can repeat its 60-plus score out of 80 in the 2019 election.

This is mainly due to the widespread perception -- after the BJP’s recent Himachal Pradesh defeat and its trouncing in Karnataka by the Congress, leading to the loss of two state governments, and the vertical rise in Rahul Gandhi’s stature -- that the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP’s only vote-catcher, has slipped. With Mr Modi appearing weaker, it is unlikely that UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, for whom communalism drips from every pore, can fill the void for the BJP in a national election.

The BJP’s other top leaders have been sidelined. The PM’s natural tendency is to centralise power, to give no quarter to rivals, and to seek to stultify senior colleagues. Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh – both former party presidents -- are examples. Home minister Amit Shah is in a category all his own. A combination of Mr Modi’s Hanuman -- and sometimes hatchet man -- he is not viewed as an independent factor nationally or even in his home state of Gujarat (although his political acumen and efficiency are feared). Perhaps this is due to the numerically miniscule Jain community he comes from.

When in Bengaluru the Opposition coalition grew from 17 parties (in Patna) to 26, Mr Modi led the meaningless gesture of hurriedly convening a bunch of 38 mostly sub-regional parties and factions to show an enhanced NDA. This betrays his and the BJP’s nervousness in the face of INDIA, although the latter has its inner contradictions.

Why be nervous? The reasons are several. But the most immediate is the fact that, in the states where the BJP had a traditional presence, it won most, and in some cases all, the seats in 2019. The only movement now possible is downward.

The reason: the Modi government’s cumulative policy effects in nine years have been bleak. Denied the oxygen of hype and propaganda provided by the bulk media and Sangh Parivar-controlled social media, the shortness of the government’s reputation would have been on view earlier. At any rate, the government is now appearing in its true light. It is harder now to cover up the lived experience of the people through an appeal to communal sentiment.

And rampant sexual crimes against women by prominent ruling party individuals and groups -- notably our most acclaimed women wrestlers, and the recent cases of Manipur’s women that have come to light -- and the PM’s unheeding silence even on such a matter, have bruised our collective social and cultural self-esteem and epochal values system. The scale can be seen to be tipping away from the establishment.