Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed far from nervous or apprehensive when he took on the seemingly coalescing ranks of the Opposition parties by calling it the coming together of a fearful gang of the corrupt who are only uniting to scuttle his decisive bid to win the war against corruption. While at his combative best in recent times, Mr Modi sounded supremely confident that the majority of the people in the country will see the issue in the way he has put it – a movement by a corruption-free BJP government to take lawful action against corrupt leaders of family-ruled political parties who are opposed to its efforts to cleanse the system.
The efforts of the various Opposition parties, including the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, among others, to play a narrative of democracy being under threat from an autocratic BJP led by Mr Modi has not had much impact, and most ordinary people seem to view the issue as is being defined by the ruling party. Interestingly, Mr Modi not only portrayed these early moves towards Opposition unity as a coming together of the corrupt on a single stage but also an attack on the credibility of India’s institutions – the investigative agencies, the judiciary and the various echelons of the judiciary.
The Opposition must clearly understand the nature of this see-saw, where all those opposed to the BJP come together – but the fulcrum is yet to be defined properly. If it fails to explain its point of view, and the rationale for their coming together, then the unity moves will become a big strategic blunder for the individual parties.
If people do see the coalition of the Opposition as a herd of scared corrupt leaders trying to save themselves against a crusader of clean politics like Narendra Modi, then they would have already conceded the game, set and match to the BJP. In the past, Indira Gandhi defeated the campaign by the Opposition against her by changing the narrative, but the Opposition alliance was hugely successful against Rajiv Gandhi. The crux is the narrative and its communication to the people across the country.
So far, Rahul Gandhi may have come across to many as a victim, but he is no martyr. The AAP, too, has suffered a dent to its image, with two of its ministers behind bars over charges of corruption, given that its identity derives from its core value which is its removal. Several other parties too, including the BRS, the RJD and the Trinamul Congress, have their leaders facing a current probe over making wrongful gains and corruption. It is absolutely significant that the Opposition refutes this argument by Mr Modi, as the first thing going forward.
Mr Modi has now created a new challenge for the Opposition, which was already finding efforts at unity hard given contradictions in ideology and differences in personality. If Opposition leaders cannot justify their unity as being of crucial national interest, they are better off divided.