One of the greatest misfortunes of Indian democracy has been the absence of two strong parties with national presence, like Labour and Conservative in Britain or Democratic and Republican parties in the United States.
Right from the time of Independence, the Indian National Congress held sway. Even splits never helped in having a permanent bipolar polity because only one of the factions always consolidated.
Brief exceptions were in 1977- 80, when the Janata Party was in power and the Congress in Opposition, in 1990, when Janata Dal was in power and the Congress in Opposition and 1998-2014, when BJP-led NDA and Congress-led UPA were in power, and Opposition, by turn, respectively.
But even these times did not gift India with two mature and democratic parties that did not suffer from problems of succession and internal democracy.
Although there are several vibrant democracies like Italy and Japan, where instability of the national government does not affect the economy of the nation, policy paralysis and economic instability plagues India every time there is no stable government at the Centre.
Propaganda on the vital importance of stability to protect the integrity of India spun by parties notwithstanding, the absence of a nationally strong Opposition has led to the Prime Minister of the country adopting an autocratic style of governance, apart from taking absolute control of the ruling party.
This was first manifested during the 1970s, when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. She displayed all the ills of a dictator by silencing her critics inside and outside the party. She jailed them and silenced critics by imposing censorship. Had it not been for her insecurity, she could have contained the challenges to her leadership in a democratic manner. By the time she was trounced in a national election, which she was convinced she would win, her party was in a shambles, with even sycophants deserting her. The Congress and the nation never fully recovered from this damage that Indira Gandhi inflicted to democracy.
The Congress’ decline, for a while, looked like would lead to the growth of a second national party. But that party was over in less than three years of its formation, when personal egos took precedence over any other interest.
It was this vacuum that the Bharatiya Janata Party filled, after whipping up Hindu nationalist sentiments. Unfortunately, the Congress decline continued even as the BJP grew nationally, ensuring there would be no two national parties that could take on the other and not be intimidated by misuse of administrative machinery.
Creation of a hung House also led to regional satraps relishing the chances of controlling the levers of power at the Centre, which they could never dream if there were two nationally strong parties. The likes of NTR, Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi, Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Banerjee, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, among several others, held the remote control of the Central Government, over the years.
At the moment, we are in a position similar to the 1970s, when Indira Gandhi was the only unquestionable national leader who provided a lot of hope and aspiration for commoners and propagated the myth that the rest of the politicians were all selfish people who would not mind collaborating with anti-national forces or multi-national forces to destabilise her government and ensure the disintegration of the nation.
In place of Indira Gandhi, we have Narendra Modi. In place of sycophants like D K Barooah, who said “Indira is India and India is Indira,” we have the likes of Amit Shah, who wouldn’t politically qualify to hold even the post of a junior minister in a state government had it not been for his unflinching loyalty to his boss. Even as Modi is deified, the Opposition need to put its act together, like the way they did against Indira Gandhi, so that Modi and his eulogisers are not allowed to continue with ‘the boss is always right, don’t question him’ style of governance beyond 2019.
While the formation of the Janata Party was spearheaded by Jayaprakash Narayan who never was interested in the fishes and loaves of office, there seems to be no one to take up that role now. On the flip side, there is no Emergency, which forced the Opposition to come together.
However, the advantage of not having to fight a draconian condition is that the Opposition too has the chance of educating the public about the perils of a Government that has not done anything substantial and has spent precious two-and-a-half years promoting the image of its principal and indulging in launch of programmes that remain just slogans.
There is the need for different regional parties to join hands sooner. After the Janata Party and Janata Dal experiments, the likelihood of another merger is something that even those with nostalgia are not keen about and may be best avoided. But there has to be one single person from its midst the Opposition has to accept and project as the counter to Narendra Modi. This is the biggest challenge before the Opposition as 2017 dawns.
Trinamool Congress Chairman Mamata Banerjee seems best suited to don the mantle of Modi’s challenger but will the others be ready to accept her? For starters, Nitish Kumar may be even ready to patch up with Modi just to ensure that Banerjee does not get a chance of becoming a national leader because of his personal animosity towards her. Arvind Kejriwal may be willing to support her to the point the ‘coalition’ attains power but thereafter he is likely to treat her the way he treated Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav etc.
Nitish Kumar, having already shot himself in the foot by siding with the Government on the currency replacement goof-up, cannot think of a national role as his very existence as CM is in danger. Leaders like Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh have no credibility and very few would endorse Mayawati as PM, even if BSP manages to win all Lok Sabha seats in UP.
Rahul Gandhi has no acceptance even within his party because of his peculiar ways of rubbing senior leaders the wrong way. But Congress leaders are ready to have him at least as their figure head. That is a very important advantage he has over other leaders because Congress had a national party presence and it would take lesser effort for its revival than for others to establish nation-wide. Unfortunately, Gandhi doesn’t seem to be ready for this role. The current state of the national Opposition suggests that Modi would win a second term. But then, a week is a long time in politics.
( firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 02nd January 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 1)#