By T.J.S. George
Now that the budget has assured Devaloka by 2019, we can return to more mundane things: How the Opposition parties can unite against the BJP. The attempts made by some leaders last week were natural. Given the proliferation of parties that distinguishes our long-suffering democracy, electoral alliances are the only way to put a brake on the BJP’s increasingly aberrant concepts — from writing a whole new constitution to discriminatory orange passports. But dreams are not reality. Our Opposition parties are so inward-looking that it is difficult for them to join hands in any meaningful way. The BJP’s real strength is Opposition disunity.
So it was no surprise that last week’s efforts proved non-starters. CPM leader Sitaram Yechury’s call for an impeachment of the Chief Justice of India proved a bit too radical to get traction. Sonia Gandhi’s “brainstorming” session was an open-ended idea. Sharad Pawar made some concerted moves to float a broad platform: A Republic Day rally in Mumbai to “save the Constitution” and then a get-together of non-BJP leaders in Delhi. In attendance were the Congress, CPM, CPI, the National Conference, JD(U) rebel Sharad Yadav and also Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Ram Jethmalani.
That such disparate elements could collect under one umbrella was an indication that the parties recognise the importance of uniting against an opponent who freely uses governmental power to its advantage. But their intentions betray them because they are leader-oriented and the leaders are self-oriented. The Pawar initiative, for example, didn’t click when it became clear that what he had in mind was a national alliance with him as the supreme leader, to wit, the Prime Ministerial candidate.
Pawar will inspire no confidence, given the NCP’s record in office. The party’s twin stars, Pawar and Praful Patel, were known as protectors of lobbies. When the poisonous pesticide endosulfan caused widespread and pathetic birth deformities in Kasargod-South Mangalore areas, Food Minister Pawar remained unconcerned, saying that further tests were necessary to prove endosulfan’s culpability. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel handled Air-India in such ways that even a Rs. 30,000 crore bailout has been unable to save it. The CAG and the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament had found evidence of doubtful financial decisions in the purchase of 110 aircraft in one go at a cost of Rs. 50,000 crore.
A party led by such men can only be expected to put their interests above the country’s. Hence the rejection of the Pawar move by other parties. The Trinamool Congress indirectly suggested that Mamata Bannerji was the only leader deserving to be an Opposition Prime Ministerial candidate. There are others who swear by Chandrababu Naidu. And yet others by Naveen Patnaik. The Opposition infighting is the BJP’s joy when it is facing trying times. The Shiv Sena has already walked out and Chandrababu Naidu has openly complained about being neglected. The BJP, in a spirit of defiance, is making overtures to Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra and Jaganmohan Reddy, Naidu’s staunchest enemy, in Andhra Pradesh.
It’s a replay of the Kautilya doctrine of Sama, Dana, Bheda, Danda. Where conciliation and bribes don’t work, it is open to the use of threats and assaults. Was the recent raid on Karnataka Minister D.K. Shivakumar’s premises part of a plan to scare him into joining the BJP? After all, Shivakumar had helped the BJP’s candidate win the Mysuru Parliamentary seat in the last elections. Was there an understanding with Sharad Pawar in the last Gujarat elections? The BJP had become weak with the rise of the Jignesh-Hardik tide and the results showed that seven districts in the State had become BJP-mukt. The party managed to retain power only because the NCP fielded a large number of candidates and thereby split Opposition votes significantly. Perhaps the NCP, too, has reasons to stay on the safe side of the BJP.
A sensible Opposition can indeed find a solution to the leadership problem that is now obstructing their unity. If Rahul Gandhi is too young and too inexperienced, Mamata Bannerji too unpredictable in her moods and Sharad Pawar too tainted, they can still narrow down to someone like Naveen Patnaik who is at least non-controversial although his commitment to meaningful governance is open to doubt. His ability to avoid the limelight is no mean talent. If Rahul Gandhi sees the wisdom of biding his time till 2022 and others see the apparent harmlessness of Patnaik, a united Opposition is not impossible to replace a party that allows lynching to become a patriotic pastime.