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India: Opposition Should Focus On Restoration Of Democracy – OpEd

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By Dr Ram Puniyani*

One will be amazed to compare India of today with the same a decade ago. BJP’s (‘Bharatiya Janata Party’, one of two major political parties in India) getting a majority in the Lok Sabha (2014) has changed the political, social and economic scenario in an adverse direction. The rising prices, the free fall of the economy with GDP at an all-time low, with India falling down on hunger index and the massive rise in poverty-unemployment along with rising of corporate might reflects the economic plight of the citizens.

The erosion of democratic ethos, parliamentary practices, the decline in the autonomy of democratic institutions like Election Commission, Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) and the role of a section of the judiciary in not preserving values of the Indian Constitution are out in the open.

The state of federalism is worrying again and many of the regional parties-states are feeling that Union Government is trampling over their rights. This has been most manifest in the Corona vaccination drive as one example. The social plight of Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities and the ruling parties’ imposing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA, has made it clear to most sections of society about the need to have a Union Government which adheres to the norms of the Indian Constitution, pluralism and is inclusive.

BJP is a party that has the solid multipronged backing of ‘Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’ (RSS), its lakhs of swayamsevaks (volunteers) and thousands of Pracharaks (propagandists). They claim to be working for a cultural organization but swing to the electoral arena in elections. The media’s large section and IT cell have been built as a strong citadel for promoting BJP’s electoral prospects.

The other powerful support comes from the corporate sector, which has determined to see Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, for the last couple of decades. On top of it BJP has raised a strong electoral mechanism from booth level to the top which ensures exploiting all the possibilities of victory of BJP even in an adverse situation. To add to its strength is its ways of making MLAs to walk over to BJP to form Governments even when it is in minority, as we saw in the case of Goa, Karnataka and MP.

Two examples of its winning elections are its alliances and overwhelming resources. As for alliances time and over again, the likes of Late Ram Vilas Paswan stands out. Winning over-ambitious leaders is best exemplified in the case of Jyotiraditya Scindia. So, despite a large section of dissatisfied population BJP has been increasing its grip over the electoral power in Centre and in many states. The amount of resources and efforts put in Bengal elections was phenomenal, still, it showed that a determined citizenry can ensure that all these actions may not succeed.

The opposition parties on one hand have not yet fully woken up to the fact that opposition unity based on the platform of plural, democratic agenda is the key to keep this party away from the seat of power. The results of the Assam elections should be an eye-opener, where despite a higher voting percentage Congress+ lost and a BJP+ polling less number of votes is occupying the seat of power. The main reason was the inability to form a joint alliance despite having a similar, though not exactly the same, agenda. The party of Akhil Gogoi, which contested separately did affect the results adversely.

There are many parties that make the show of coming for alliance but put forward such hard bargaining conditions that alliance is not struck, and the democratic vote is divided to the advantage of BJP. The case of AAP and Congress in the previous Punjab-Goa assembly elections is one such.

So where does one go from here? In a recent article in Times of India, MP Pavan Varma, who was earlier expelled from the JDU (Janata Dal United) argues that regional parties do not add up to the pan India whole and for an effective opposition the role of Congress is central and crucial. He points out that “Congress is still the principal opposition party in states as far apart as Kerala and Assam. Even when reduced to just 52 seats in Lok Sabha in the 2019 parliament elections, it garnered 12 crore votes (BJP got 22 crore votes) and 20 % of the electoral vote share.

The joint alliance of regional and national parties is being recognized as the need of the hour more than before. The mismanagement of Corona has dented the carefully crafted charisma of Modi and even those who used to parrot the formulation that “jitega to Modi hi’ (Modi alone will win) and that there is no alternative to Modi, realize that the dictatorial style and the highhanded pursuit of the sectarian nationalist politics of present regime are ruining the country all round.

(The problem is that the fragmentation of opposition forces and egos and political ambitions of many of the leaders handing the coalition are so rigid that the alliances do not happen and a triangular fight ensues and BJP is by and large the beneficiary.)

The oldest party of India, which had a central role in getting the country independence, should be realizing that the individual ambitions of the leaders have to be accommodated partly in the larger framework of principles of Indian Constriction. The economic agenda has to be inclusive the way UPA I (Congress with support of left) was focusing on the Rights-based approach of vast sections of the population.

Interestingly if the opposition unity does not come through and BJP with twin support of RSS and Corporate succeeds in repeating its performance of last two general elections, the worsening of the plight of the country is writ on the face of the country. Attempts should be intensified to build bridges between regional parties and the nationalist party. There is a need to evolve a minimum common program of saving the country from the agenda of sectarian nationalism, the marginalization’s of religious minorities: Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis and women in general.

In a true spirit of Indian nationalism, all the activists of social movements also need to support such an initiative, as even the space for social movements needs to be reclaimed while saluting the young student-youth leaders who are taking all their might to articulate the democratic rights and ambitions of the common man. 

*The writer is a former professor of biomedical engineering and former senior medical officer affiliated with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (now Mumbai) and meanwhile a social activist and commentator.

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