Narendra Modi’s five-year record in
office shows that he has confused the wave of support to him in 2014 as mass
support for authoritarianism. It is now time to pay dearly for that. There may
not be a visible strong anti-Modi wave yet but an undercurrent of growing
anti-incumbency is unmistakable and can be seen even beyond the 3 States where
the recent poll outcome went against him.
The opposition might still be
scattered, its ideological-political plank still be incoherent and electorally
too they might not be cohesive yet. But even many neutral observers acknowledge
that the balance of overall poll arithmetic has clearly tilted against Modi and
shifted in favour of the opposition.
Poll bugle might sound soon and very
little time is left. The priorities of current electoral manoeuvres might come
to dominate. Still, it is also important that through this very process
attention must be paid to larger issues like shaping up an inclusive
social-democratic vision for a democratic restoration and a 21st century
people’s agenda of poplar democracy. Lapsing into mere electoral pragmatism
would rob the opposition unity of any durability. Moreover, if the gradual
demise of centrism in international politics reaffirms anything, it is the need
for broader left-right bipolarity in the polity in ideological-political terms.
In the light of this, It would be a
mistake to look at the Congress entirely through the prism of its neo-liberal
past of the UPA days. Congress today is a pale shadow of its past. One thing
good about a marginalised Congress is that it has made the talk of a third
front superfluous as electorally today the Congress is just an also-ran entity.
Naturally, there is no strong support for a third force or third way in the
That Modi was wide off the mark in
calling for a Congress-mukt Bharat has been demonstrated by his own brigade’s
bad-mouthing of Rahul day in and day out. Still, the foremost challenge for
Rahul is to revive Congress from its nadir. However, any revival is possible
only through the current political process of broad anti-authoritarian popular
But then Congress is Congress and
given its legacy and historically evolved composition, at this point, there are
bound to be contradictory pulls within it. Whether it will go back to its
centre-right plank or can Rahul steer it a centre-left direction still remains
an unsettled issue. The imperatives of winning back a popular support base and
its plutocratic class character would always be at loggerheads. Even assuming
that Congress would in future go back to its centre-right self, today the
politics of engagement with the Congress by the progressive camp should be
governed by the current imperatives of vanquishing the forces of Hindu Right.
Trying to bring Congress immediately
back to power would not only be objectively unrealistic but even prove to be
counterproductive tactically and Rahul seems to be aware of this. It would be
unrealistic to expect Rahul to solve long-term problems of Congress like
winning back dalits and tribals and regaining the confidence of minorities but
there are early indications for that. No easy solutions appear in sight for
staging a comeback in UP-Bihar and winning back the Western India and becoming
relevant again in Odisha, West Bengal and North-East. Still, Congress is a
party with ample expertise and experience as an all-India ruling party.
Rahul is sending some positive signals
for a course correction. True, he might not have openly distanced himself with
Manmohan’s neoliberal legacy and might not do so in future too. Still, survival
imperatives tend to push him towards a popular-left turn if his recent
Chhattisgarh speech and Mint interview are any indication. He contrasts a
handful of big corporate cronies of Modi with the need for a greater space for
small, micro and medium businesses, talks of composite strategy of state
assistance to solve the agrarian crisis and points to the earlier pro-big
business thrust leading to NPAs. He has also intelligently adapted the slogan
of unconditional universal basic income to Indian conditions as minimum income
guarantee. He might not have moved more in a social-democratic direction of
state commitment to social enterprises, sharing and solidarity economy of the
self-organising and an eco-friendly path of development and so on. But then it
is the job of the left to offer a powerful counter pull.
The Left might be marginal electorally
but the Left has always enjoyed disproportionately greater influence on the
terrain of ideas and this is all the more true under conditions of rightwing
hegemony. Here we are not talking of 2 or 3 electoral left parties alone but
referring to the broad-spectrum Left, including the left intelligentsia in the
media, academia and civil society and so on. This Left should animate with its
ideas the popular front realignment underway.
As some left leaders tend to do,
reducing the need to work for a broader leftward shift in the polity to a
simplistic binary of whether to get into an electoral coalition with the
Congress or not is wrong. Having to break bread with a party like Congress is a
rarest of rare occasions for the Left imposed by the fascist far-right.
Naturally, this is not the time to talk of a third way. A more constructive and
creative engagement with the Congress is a precondition even to check a return
of the Congress to a centre-right neoliberal plank as far as possible. The
Congress might well go back to its true center-right self in future. The Left
too can go back to its anti-Congressism. Indian public is politically mature
enough not to confuse tactical manoeuvres with opportunism.
The Left leaders should also take lead
in clearing some misconceptions and confusions in the progressive camp.
Opposition unity is also a political manoeuvre and the finer distinction
between pre-election unity manoeuvres and the post-election understanding
should be kept in mind. Fielding a common candidate against BJP as far as
possible should not be confused with a full-fledged programmatic unity bind
with the Congress or an all-in pan-opposition unity. The move for a broad
liberal-left convergence might have only made a cold start but only through
that the Left can take care of its future interests in the politics of the
present. (IPA Service)