By Amulya Ganguli
Rahul Gandhi is only partially right when he says that the BJP’s control of the autonomous institutions is hampering the opposition parties at the national level to make any headway. Although there is a grain of truth in the Congress leader’s charge, there are more basic reasons why the opposition is unable to pose a serious challenge to the ruling party at the centre.
Chief among them is the absence of an effective speaker in the non-BJP parties who can match Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rhetoric or even the fluency of the BJP’s other front-ranking leaders. It is difficult to think of any occasion when an opposition politician has been able to hold the crowd spellbound for any length of time.
Perhaps the only exception in recent years was the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav who did draw surging crowds during the Bihar elections. Not surprisingly, his party came out on top with the largest number of seats although it could not oust the ruling Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine.
However, there was a typical example of the RJD’s and the opposition’s short-sightedness when it kept out Kanhaiya Kumar, the former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader, from the Bihar campaign although he is an excellent speaker.
It is possible that the fear that he may outshine Tejashwi was behind his marginalization. As long as the opposition does not produce persuasive speakers or sidelines those known for their fluency and political acumen, it will always be running behind the BJP.
Another reason why the opposition parties are falling behind is their seeming lack of energy in contrast to the remarkable ability of the BJP leaders, including the septuagenarian prime minister, to storm across the length and breadth of the country without showing any interest in taking time off.
In contrast, Rahul Gandhi was spotted relaxing on the balcony of his sister, Priyanka’s Shimla home at the height of the Bihar campaign when he as well as his sister should have been aiding their party’s ally, Tejashwi’s energetic canvassing.
But it isn’t only the dearth of orators and of the gung-ho spirit which is holding the opposition back. Its other failure is the inability to present coherent policies either on secularism, which is supposedly its main plank, or on the economy.
As Rahul Gandhi’s and Mamata Banerjee’s election time temple-hopping shows, they are belatedly trying to make up for their earlier neglect in presenting their Hindu background because of the fear that such an assertion will alienate the minorities. But by trying too hard to please the latter, the Congress, for one, came to be known as the “Muslim party”, as Sonia Gandhi ruefully acknowledged.
But what missteps of this nature showed was the paucity of an intellectual calibre to present the party’s line on keeping religion and politics separate in a convincing manner. This deficiency cannot be made up by telling the BJP, as Mamata Banerjee is doing, not to “play Hindu gods with me”. The very challenge shows that the BJP has already won the ideological battle in the matter of bringing religion into the public discourse.
The intellectual inadequacy is also evident in the field of economics. Rahul Gandhi’s belief that jobs should be emphasized and not growth ignores the present-day shop floor where robots are replacing humans in a time of jobless development. It is possible that he wants to return to the 1960s and 1970s and ensure that the public sector reoccupies the commanding heights of the economy.
But that will mean turning one’s back on the modern world with its rapid technological advancements with artificial intelligence playing an increasingly prominent role. Just as the Congress has failed to understand the real meaning of secularism as envisaged by Nehru where the separation of “church” and “state” did not mean pandering to the minorities, the party has also not appreciated what Nehru meant when he described dams as the temples of modern India.
To the first prime minister, moving forward was the main mantra. This objective is of prime importance all the more at the present time when India is regressing on multiple fronts whether it is the spread of bigotry or the overt and covert curtailment of democratic rights including those of interfaith marriage.
Never was the correct interpretation of secular principles more important than now along with an economic vision which will integrate India with the rest of the world and not entrap it within the cages of juche, the North Korean word for self-reliance. (IPA Service)