Monday April 25, 2022

India needs a national government

India needs a national government

Recently held state elections presented a mixed result on the national political landscape.

When the Bharariya Janata Party did well in the Assembly elections in five states, political analysts saw it as indicating Prime Minister Narendra Modi is well set to lead his Bharatiya Janata Party to a hat-trick win in the 2024 national elections.

In a set of by-elections held in some states later, the opposition parties did well, raising doubts about the validity of the earlier conclusion.

The Indian political scene is so vast and varied that no reliable conclusions can be drawn on the mood of the nation from the outcome of Assembly elections in a few states and by-elections in a few constituencies.

There are voters who vote mechanically, motivated by loyalty to a party, a leader or a caste or religious group. But there are also voters who are actuated by other, wider considerations. That is why elections do not throw up the same winners every time.

A scrutiny of Lok Sabha and State Assembly election results quite often reveals that the voters were aware that they were called upon not just to pick an MP or MLA, but to choose a government.

Those who think along those lines are unlikely to favour a party or alliance if, in their view, it does not have a fair chance of winning the election. Therein lies the BJP’s big advantage at present.

As in 2019, the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance, which it leads, may be going into the 2024 elections from a position of strength. For one, they are holding power at the Centre and in several states.

In Narendra Modi the BJP has a powerful campaigner with an uncanny ability to precipitate the kind of polarisation that will best serve its interests.

Above all, they have a party that has at its disposal the services of Rashtriya Swayamsevak cadres to take care of booth-level activities.

As the Modi regime enters the final phase of its second successive term, it seems to have a fair approval rate across the country.

This is not to suggest that the opposition challenge to Modi is doomed to fail. Modi’s good approval rate is the result of two factors – his superior public relations effort and the opposition’s failure to expose the government’s failures.

The opposition parties did not, singly or collectively, mount an effective campaign against the legislative and administrative measures pushed by the Centre since 2014. Some of them did provoke strong protests. But the campaigns were led by civil society groups, not political parties.

It is still not too late for the opposition to make a comprehensive review of the Modi regime’s work in the light of the basic principles of the Constitution. They should pursue the idea of a united front only if they can agree on the need for alternative policies.

Shifting the emphasis from parties and personalities to policies and programmes will considerably reduce the advantage the Modi brigade now has over the disparate opposition.

One factor that is standing in the way of opposition unity is the leadership crisis in the Congress. Some parties seem to think an alliance with the Congress party will do them more harm than good. But it will be foolish to imagine the opposition can do well without the Congress, which still is the country’s second largest party.

The demand for elected leaders at all levels is now quite strong in the Congress. But Rahul Gandhi appears to look upon the organisational elections only as a means to legitimise his elevation to the top post.

The Congress has been in talks with Prashant Kishore, a reputed election strategist, to enlist his services before the 2024 elections. He is reported to have advised the party not to project Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate.

The Gandhi family must gracefully accept this advice.

Not only the Congress but all opposition parties wishing to join a united front must guard against falling into the divisive issue of prime ministership. They must stay focussed on the cardinal issue of restoring the constitutional values which have taken a beating in recent years.

In the opposition ranks there are many leaders who have acquitted themselves creditably at the national and state levels. The task before them is not to cobble up a lopsided coalition in which decisions are taken by one or two persons and the others’ role does not extend beyond saying, “Yes, boss”.

The opposition must aim at the formation of a widely representative, truly national government, drawing talent from outside the political system, if necessary. In fact, it may be a good idea for those who favour the idea of a national government to first constitute a national advisory council to help them resolve any problems that may arise from time to time. There are many eminent personalities like Amartya Sen, to name just one, to whom the opposition can turn for advice and guidance in the effort to restore constitutional values and put the country firmly back on the democratic path.

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