Modi’s Sarkar and 1,000 Days of No Opposition

It is not enough anymore — in a country with 60 per cent populace under 35 — to state the obvious about what is not working. To be relevant to the masses, parties need to put across solutions.

By Shankkar Aiyar | Published: 28th May 2017 04:00 AM |

Three years back, following the decimation of the Congress and the Opposition in the 2014 polls, this column said, only half in jest, that “India has moved — from ‘no government’ to ‘no opposition’”. It would seem the parties in the Opposition have taken it to their heart.

In any functioning democracy, the Opposition is obliged to challenge the precepts and practices of the ruling regime. I had described the defeat as “the decimation of inaction and ineptitude”. Three years later, after a series of defeats, the Congress particularly, and other parties seem to struggle to find motivation and political aptitude to take on the regime.

The organising principle of Modi’s Sarkar is, and has been, managing the narrative to establish and sustain order. It has rolled out an agenda of intent and initiatives backed by a parade of acronyms and converted existing words to create backronyms — to enable and enlarge allegiance.

There is no disputing the successes — the Jan Dhan initiative, rural electrification, Ujjwala Yojana for instance. But the government has also fumbled and struggled with issues — for instance, agricultural distress, urbanisation, and job creation. The parties in the Opposition have flapped, but failed in challenging the ruling front.

Yes, there has been the stalling of Rajya Sabha, the walkouts in Lok Sabha and orchestration of outrages. But a rant does not make for a strategy. It would appear there is non-application of minds on approach, strategy and tactics.

The approach has been personalised, whereas it should have been professional scrutiny of government — in Parliament, in Committees and on the streets. The strategy should have been to present a mirror to the government — words vs action. The tactic seems to be to occupy media space, whereas it should be about raising issues that demand public attention.

It is true that Modi is acknowledged as the master of the metaphor and the medium. But the point to note is that at every outing he deploys the promise of possibilities. Content is crafted for context. Real time politics calls for attention not just to what he says, but when he doesn’t speak.

Leaders in the Congress and elsewhere have erroneously come to believe smart communication is about one-liners. The instrumentality of one-liners has limitations. Phraseology has a sell-by date — the dubbing of claims as jumlas has in itself become a jumla. And calling out the media as ‘afraid’ definitely doesn’t help the cause.

Unlike the previous regimes, the Modi-led NDA has straddled the socio-political economy to propel its political growth. The challenge for the Opposition is to analyse and present the sociopolitical aspects of economic decisions.

On Friday, the government announced a ban on sale of cattle for slaughter. Does the Opposition, particularly the Congress have a strategy, a view on the intended and unintended consequences on farmers and communities. The Kerala government has said it will challenge it. What about the other parties?

There is the immediate and there are long simmering issues. Kashmir has been on the boil for months, the uprising of stone-wielding teenagers, are worrisome. Is mere criticism sufficient?

There is a sense of disquiet about jobless growth. It is not enough to question the growth — the need is to prove the opposite with hard data and cases, and present the implications. Farmer distress is an issue that demands not just outrage, but also ideas beyond doles and waivers for resolution.

Similarly, the GST is seen as a major disruptor — as all changes are.The focus of the discourse should have been on the consumers. It should have been on jobs, the spectre of marginalisation of small business, on the informal sector which employs the bulk of the workforce. The new structure of taxation may translate into vulnerabilities for sectors and geographies. Will a higher tax on hotels hurt tourism and employment? These are the questions that politics must find answers to. These are issues that need constant, real time follow-ups.

The principal problem with the Opposition is the lack, and perhaps the absence of competitive ideas.

It cannot be that the Opposition lacks successes or experience — Manik Sarkar of CPM has been the CM since 1998, Naveen Patnaik of BJD has been the CM since 2000, Nitish Kumar since 2005, and Mamata Banerjee since 2011. Clearly, they must be getting something right. The UPA had nine former CMs, surely they have ideas that could be on the Opposition menu.

This week, leaders of 17 parties met in New Delhi — ostensibly to choose a consensus candidate for the Presidential polls. But the discourse was mostly about the state of the Opposition in the face of the juggernaut called Modi’s Sarkar. The BJD and the TRS stayed away. Sharad Yadav attended the luncheon even as Nitish Kumar chose to meet Modi. The fact that Lalu Yadav family is embroiled in corruption scandals triggered speculation about a possible ghar wapsi.

The sum of pieces approach of the Opposition to confront the BJP is backed by arithmetic theory, but the political promise is challenged and deflated by ground realities. It is one thing for Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati to be in the same room, and quite another to expect them to be on the same dais. Like the SP and the BSP, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC and CPM cannot accept to be frenemies.

The DMK, like the RJD and SP, is a family enterprise wallowing in feuds and scandals. The NCP — which was in coalition with Congress in Maharashtra for 15 years and in the Centre for 10 years — cannot make up its mind on friends and foes, whether it must fight elder sibling Congress or the BJP. Family and granular interests haunt the Opposition and fog the road ahead.

The Opposition has scarcely learnt from the 2014 debacle — the Modi Mission was driven by a raft of solutions riding on the template of pride.

It is not enough anymore — in a country with 60 per cent populace under 35 — to state the obvious about what is not working. To be relevant to the masses, parties need to put across solutions.

Wooing the young demography of India calls for parties to dismantle the status quo, retire the geriatrics and craft and present an alternate narrative. Failing which, they can always download the theme song of Rajeev Shukla-administered IPL — Yeh Dus Saal Aapke Naam — as a caller tune.

Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change

You can email him at shankkar.aiyar@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter. His previous columns can be found here. This column was first published here

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