Liberals can’t see opp’s intolerance to house!
If a wave of intolerance was indeed sweeping through India, making a mockery of the cherished ‘idea of India’ and putting our democracy at risk, why has the threat evaporated so abruptly since Diwali?
It can hardly be the case that such a grave threat is purely seasonal and that the fascists in khaki shorts are on a winter break. If Narendra Modi is indeed the Hitler he is made out to be, he must be a papier-mâché replica. A more authentic Fuhrer would certainly have bared his fangs far more menacingly.
Maybe the answer lies in the conclusive outcome of the Bihar Assembly election. At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, let me suggest that the kerfuffle over beef and intolerance was aimed at elevating the political opposition to the regime and the ruling BJP into a more fundamental question of civil liberties and minority vulnerability. If that indeed was the purpose — with the award wapsi gang playing the role of what Lenin called “useful idiots” — it succeeded beyond all expectations. The BJP was forced on to the back foot confronting an agenda over which it had no control. A spectacular degree of Opposition unity was achieved — with even the doughty anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal embracing Lalu Prasad and the AAP maintaining a silence on the National Herald affair.
Both the BJP and the parties decimated in the 2014 poll attached a great deal of importance to the Bihar election. For the BJP, a victory or at least a creditable showing was absolutely essential for two reasons. First, it was necessary to establish that the momentum of 2014 centred on Modi hadn’t entirely dissipated. Secondly, like in 2014, the BJP set out to establish that political chemistry could prevail over electoral arithmetic and that the votes of the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress wouldn’t transfer in its entirety to the Mahagathbandhan.
The assumptions turned out to be flawed. Modi is still an extremely popular figure — as the huge crowds in his public meetings demonstrated — but an Assembly election isn’t a Lok Sabha election and the Prime Minister’s national standing couldn’t prevail over the respect Nitish Kumar commanded for providing Bihar with a half-decent administration for a decade. Strangely, the BJP, which too had a seminal role in extricating Bihar from Lalu’s ‘jungle raj’, chose not to demand a share of the credit. On the contrary, the incessant invocation of the possibility of Bihar being again overwhelmed by whimsical governance led to a spectacular consolidation of Lalu’s dedicated vote bank behind the three-party alliance. With the chemistry going wrong, a high index of anti-BJP unity was reflected in the results.
For the combined Opposition, the biggest take-away from Bihar was the proof that the BJP was most vulnerable when it was confronted with a united challenge.
Nitish Kumar, whose long-term national ambitions are no great secret appears to be the most active in fostering anti-BJP unity at all levels.
He is understood to be particularly active in Assam, trying to forge some form of tactical understanding between a beleaguered Congress, an increasingly marginalised AGP and Badruddin Ajmal’s UMFA. The project is challenging and may not ultimately fructify. But what is significant is that a serious attempt is being made to extend the Mahagathbandhan to every State where the BJP has a meaningful presence. It was even in evidence in the by-election in Jharkhand the Congress won.
In a revealing interview during the campaign, Nitish Kumar was asked to explain his sudden fondness for the Congress that had been the historic enemy of the followers of Ram Manohar Lohia. His answer — “But where is the Congress?” — may have underestimated the potential of the principal Opposition party but it does indicate his belief that the long-term decline of the Congress is an inescapable reality. Yet, there is the realisation that without the Congress no strong anti-BJP is possible.
If Nitish’s calculation is valid, has the Congress grasped its predicament? Can the Congress — which still has a presence all over India — be reconciled to a national coalition where it is not the senior partner and which does not project Rahul Gandhi as the leader? There are indications that the Congress does not want to address this question as yet, at least not before the results of the Assembly elections in Assam and Punjab. However, quite instinctively, the Congress will not be very happy with any arrangement that doesn’t acknowledge the primacy of the Gandhis.
It is primarily to secure the lion’s share of the anti-BJP space that the Congress has opted for its total war strategy in Parliament. The Gandhis are waging a classic asymmetric war. All it needs is the mobilisation of some 40 or so MPs and indulgence of the chair to create a Constitutional crisis and, by implication, make the Modi Government appear dysfunctional. The Congress wants to be the final approving authority of legislation.
Rahul Gandhi’s approach is out and out adventurist. However, he has been able to get away for two reasons. First, the other Opposition parties are still unwilling to allow the internal cracks in the anti-BJP ranks to emerge. They are happy to see Modi brought down a notch or two. Secondly, despite all the post-Bihar attempts, the agenda is still not being set by the Prime Minister, and certainly not in a media that has turned spectacularly hostile. The ominous implications of a non-functioning Parliament does not seem to concern the liberal classes, still nursing a deep resentment over exclusion from the power structure.
How long will this paralysis of the legislature continue? By going for the kill even before the Government has completed two years, Rahul Gandhi has left himself little room for manoeuvre. The BJP can turn this to advantage only if it shows some political imagination which, alas, has not been in evidence in the past fortnight’s crisis management.
-20 December 2015 |