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Need of the Hour: A Vibrant and Vigilant Opposition

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
24 Jun 2024

PM Modi wanted a Congress-mukt Bharat, his clarion during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. As Congress is the only pan-Indian political party besides the BJP, Modi wanted a parliament without an effective opposition. The 10 years of the Modi regime saw an emaciated democracy without an effective opposition. All democratic institutions were either weakened or hijacked by Hindutva forces. With 240 seats in the Lok Sabha, the BJP may not be able to rush through bills in the parliament. Strengthening democracy and reducing the stranglehold of the Hindutva forces on democratic institutions depends significantly on the vigilance and alacrity of the opposition parties.

In terms of numbers, the INDIA alliance, with 234 seats in the Lok Sabha, is better positioned to fight against the autocratic, divisive and communal policies of the BJP. It may be wishful thinking that the allies of the BJP, particularly the JDU of Nitish Kumar and TDP of Chandrababu Naidu, will have control over the BJP concerning anti-minority and anti-democratic policies. As these two regional parties are mainly concerned about their personal interests, which will only be achievable if they remain in power, the possibility of these two parties ditching the BJP to save democracy and secularism is a remote dream.

The INDIA alliance has to be eternally vigilant and vibrant to fulfil its promise of safeguarding the Constitution of India. The text of the Constitution may remain the same while the spirit is killed. The word secularism remains in the Constitution, but in reality, secularism has practically disappeared in the BJP-ruled states and in central governmental policies. The BJP government often blatantly supports the majority religion and lavishly spends taxpayer money to promote a particular religion.

Many political observers and analysts have indicated that the people of India have only shown through the 2024 Lok Sabha election that they are ready to listen to the opposition if they have a solid agenda to solve their vexing problems. "The opposition parties have just been given a signal that while the people have not turned to them, they are giving them a hearing", wrote The Indian Express in its editorial on 5th June. "Mr. Modi has been partially humbled. But the social infrastructure of communalism and vigilantism he has enabled will not disappear easily. It may acquire an autonomous life of its own", wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his weekly column in The Indian Express. According to Suhas Palshikar, "The outcome only opens up the possibility of staging a counter. Following its defeat, the BJP will resume its core politics from the next day. A setback may not deter the BJP and may not win large segments away from that exclusionary agenda-Hindutva".

There is no time left for the opposition parties, especially the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, to relax. First, they must prove to the people of India that the alliance was not stitched only to fight the Lok Sabha election 2024 but mainly to champion their cause. Hence, INDIA has to present its Common Minimum Programme (CMP) to the people with a concrete agenda. The CMP may include concrete proposals to generate jobs and reduce price rise, programmes to heal the wounds of social division and hate, a strategy to expose corruption and malpractices by the ruling party, a plan to put democracy on the right track, proposals for judicial reforms and detoxify education that is saffronised to a great extent.

In many states, people voted against the BJP because of the economic distress they are experiencing due to the paucity of jobs and rising prices. Before the government presents its budget, the opposition alliance must present to the people what policy changes it expects from the government to generate jobs on a large scale. The opposition has to pressure the government to invest heavily in promoting micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). It has to oppose any plan to sell profit-making Public Sector Units (PSUs) and public resources at cheaper rates to the crony capitalists. The government's taxation policy is to be tweaked in favour of the common people, and the rich and the superrich are to be taxed in proportion to their income for generating financial resources for providing improved health care and quality education to the common people, particularly the poor. In short, economic policies should be oriented toward growth with distributive justice.

The second priority of the opposition is to build bridges among different sections of society because of the deep cleavages created by the communal and divisive policies of the BJP governments in collusion with other Hindutva extremist groups. The opposition parties must design and implement a programme to promote harmony among the followers of different religions and castes. Volunteer groups are to be formed to promote harmony at the grassroots level and expose the plans of hate mongers to the public. Youtubers like Dhruv Rathee are to be encouraged and supported to spread the message of peace and harmony to counter hate messages spread through social media platforms by the IT Cell of the BJP.

The BJP used to claim that it is a party with a difference. But the Electoral Bonds Scheme and embracing hundreds of corrupt politicians from the opposition parties have proved that the ruling party is no different from other parties in terms of corruption. The opposition parties have to expose the corrupt practices of the BJP politicians to the public. The NEET scam is an opportunity for the opposition to expose corruption in the education department and how inefficient and incompetent the National Testing Agency (NTA) is. Dhruv Rathee, in his video on the NEET scam, has exposed how incompetent the agency is in conducting the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test.

The third priority of the opposition parties should be putting pressure on the government to follow the Constitution in letter and spirit. The opposition parties should have the spine to oppose the saffronisation policies of the government and doling out taxpayer money to promote a particular religion. For fear of losing the Hindu votes, they should not succumb to the temptation of pursuing "Soft Hindutva". Soft Hindutva can never defeat the Hard Hindutva, followed by the BJP. It was reported in the media that one of the reasons for the shameful defeat of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is the Soft Hindutva policies pursued by the former MP Congress president, Kamal Nath and the former chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel.

The opposition parties should launch a movement all over India against certain extremist organisations taking the law into their hands with the collusion of the police. They should oppose the bulldozer justice of demolishing houses of people implicated in criminal cases without following the due process of law. Another aspect of the movement should be educating common people about the richness of the Indian Constitution and the functioning of parliamentary democracy. People are to be made aware of the separation of powers among the three pillars of democracy - Legislature, Executive and Judiciary - and the media's and civil society's significant role.

Opposing the toxification of education and educational and cultural institutions with Hindutva ideology is another priority of the INDIA alliance. Rewriting and manipulating history, inundating textbooks with superstitions and blind faith under the guise of ancient Indian culture, deleting portions unpalatable to Hindutva protagonism, etc., are to be strongly resisted and reversed.

To implement the Common Minimum Programme, the INDIA alliance has to adopt a two-pronged strategy. Relevant issues of people are to be raised in the parliament, compelling the treasury benches to respond and hold the government accountable. Simultaneously, by organising meetings and awareness generation programmes, people are to be made aware of the same issues at the state, district, block, and gram panchayat levels.

An important lesson from the Congress's Bharat Jodo Yatra, led by Rahul Gandhi, is that connecting with people directly and communicating with them in their context effectively changes their attitudes. As a large section of Hindus are already brainwashed with the Hindutva ideology and made blind followers of the BJP and Narendra Modi through the mainline and social media, direct contact with people is the best way possible for the opposition parties.

In the absence of an attractive alternate narrative and a common programme by the INDIA alliance, the people did not have the confidence to hand over the reins of power to a conglomeration of opposition parties. They opted for stability by voting for the NDA headed by the BJP. At the same time, they expressed their strong disapproval of the BJP and PM Modi's wrong policies by reducing the BJP's margin by 63 Lok Sabha seats and compelling it to depend on its allies to run the government.

By adopting a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and an agenda towards implementing it, the INDIA alliance will be able to win the confidence of the people of India. Moreover, it will be beneficial to fight and win the state elections that will take place within a year in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand. The Congress that got zero seats in five states and one seat each in four states has to deeply introspect and reorganise the party in these states. Rahul Gandhi may have to undertake more pad-yatras to revive the party in these states.

Whatever success the INDIA alliance achieved in the Lok Sabha election 2024 may fizzle out if the alliance partners do not strengthen the cohesion among them and the unity of their purpose. The BJP, with the support of a mammoth organisation like RSS, unlimited financial resources at its disposal and the all-powerful government machinery in its control, will make all possible efforts to regain the lost electoral ground. It was reported in the media that the RSS wanted to make PM Modi and the BJP a little humble and realistic, but it will never let down the BJP, which plays a crucial role in realising its dream of making India a Hindu Rashtra. If the opposition parties, particularly the Congress, are unaware of this reality, they must live in an ivory tower. Hence, the INDIA alliance and the Congress must be alert and vibrant to build on their small gains in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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