On Friday, it rained in Delhi. These days, the weather is of no consequence. The Opposition party leaders merely glanced at their umbrellas in the corner of their study and went ahead with an online meeting, presided by Sonia Gandhi.
They were strategizing how to defeat the BJP in the general elections, three years away. The leaders present included Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Uddhav Thackeray, and Sitaram Yechury. There was, thank God, no sign of Prashant Kishor. But then he has not yet founded a party; he is only a manager looking for money. Which is another party altogether.
Sonia Gandhi, who united the Opposition against odds in 2004 and brought the Congress to power, said various political groups in Parliament should unite to fight the BJP. She is reassuringly consistent; in fact, so consistent that it is as if nothing seems to have changed over the years: unite, defeat, be defeated; unite, be defeated more, unite again to be defeated.
Mamata Banerjee, one of the fiercest and most hysterical — or histrionic — leaders of India, said they should form a ‘core committee’. Rahul Gandhi said, ‘India’s Constitution and institutions were in threat.’ Later, Sonia Gandhi said, this is all fine, but that one must do the real battle simultaneously on the ground. Which is a problem, isn’t it?
On the ground is where the weather makes a difference. Unlike a Gandhi or a Nehru, there is little work done by any of these parties that will bring in new members or sympathizers in droves. It would be fascinating to see if, with the possible exception of Trinamool Congress, any of the Opposition parties have actually increased their memberships. Or whether, if a popularity poll is conducted, any of the Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi would attract more voters than Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The CPM, led by Yechury, is just nowhere in the picture except in Kerala. They have just no idea what to do with themselves or how to relate to India except in large — so large, it has no distinction in position from drawing room liberals and well-meaning socialites— statements of humanist ideals. They have no strategy either to redeem themselves or the India of their dreams.
The Rest of the Opposition is not much different. In Maharashtra, despite a moderate and seemingly reasonable (to be sure, more reasonable than his father Balasaheb Thackeray), Uddhav Thackeray, it would be a good question to ask what tangible turn in development is at work now in that state.
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Mumbai city itself is not in any great condition despite the fact the BMC has a budget of over ₹75,000 crore, several times more than the ‘advanced’ — if perpetually beggared — state of Kerala. The potholes in Mumbai city roads, though bigger than last year’s, are now invisible, filled as they are with rainwater. Some holes can be developed as scuba diving spots; they are deep enough.
The leader who makes the most noise, and easily the bravest, Mamata Banerjee, has no idea apart from the currently-in-vogue welfare measures (whose great exponents are, besides Modi, Pinarayi Vijayan, Mamata Banerjee, and Arvind Kejriwal) how to run an administration. West Bengal has slipped on many developmental indices. Despite this, all the three on their most hopeful days— this is usually when the Modi government faces a crisis, say, like the Pegasus—harbour prime ministerial ambitions.
The great fair hope of India, Rahul Gandhi, has of late taken his struggles outside his house and Parliament in the form of symbolic protests on the ground, such as driving a tractor to Parliament with farmers and cycling (to Parliament, of course) in protest against rising oil and gas prices.
Does any of it revolutionize the ideals of the young, usher hopes of a possible replacement of the Modi regime in the next general elections?
Sadly, no. Where they fail, as ever, is in the essentially bourgeois spirit of the liberal, urban, drawing room politics, which faints at the sight of sweat and blood.
In many respects, the current Indian government and administration are a tragedy. In equal measure, the current Opposition politics is a comedy. Rahul Gandhi on Friday again called for an ‘alternative vision’.
The alternative vision is not the problem. A child (though in these Google times there is a risk that there are only babies and old men, no kids) would tell you about the India of her dreams. How to get there is the deal. The Opposition still does not have a clue how to queer the pitch, mine the ground.
In short, it is not yet another ‘Core Committee’ meeting once a month to ‘take stock’ of the events that they need. It is getting out into rural India, a terrain Modi still owns simply because he sees to it that every speech he makes is directed at them, over the heads of the Urban chattering class, and working them over to their (the Opposition’s) flank. Nor is it want of vision. It is simply that they must get out of their home and office and hit the countryside. In short, make use of their umbrellas.
(C P Surendran’s novel One Love And the Many Lives of Osip B, published by Niyogi Books, is out on the stands now, and also available on Amazon)
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