In 2018, Opposition must debate, not berate Hindutva

No locking of horns on the BJP’s brand of Hindutva; instead offering policy alternatives bonding the religious majority’s aspirations with life issues that are troubling youth across societal divides.

opinion Updated: Jan 02, 2018 08:58 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Parliament,Winter Session,BJP
Opposition members protest inside the Rajya Sabha in New Delhi during the ongoing winter session on December 27, 2017. (PTI File Photo)

Slogans apart, a strong Opposition is a pre-requisite in all democracies. India isn’t an exception despite decades of one-party rule during the early years after Independence.

That vacuum had leaders and parties emerge from the Congress’ womb, the rebellion shaping the spectrum from the Left to the Right. The much venerated communist EMS Namboodiripad was a Congressman, so was Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of the Jana Sangh, the BJP frontrunner. The origins of the socialist stream led by Acharya Narendra Deva and Ram Manohar Lohia, the Nehru-Gandhi family’s most trenchant critic, were no different.

Anti-Congressism predicated on ideological hiatuses was the guiding impulse of EMS, Lohia and Mukherjee. It had many avatars in the shape of Samyukta Vidhayak Dal regimes in states in the sixties, the Janata Party of the seventies and the Janata Dal experiment a decade later. VP Singh’s short-lived National Front regime stood on crutches provided by the BJP and the Left.

The wheel has since come a full circle; anti-BJPism displacing anti-Congressism as the Opposition’s leitmotif. The hegemony to be contested now is the saffron surge that has embraced 19 states, as the Prime Minister claimed the other day to show himself as one up on Indira Gandhi who, at her peak, had power in 18 states. It’s another matter the number of states then was fewer; Telangana, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh being carved out in the Post-Indira era.

What then should be the Opposition parties’ New Year resolve to expand the shrinking anti-BJP space that hit an unprecedented low in 2014? The defeat was of the entire secular side of the political divide: the Congress, the Left and regional forces such as the SP, BSP, RJD and the JD(U).

Exceptions to the humiliating rout were the TMC, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Biju Janata Dal and the AIADMK. The last two didn’t join the NDA but from a distance, they consciously flirted with the BJP.

Can the disparate lot set up a pan-Indian front or sew up tactical alliances to be able to pose a meaningful challenge to the saffron party? That won’t happen unless the Congress picks up strength — and be accepted as the pivot of the anti-BJP wheel. The ground rule is that alliances, direct or proximate, need a sizeable core to succeed.

Enfeebled as it is, the Congress needs electoral victories over the BJP in states where the fight is straight: Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Rahul Gandhi has to first triumph factionalism in his party units before thinking of taking on Modi and his troops.

By all accounts, Rajasthan’s a low-hanging fruit and Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and MP are winnable. Victories in couple of these states will bolster the Congress’ challenge as a national alternative.

It possibly can achieve that by replicating the Punjab leadership model — where Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu symbolised experience and youth. The strategy will contain in-fighting and show the Congress as the party of the present and the future.

But as important as these nuts and bolts issues are the electoral talking points; the policy choices on offer in the discourse the BJP will try to hijack the way it did in Gujarat. Besides focusing on unemployed youth in urban hubs, the emphasis has to be on farm distress, given that the states headed for polls are overwhelmingly rural.

The dos have to be supplemented as much by the don’ts. And what are they? No locking of horns on the BJP’s brand of Hindutva; instead offering policy alternatives bonding the religious majority’s aspirations with life issues that are troubling youth across societal divides.Call it the Hindutva of hope if you like.

First Published: Jan 02, 2018 08:57 IST