As Faiz would exhort his friends


THE search has begun among India’s fractious opposition groups for a strategy to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi, two years from now. A dire situation should require an enlightened coming together of otherwise competing interests. Which means everyone must come with a large-hearted willingness for self-sacrifice.

The alternative is the familiar craving for power with the veneer of good intentions. The Janata Party experiment of 1977-79 is an example. That slot of power at any cost is gone to the BJP anyway. What the opposition can find is a useful space left for it — to unite and to rescue the country with steady, caring hands.

Activity in the opposition ranks indicates a sense of purpose. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, back from a long medical leave, met Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). She also held a rare face-to-face chat with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Elsewhere, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been calling for a united opposition, including the left. She feels the threat more palpably than others from the rise of the BJP, and in particular from the consolidation of power in the hands of Mr Modi. Ms Banerjee also met Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik who too is in trouble with Hindutva.

In Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP left the opposition in tatters last month, former chief ministers and arch-rivals Akhilesh Yadav and Ms Mayawati have expressed the need to bury the hatchet. They both feel the chill in their bones. Equally crucially, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, rumoured to face dismissal regardless of the outcome of this week’s municipal election in Delhi, met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The southern leader is confronting a new challenge from right-wing storm troopers in his enviably secular state. People in Delhi are said to be waiting for a ruse to step in against Vijayan’s communist government. Kejriwal and Vijayan agreed it was time for “good people” to come together to save Indian democracy from Mr Modi.

Having diagnosed the ailment, the Indian opposition needs to get down to the business at hand.

How does one begin to break the gridlock of unwieldy egos or the contesting ideologies the opposition comes with? An even bigger problem — quite a few in the opposition share their source of funds (and corruption) from the businessmen who also support the ruling establishment. Congress tried to address this influence of big business in politics. In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi did call for the eviction of “moneybags” who “ride the backs of the Congress worker”. He was smeared with the Bofors muck in retaliation. Manmohan Singh subsequently wooed the tycoons. They shepherded his policy and eventually left him holding a can of worms.

When Singh’s government got blamed for corruption, the tycoons who benefited from the graft showed a clean pair of heels, and switched sides. The BJP welcomed them by creating new laws to make corporate funding opaque, even secretive. Transparency and honesty are great attributes to cultivate or flaunt though they are not necessarily a political winner in India.

Having thus diagnosed the ailment, the Indian opposition needs to get down to the business at hand. The most outspoken critics of Mr Modi include the chief ministers of Bengal and Delhi. For being that, they could soon be in trouble, not because their names figure on the missing Indian list of Panamagate but because they are virulently anti-BJP. When the chips are down, even an Indira Gandhi could be dethroned. In her case, the ruse in 1975 was that she spoke from an election podium funded by the administration.

When Mr Modi thunders, therefore, as he did during the Uttar Pradesh polls, that he has the goods on his critics, he could be referring to the big or small IOUs that every political party gets saddled with. Under the circumstances, if the big fish can get the small fish pre-emptively, the big fish can always flaunt itself as the incarnation of probity. Usually, the one who controls the federal investigation agencies and the raiding parties in India wins the day. The current government’s spurious fight against corruption is also a ploy to take away the focus from far worse. Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar and cow-linked lynching are examples.

Don’t blame the BJP for all the follies. As Congress calls for the dismissal of Kejriwal in Delhi it plays into the hands of the BJP. If the CPI-M seeks the dismissal of Mamata Banerjee, as happens often, it objectively does the BJP a favour.

It is true that Hindutva targets Muslims and Christians and most of all the liberals, overtly, and the Dalits and tribespeople covertly. But that is not why the leading tycoon-traders have wagered their bets on Modi’s growing consolidation.

Arundhati Roy described the larger malaise, the quandary that democracies today face everywhere: “The crisis of modern democracy is a profound one. Free elections, a free press and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities available on sale to the highest bidder.” Is India’s opposition ready to discard its links with two-timing big business and learn from Kejriwal and from the left about crowd funding?

Faiz must have had the Indian opposition’s dilemma in mind when he echoed a Marxian exhortation — there’s nothing to lose but your chains; there’s a world to conquer. He said: “Gar baazi ishq ki baazi hai, jo chaho laga do dar kaisa/Gar jeet gaye to kya kehna, haarey bhi to baazi maat nahi”. (Should your battle be for true love, then fight with the courage of your convictions/If you win there’s cause to exult, and if you lose you will still be the winner in your own esteem.

The Article First Appeared In DAWN

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