Have Opposition leaders finally realised that a single party can't stop the BJP juggernaut, and to dislodge the BJP, and for their own survival, it is important to come together? In the seventh year of Modi's rule and smack in the middle of the very high-profile election in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has written a letter to all major Opposition leaders, exhorting them to come together to save democracy in the country. In her letter, without mincing words, she has written that the BJP, led by Modi, is hellbent on finishing the Opposition and establishing a one-party, authoritarian rule in the country. To support her argument she has enumerated seven points.
I am sure that there will be questions as to why she has written a letter, which seeks unity among parties that include those she is fighting in Bengal - like the Congress, at a time when she should be focusing her energy on registering a victory for her party in the state election. She is in middle of a very tough battle not just to retain Bengal but also for her own constituency, Nandigram, which she is contesting against her one-time protege, Suvendu Adhikari. It is not a given that she will win. The BJP has unleashed unimaginable fire power to unseat her. In recent memory, I cannot recall having seen such an aggressive campaign in any assembly election. The BJP's strategy of dividing Bengal on communal lines crosses all limits. Mamata Banerjee has been referred to as 'anti-Hindu', someone who is only concerned about Muslims. She has been called names like 'Begum' Mamata, 'Khala' Mamata, 'Fufu' Mamata, etc. Muslims are openly called 'Pakistanis' and it has been propagated that "Hindu women will not be safe if she wins elections." To prove her Hindu credentials, Mamata Banerjee resorted to reciting the 'Chandi Path' and declaring it is a ritual she performs every day as "a Brahmin girl". She also announced to the world that she belongs to the Shandilya Gotra.
Her critics might argue that Mamata, worried about losing the Bengal election, is seeking cooperation from opposition parties to shore up her position in Bengal - as of tomorrow, two of eight phases of voting will be completed - and that since she can't appeal directly to the Congress and Left, whom she is fighting in Bengal, she has chosen a circuitous route. But it is premature and baseless to assume she is on weak ground in Bengal. Secondly, for the Bengal election, she already has the support of several parties to whom the letter is addressed including those headed by Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Pawar and Arvind Kejriwal.
It is also rumoured that she has a secret understanding with the Congress to not weaken the Trinamool, and if need be, transfer their votes to each other. There is no independent confirmation but Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi not visiting Bengal gives credence to this information.
In Bengal, the Congress has forged an alliance with the Left, but they have been unable to turn the state into a tricornered contest; instead, they could end up helping the BJP by splitting the Muslim vote. The Left, it seems, is not willing to forgive Mamata Banerjee for ending its rule in 2011. CPM leaders have been saying that to save West Bengal, Mamata and the BJP both have to be defeated. But unlike Mamata, who has in the past allied with the BJP, the Left cannot do so. So it will have no option but to go along with the anti-BJP alliance being proposed by her.
There is no doubt that if Mamata Banerjee wins this elections, and if she wins comfortably, she could emerge as the most powerful leader in the Opposition camp; if she loses, the hope of stopping the BJP at the national level will dissipate into thin air and it could pave the way for 'one-party, authoritarian rule' in the country. If the BJP wins, its victory will prove to be a great experiment in India's electoral history: that Hindutva alone has the power to make the BJP victorious even in a state where, till a few years ago, it was a non-entity; that Hindutva as an agenda and as a movement is unstoppable, at least for now; that secular politics is dead and buried; that Muslims as a political entity, despite their large number, have no meaning in India's electoral process. And if that happens, the whole edifice of secular-representative democracy will collapse.
Mamata's letter has to be seen in this context. Among the seven points she has raised is the matter of Arvind Kejriwal's government being reduced to a toothless, powerless administration with the recent legislation pushed through parliament by the centre. The legislation promotes the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi above that of an elected government. She has also referred in her letter to Opposition governments, leaders, parties being hounded by central government agencies. She has been troubled by the Governor of West Bengal, who has lost no opportunity to discredit the government in West Bengal. She is not too off the mark when she questions his conduct. The Governors in other opposition-ruled states are no better and often, their conduct appears to be more so of a BJP office-bearer than of the office that they hold.
The debate on the centre-state relationship is no longer valid. The idea of cooperative federalism, envisaged by Prime Minister Modi himself, has long been abandoned. It is expected that states have to follow the diktats of the centre, and If they dare disobey, consequences include central agencies suddenly getting very active and making their lives hell.
A democracy is defined not only by the government, but also by the dynamism of the Opposition, which has never been so weak. If India is in danger of leaning towards one-party, authoritarian rule, the Opposition is equally to be blamed. There was a time, just after independence, when Nehru was a colossus, the Congress was a like a leviathan, and the opposition was nowhere to be counted, but stalwarts like Ram Manohar Lohia, JP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Communist leaders did not surrender. During Indira Gandhi's time, when the Opposition was weak, she used her brute majority to crush institutions which finally led to the Emergency in 1975. A weak opposition is the first sign of an authoritarian regime.
The Opposition in the last seven years has disappointed the people of the country. It's not that they did not make any effort in the past to come together, but each time, they acted out of their individual vested interests. If today, Mamata has realised the seriousness of the matter, and if her call can bring other leaders together, it will not only help the Opposition to gain ground but will also strengthen democracy and make the government at the centre accountable. A lot of heavy lifting is required.
(Ashutosh is Author and Editor, satyahindi.com)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.