WhatsApp Messages Show Opposition Unity Being Taken Seriously

Published: May 23, 2018 21:07 IST
The opposition has just shown a semblance of unity at the swearing in ceremony of H D Kumaraswamy. It has miles to go before it crystallises into some kind of a formal structure. But Hindutva supporters are already jittery. Their reaction on social media is unprintable. They are bitter, angry and resorting to all kinds of abuses. This shows how ugly the battle of 2019 is going to be. I saw a trailer of this in the morning when a WhatsApp message popped up in my phone inbox. It carried a picture of seven opposition leaders - Mayawati, Arvind, Akhilesh, Mamata, Owaisi, Lalu Yadav and Stalin - like seven vertical boxes in a TV frame with their parties name written under each vertical. In bold letters there was a sub heading - BASTARD - B for BSP, A for AAP, S for SP, T for TMC, A for AIMIM, R for RJD and D for DMK - meaning that the opposition is "BASTARD". This underlines two things - firstly, the ruling establishment has taken serious note of talks of opposition unity and it is a little nervous. Secondly, it is already working on a strategy to discredit opposition unity.

There is no denying the fact the Karnataka has given a new lease of life to a splintered opposition. Had the BJP emerged as a party with a clear majority, the opposition would have been a demoralised lot. But the Governor inviting BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa and his failing to form the government have come as a boon in disguise. It has given them the hope that the BJP and Modi can be defeated, provided they are united. It has also given a reason to opposition leaders to think that the Congress can be flexible and is ready to leave behind its Big Brother attitude. This is big as the entire episode has given the impression that smaller parties do business with the Congress too. Earlier there was an impression in the opposition camp that Rahul Gandhi unlike his mother is rigid, it is difficult to have an understanding with him, he is too bookish. The Congress offering the Chief Minister seat to JD(S) has broken that myth, The erstwhile Vice President of the Congress has made successfully transitioned into a practical politician.
karnataka swearing in

There is no denying the fact the Karnataka has given a new lease of life to a splintered opposition

Secondly, Karnataka has also proved that the Congress is willing to fight, and fight with a killer instinct. Earlier it was said that the Congress had neither the will nor had capacity to match Modi and Amit Shah's guile. Despite emerging as the bigger party, it let go of the advantage in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya. But since the Gujarat election, glimpses of the old Congress which could be Machiavellian while dealing with the political realities of the time have been on display. In the Karnataka crisis, the Congress was always ahead of the BJP. Modi and Amit Shah had no clue on how to counter their moves. Amit Shah later admitted that if the Congress had not kept its MLAs in five-star hotels, the BJP would have proved its majority on the floor of the House. This signifies that the Congress is willing to play the lead role with the same killer instinct that Modi and Amit Shah are known for. Once the Congress has established its pole position, it is easier for opposition leaders to work and strategise as a team. I still remember Nitish Kumar accusing Rahul of not leading and setting the agenda for the anti-Modi camp. Now all those misgivings and doubts should disappear into thin air.

Now the biggest issue is what should be the formal structure of this unity. Should it be like the National Front of 1989 when the opposition was divided into three ideological camps: socialist and ex-Congress leaders in one group, the BJP in another and Communists in the third group. First, all the socialists and ex-Congressmen merged Into Janta Dal and then they allied with other smaller parties like National Conference and Telugu Desam to form the National Front which was finally supported by the BJP and the Left. This four-tier unity was replaced by a three-tier unity in 1996 when the United Front came into existence and formed the government. The BJP was out of this combination. If 1989 was a pre-poll understanding, then 1996 was a post-poll adjustment.

But 2018 should be vastly different. Firstly, this will purely be an anti-RSS unity with no understanding with Hindutva groups. Secondly, in the present political scenario, this has to be a long-term alliance as the threat of fascism and dictatorship is a reality and if it has to be fought, then what's needed is ideological cohesion, a robust structural mechanism and a common minimum programme. Let's not get confused. The Modi Government is a RSS government and is pursuing an RSS agenda. Let us not live under the illusion that if Modi were to be replaced by any other leader from his party, things would be different. Vajpayee let the Gujarat riots happen and did not do a thing for a month. Christian missionaries were attacked brutally during his time. Since Vajpayee's was a coalition government, it had limitations. Today, the Modi Government is a majority government. So the dance of hatred is in full swing.

This will get uglier and uglier as the 2019 elections approach because today Modi is on a weak wicket. He does not carry the same image as he did in 2014. He was then an untested brand in national politics. People had had only glimpses of his Gujarat Model but people believed that was a trailer and the film would be a super-hit. Unfortunately, the film is a huge disappointment. Therefore, now killing the opponent's image will be the only agenda. Since this front will have real potential to dislodge Modi, a lot of dirty tricks will be used to discredit the opposition and all kinds of media platforms will be used.

Modi would also like to play the victim card. He is a master craftsman in polarising society and generating sympathy for himself. When he was confronted with severe criticism across the country after the 2002 Gujarat riots, he smartly played the Hindu victim card that he had done no wrong and yet the whole world was after him. This strategy helped him consolidate Hindu votes. This helped him win three consecutive elections.

Modi with the help of his media friends has been trying to project that he is honestly trying to change the society for the better and make India great but the opposition is busy laying impediments in his path. And therefore the opposition has to be doubly careful in choosing the issues and defining the nature of the opposition unity. The creation of a national platform as of now should be avoided; regional structuring and national understanding should be the mantra for opposition unity.

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)​

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