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Where Is The Oppn?

One of the the upshots of Ram Nath Kovind’s nomination as the NDA’s Presidential candidate is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has yet again smashed the Opposition

Photo Credit : PTI

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One of the the upshots of Ram Nath Kovind’s nomination as the NDA’s Presidential candidate is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has yet again smashed the Opposition.

While the BJP-led NDA has the requisite numbers to get its nominee elected, and the support extended by parties such as the TRS and AIAMDK factions has only made the election look like a formality, it’s the stance taken by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar that has sounded a death knell for the Opposition unity.

Kumar, who had originally come up with the idea of a grand alliance of the Opposition parties, was neatly co-opted.

This, however, raises the question: Where’s the Opposition in the Modi raj? Consider this: After his successful election in 2014, Modi’s BJP is on a winning spree. The BJP has won Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Haryana, Assam, Jharkhand, and looks set for a repeat performance in the coming elections.

The Congress, under the Sonia Gandhi-Rahul Gandhi duo, looks shaky, and Rahul’s stature seems severely diminished. There’s no leader around whom the Opposition can rally around.

NCP’s Sharad Pawar is past his prime and has shown his unease with the Congress ways in the run-up to the Presidential elections. One never knows what the future holds for the Samajwadi Party, especially with father Mulayam Singh Yadav and son Akhilesh at loggerheads. The BSP’s Mayawati has lost her clout, after her rout in the UP elections, especially with the rise of newer Dalit outfits. The AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal is struggling to hold on to Delhi. And Nitish Kumar, the only leader who some thought could pose a semblance of challenge to Modi in 2019, looks caught between two stools.

So, can India afford a polity (and economy), with no credible Opposition? Among the striking economic features of the Modi regime are demonetisation, GST, and also the unrest among farmers, across the country, all of them demanding UP-like loan waivers.

How has the Opposition responded to the economic narrative of the country? Nitish Kumar supported demonetisation. Save for former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s quip that “the GDP will see a fall of 2 per cent”, no one quite knows what the Opposition stood for. It’s all very well to write op-eds and columns, but a political project entails a deep connect with the masses. That is something that has been sorely missing from the Opposition’s projects, whenever it took up the economic issues.

The Opposition could have made the farmer’s plight a national issue. But it lacks the imagination and bandwidth to tap into the nationwide anger.

On GST, we are told there’s a great deal of convergence of interests between the BJP and the Congress (and the opposition).

While the designated Opposition has failed to come up with an alternative economic agenda, who has quietly filled the vacuum? It was the RSS’s farmers’ union, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, that took to the streets against BJP state governments, including Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s in Madhya Pradesh. It was the RSS’s trade union arm, the Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh, that sought to make common cause with the unorganised sector, on the ill-effects of demonetisation. It was again the RSS’s Swadeshi Jagran Manch that told the Modi government that the interests of micro, small and medium enterprises and the likes of beedi workers were being overlooked in the new GST regime.

Will then an in-house Opposition fill up for a legitimate Opposition, a la the Indira Gandhi era? The least that the country expects of the Opposition, mainly the Congress, is to put up a real alternative agenda of governance. The country cannot afford not to have an Opposition.