Early morning on 3rd April 2011, people in Delhi were returning home after spending a night of euphoric and patriotic celebrations following India winning the Cricket World Cup when they observed millions of pamphlets scattered all over the city, in front of every door step, on the street and in the parks. It was as if it had rained pamphlets in the night.
The pamphlets invited citizens to join ‘Gandhian’ leader Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar for his ‘fast unto death’ for a Jan Lokpal Bill. This is where Aam Aadmi Party’s story began. It was India’s ‘Arab Spring’ moment, as millions of ordinary citizens took to streets to be part of a revolution. Within days however it was clear that the revolution was a political move with somebody spending massive amounts of money to organise it. Three years later, the new political party born out of this ‘revolution’, was to relentlessly campaign against the UPA government along with the BJP.
Congress leaders, workers and supporters have still not been able to get over the fact that it was the BJP-RSS ecosystem which created AAP to decimate Congress in Delhi in 2014. Over the years, Arvind Kejriwal has maintained his anti-Congress stand and has repeatedly alleged that, “Sab mile hue hain” (all are in collusion) insinuating that Congress and BJP are the same, that AAP provided the only alternative for clean politics. No wonder most of the Congress cadre believe that any alliance with AAP is a death sentence for Congress’s future in Delhi.
For an alliance between AAP and Congress, ideological opposition to the RSS-BJP is a key factor. Most Congress supporters have always believed AAP to be the B team of BJP and Arvind Kejriwal has never openly criticised RSS even though he has been a fierce critic of Modi. Around the middle of Modi’s first five-year term, Kejriwal went silent and Rahul Gandhi emerged as Modi’s key opposition. In December 2017 he was appointed the party President, following which he has openly attacked RSS, raising questions on its funding, legal identity, the lack of any role in freedom struggle, Savarkar’s mercy petitions etc. Few politicians in recent time has been brave enough to do this, since everybody is afraid of antagonising the Hindu vote.
The Lok Sabha Election 2019 was as much about farmers’ woes, unemployment and economic crisis caused by demonetisation and badly implemented GST as about fighting the RSS mindset to save India’s pluralistic nature and the Constitution. This election was not about defeating Modi, he was and remains the symptom and symbol, the disease being the RSS which is in the last leg of its 70-year old fight against the Constitution. Opposition leaders must first unite on this plank, and also allow this to be their litmus test. They must all unequivocally commit their ideological opposition to the RSS-BJP.
Congress snatching the verdict away from right under Amit Shah’s nose in Karnataka gave the regional satraps a new hope that Modi-Shah were not invincible. During Kejriwal’s protest against the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi in June 2018, Mamata Banerjee, HD Kumaraswamy, Chandrababu Naidu and Pinarayi Vijayan extended their public support to him, giving rise to speculations of a third front beyond Congress and the BJP. The speculations grew stronger after Congress secured the three Hindi heartland states.
But for any coalition to be capable of defeating the BJP, it must have an axis that will be unwavering in its opposition to the BJP-RSS combine, one that would never weaken the fight at any cost, for any reason and motivations, be it large sums of money, lucrative ministerial posts or ED and Income tax raids.
Unfortunately, be it Mamata Banerjee or HD Kumaraswamy or Chandrababu Naidu, nobody can ever be sure of the ideological commitment of any of these leaders. One never knows which camp they might join and for what motivations.
We have witnessed shockers like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad joining hands; Nitish Kumar joining BJP to be the CM; JDS which has ‘Secular’ in its very name joining BJP; stranger things have happened in Maharashtra by-polls recently when Shiv Sena and BJP contested against each other – the bottomline is you can never be sure. The only person you can be 100% sure of is Rahul Gandhi. You can be assured that he would not jump ship and join the NDA camp just as you are sure Yudhishthir was never likely to join the Kauravas.
It is necessary for Congress to hold the flock together. Rahul Gandhi need not necessarily be the PM candidate but he has to be at the centre of a coalition in his capacity as the Congress chief. It was the 130 years old Congress machinery that sprang into action with remarkable alacrity to put up a fierce fight against BJP’s money and muscle power after the Karnataka hung assembly. What worked against Amit Shah's Chanakya Niti, was Congress's years of experience, efficiency and intellectual prowess. Without this machinery any third front would be gobbled up by Amit Shah.
Unfortunately, most opposition leaders have been on their own ego trip and dismissed Rahul Gandhi as their leader. They also believe Rahul Gandhi must somehow atone for his party’s past and allow others to walk all over, that Congress must do whatever it takes to form alliances, including a hara-kiri to suit them.
The kind of opposition unity or a ‘Third Front’ that political pundits talk about is, therefore, impractical, if not quite impossible. Congress is the principal opposition to the BJP and in my view, Congress should stop wasting its energy in keeping the flock together. No matter how long it takes, the best bet for it is to stand up for the Constitution and Rule of Law, for a plural and secular India, for democracy and compassionate governance. It must stick to opposing the RSS and the BJP. The regional satraps like Kejriwal and Mayawati should be left alone to fight their own battles or get subsumed by the BJP.
(Opinions expressed are the author’s own)