“We have seen a great leader in the Prime Minister of this country. Where has that leader taken the country. That’s the question we must ask,” said Kapil Sibal, a former cabinet minister and a core member of the previous Congress-led government, at a panel discussion during the launch of his book Shades of Truth: A Journey Derailed last week in New Delhi.
“Politics is not about one man. Politics is about collectivism. Politics is about ideology. Politics is about passion. I think Rahul Gandhi has passion. Wherever he goes, people throng,” retorted Sibal, when questioned by the moderator, journalist Sreenivasan Jain, if Rahul Gandhi was up to the challenge of taking on Modi in 2019.
“We have seen a leader who has told the world that he was up to it. What has he done for this country?”
Others on the panel, which included leaders from across the political spectrum, couldn't have agreed more with Sibal’s observation on the “parliamentary nature” of the Indian polity.
Jain was harping on an oft-repeated narrative peddled by the backers of the Prime Minister, who claim that India doesn’t have an alternative to Narendra Modi in 2019. But the senior opposition leaders clearly seem to have their counter-narrative in place.
Former NDA convenor Sharad Yadav, a product of the anti-Congress movement in the wake of the Emergency in the 1970s, recalled that the Opposition forces had prevailed despite the absence of a strong political alternative to Indira Gandhi in the first election after the Emergency
“Remember 1977 and 1989. The names of Morarji Desai and VP Singh came up after the election,” noted the expelled president of Janata Dal (United).
Communist Party of India (CPI-Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury warned that Indians had in the past rejected the so-called strong leaders if they had failed to live up to their hype. “India has always been governed by parliamentary form. It shall be,” stated Yechury.
He went on, “If today anybody poses me the question, Mr Modi vs who, I would say Mr Modi vs India.”
Chandan Mitra, a former BJP MP who recently switched to the Trinamool Congress, argued that the current times are different from what they were in the 1970s and 1980s, and the voters now looked up to a leader. He added that the next leader of the country could come from the current crop of regional leaderships.
From the smirks on the faces of other participants, it was amply clear that they saw Mitra’s remark as an attempt to woo his party supremo Mamata Banerjee.
On his turn, P Chidambaram, a former Union Minister, said that India’s elections had always been a collection of elections and would continue to remain so.
"Even in 2014, the BJP had failed to win in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and West Bengal," said India's former finance minister.
“It is wrong to assume that India’s elections would be a presidential form of election. It wasn’t in 2014, except in seven states,” he added.
Chidambaram sounded confident that a broad alliance of non-BJP parties would take shape in at least 25 states in the 2019 elections, which would elect a coalition government to power.
Previously, Chidambaram and Sibal both reflected upon the loopholes of the previous Congress-led government that contributed to its ouster by a Modi-led BJP. "We didn't have a counter-narrative to their canards."
"They were more successful in employing social media, better than us," remarked Sibal.
This time around, the Congress and Opposition have their house in order, said the leader.
Sibal's book is an introspective, insider account of the political fallacies of Congress that led to its electoral trouncing as well as a rather objective analysis of four-and-a-half years of the Modi-led government.