Herald View: The battle of their lives, but not without hope
The Opposition must remember that it’s curtains for all if they do not make a good fist of the battle ahead
How do you keep hope alive in the future of India as the nation we knew it to be? The idea of India as a multi-faith, multi-lingual ‘Union of States’ that makes space for all its confounding diversity, and guarantees to all its citizens the same fundamental rights.
How do you keep faith that the tattered secular fabric of our nation will be mended again in our lifetime? How do you fight the capture/ surrender of our democratic institutions? How do you seize control of the national narrative that seems overwhelmed by waves of communal hatred? How do you separate the truth — about, say, the state of the economy or how far and wide the communal poison has spread — from the fictions media dresses up as facts?
Is all of India as badly polarised as it may appear in BJP-controlled states of the north like Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand? Are Indians across the length and breadth of the country in the grip of the so-called 80:20 narrative? Have all Hindus, even in the Hindi heartland states of the north, bought into the BJP’s divisive campaign? How do you resist the daily assaults on your faith that all is not lost yet?
Are we in denial of the hope that India is too complex, too diverse, too multi-layered to bend to a unipolar world view? Are we fooling ourselves to think that people are not the same as the mercenary politicians who might be their elected representatives? Maybe or maybe not. It’s hard enough to hear yourself in the din; harder, then, to believe that there is hope when you see your leaders have feet of clay.
What are we to make of the flip-flops of Nitish Kumar? Demoralising though it must be to lose an ally barely weeks ahead of the election, the Opposition parties must remember that it’s curtains for all if they do not make a good fist of the battle ahead.
It’ll take some nerve: because the BJP will come after them with everything it has, both money and bullying muscle; it will take a survival instinct too, for as Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said, while addressing party workers in Odisha: if the BJP returns to power, the general election of 2024 will possibly be the last free election.
The week of 22–29 January saw a lot of political action, featuring first the Ram Mandir spectacle at Ayodhya, a posthumous Bharat Ratna for the late Karpoori Thakur and the dramatic betrayal of Nitish Kumar, which inspired many memes and gags on social media.
It was also the week when Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra passed through Assam, where the yatra was denied permission to enter Guwahati and follow the same route that BJP president J.P. Nadda’s roadshow had taken 10 days prior.
All these gimmicks and manoeuvres betray a sense of desperation in the seemingly invincible BJP, a sense that the Opposition must be pinned down by all means possible. Even the Centre’s preferred rottweilers — namely the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Income Tax Department — which have been quite busy hounding opposition leaders the past 10-odd years, showed signs of hyper-activity in the last week of January.
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If the BJP is leaving nothing to chance, and trying at this eleventh hour to re-stitch electoral alliances by any means possible — where blandishments didn’t work, it has used threats — it is because it can see that the electoral arithmetic is not all kosher. The party’s appeal in the southern states is still limited to Karnataka, and there are outlier states even in the north.
It had practically swept six states in 2019, winning all the 26 seats in Gujarat and all 10 in Haryana. It won 28 of 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh, 25 of 28 seats in Karnataka, 24 of 25 in Rajasthan and 11 of 14 seats in Jharkhand. Adds up to 124 of 132 Lok Sabha seats in these six states, but even after all its shock-and-awe tactics, it won’t be easy to repeat this performance in 2024.
It had also totted up 62 of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, 23 of 48 in Maharashtra, 17 of 40 in Bihar and 18 of 42 in West Bengal. With allies now in Maharashtra (by engineering a split in the Shiv Sena) and Bihar (with the return to the NDA fold of ‘Paltiputra’ Nitish), it has possibly improved its prospects in these two states, but as Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) said after Nitish’s chameleon switcheroo, “Khel abhi baaki hai”. The Opposition better believe it.