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Opposition prospects 2019 & beyond?


Santosh Desai
[ March 28, 2017 ]

What does the Opposition do now? It has been thoroughly out-thought and outplayed by a combination of charismatic leadership and meticulous on-ground implementation. As Omar Abdullah confessed on Twitter, the Opposition does not have a chance in 2019; perhaps building for 2024 is the only option. The Congress may not, in any real sense last till then and the AAP’s early promise has fizzled out in a tame haze of small-mindedness.




If one were to build a hypothetical scenario that represents the best chance for the opposition, what would its elements look like? This is not an attempt to predict the future, but merely to examine under what circumstances could the Opposition turn things around. It is clear that the only chance that the Opposition has to make a dent in the BJP’s armour is by forming a significant pre-election alliance. The BJP performance in UP and the narrative around Modi would look very different had the opposition come together, for it would have in all likelihood, won a comfortable victory. It is interesting that Bihar was seen as being disastrous for the BJP and UP is seen as a soaring triumph, whereas the truth is that one key difference between the two lay in the absence of a similar ‘mahagathbandhan’ in UP. Even if it came together is unlikely that the opposition would be able to articulate an alternative platform capable of firing the imagination of the voters; taking refuge in the ‘secular’ label is unlikely to help move voters. If anything, such a platform could play into the BJP’s hands by helping it consolidate Hindu votes further. The silver lining for the opposition is that the BJP’s vote share is comfortably short of the half way mark, and opposition unity could shift things around, even without a grand unifying platform. Depending on the fragmented nature of the Indian polity may not however be sufficient. In UP, the BJP’s vote share has reached nearly 40% and in a national election which is increasingly taking on a Presidential character, the appeal of Narendra Modi cannot be underestimated. The opposition will have to find a way to chip away at the Modi image. The BJP’s ability to not take yes for an answer is its biggest weakness. However much it might be on top, it simply cannot resist provocation of a kind. The recent government reaction to an editorial in the New York Times is a small case in point. There isn’t the slightest reason why a government as comfortably in control as this one should take any notes of what an American newspaper says, but the party simply cannot help itself. The Opposition’s challenge is to make it inflict damage on itself, not merely on symbolic issues on areas that are much more substantive. The appointment of Adityanath potentially creates an opening since it allows for keeping issues other than development on the front burner. Calibrated and controlled Hindutva has been electorally profitable but two years of active Hindutva- inspired actions might invite a backlash. Continuous controversies around polarizing actions could potentially put the government under pressure and dim Modi’s appeal amongst the voters as a purposeful leader intent on transforming the country. The balance between fear and hope, so central to the Modi appeal might get disturbed for the worse. Counter-intuitively, the best possible outcome for the opposition is that the BJP wins in 2019 but by a reduced margin so that it needs a coalition government. In any case, even if it were possible to defeat Modi in 2019, the opposition does not have the capability to run a government with any degree of coherence. Winning in 2019 would be virtually guaranteeing that Modi return triumphantly in a mid-term election in the wake of a 1977-like disaster. The best chance that the Opposition has to counter the Modi electoral juggernaut is by making him look less leader-like. Modi’s biggest appeal is that he radiates an aura of strength and clarity and this is rooted in communicating a sense that he is complete in himself and needs others only as followers. A coalition government that makes Modi depend on others and look weaker is perhaps the only way that the aura around him could begin to fade.




Eventually, only the BJP can defeat the BJP- in the event that the BJP does return with a reduced majority, the scenario to look for is for dissenting voices to rise within the party. The Modi-Shah combination could come under pressure and other power centres that are currently biding their time, could then come to the fore. As the market for Hindu votes expands, this space should become more competitive. Attacking the BJP from the right, rather than the left, becomes an option, if not for existing political parties, then for new formations. The BJP may have forestalled such a possibility be anointing a figure like Adityanath as the CM of UP, but given his independent-mindedness, it might just have ended up creating a more powerful competitor rather than a grateful follower. Modi’s connection with the voters might have won UP for the party, but today it would appear that Adityanath rather than Modi is garnering all the attention and interest of the party’s base. This could open up a fault line in the party that could weaken it from within. Eventually of course, an alternative to the BJP can emerge only if there is powerful competing vision for the country that appeals to the voters. This is possible in theory, but as things stand, there is no political force that is in a position to make this happen. It is a role that the Congress should be playing, but unless something truly dramatic takes place on that front, in the foreseeable future, the opposition’s best chance will come not from what it does right, but from what the BJP does wrong.
------------(Courtesy………….timesofindia.com. The views expressed by the author are his own but not of “Kashmir Horizon”)