Omar Abdullah is right. The opposition can as well forget about 2019. After Saturday’s Modi tsunami, there may be no denying the BJP another five-year stint at the Centre. The BJP sweep in Uttar Pradesh despite the alliance of Samajwadis and Congress suggests that his spectacular performance in the Lok Sabha poll was no fluke.
But it is unlikely that the opposition will learn any lessons. The Congress won Punjab primarily because of Captain Amarinder Singh, who had threatened to quit before being given a free hand. Till a few days before the polling, Rahul Gandhi did not even name him as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
The voter in Punjab and Goa has rejected the AAP’s claim to be superior to the existing parties. The publicity and propaganda overkill, underwritten by the Delhi taxpayers, seems to have proven counterproductive. People do not like the politics of disruption and confrontation. Without something concrete to show on the ground in Delhi, Kerjiwal could not have won Punjab and Goa on sheer media hype.
Mayawati is another casualty of these polls. Instead of smelling mischief in the ballot boxes, the BSP boss ought to reconsider the shaky Jatav-Muslim edifice, which has severe limitations. Dalit and Muslim women too fire their chullahs with the same subsidised cooking gas cylinders that the Modi Government has made available to nearly a crore of poor households across the State.
Identity politics yields diminishing returns when the targeted caste and community voters aspire for the same basic goods and services available to the relatively well-off sections. Aspiration is not caste-or community-specific.
Take the Call
Another takeaway is the leadership crisis in the Congress Party. It is important for the Congress’ revival that the Gandhis release their vice-like grip on the party. A party leadership devoid of imagination that has thrown up no new idea, no new programme, rewards sycophancy over performance, and a crumbling organisational structure, cannot be the way forward.
Yet, it is in everyone’s interest that the Congress survives. Under Modi, the BJP might be expanding its footprint far and wide, but without the Congress there is the danger of regional parties, with their narrow visions and local agendas, muddying the national perspective. Imposing rival and often antagonistic regional worldviews on the broader national mission is certain to act as a drag on progress.
For the smooth functioning of the democratic system, we need at least two pan-India parties with distinctive socio-economic programmes and worldviews. The right-of-the centre BJP needs to compete for Indians’ affection with the left-of-the-centre Congress.
The Gandhis should come to terms with the fact that even dynasties, whether political or business, too have their sell-by date. The Birlas and Dalmias no longer rule in the corporate world, their place having been snatched by the more enterprising Ambanis and the Adanis or the Mittals and the Munjals. Rarely, if ever, do dynasties prosper for more than three generations. Abhishek Bachchan does not possess even a fraction of the talent of Amitabh Bachchan, easily the most gifted actor of our times.
If the Gandhis hold the Congress dear to them, they would step aside and arrange to handover its control to a leader chosen in a free and transparent election by the bona-fide members of the party. The Congress still retains pockets of support in every part of the country. It needs to be energised and expanded with the promise of hope by a new leadership. The Gandhis can assume an honorary title but leave the party to be run by a democratically elected leadership. This is the only workable recipe for its survival.
That brings us to Modi and the BJP. Let us dispose of this odious comparison with Indira Gandhi. Yes, the BJP today is as popular as the Congress was under Indira Gandhi. But the two parties are different in their histories and character. The BJP has the Nagpur link, a safety valve, should a strong BJP leader get authoritarian a la Indira Gandhi.
Besides, the top leaders in the BJP are no pushovers unlike their counterparts in the Congress. The Modi-Shah winning jugalbandi might appear all powerful but it too is aware of the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ beyond which it will cannot step. There was nobody in the Congress when Indira Gandhi unleashed Sanjay Gandhi against the country or allowed her courtiers to loot the public treasury.
Modi appears determined to press ahead with what he believes might benefit the people. Coming after a long series of victories at the municipal and panchayat levels, the huge win in UP and Uttarakhand indicates that Modi is here to stay.
The BJP is also lucky to have Amit Shah at the helm. A quintessential election specialist, he had been assiduously building the party organisation in UP and other parts without much ado in the media. The ground sey juda hua party president’s meticulous social engineering has paid off. There may be no stopping the Modi–Shah twosome, especially if the opposition does not get its act right quickly.
Yet, do not expect the opposition to behave when Parliament reassembles. This is such a pity, given that a wider national consensus on broad socio-economic goals can clear the way for faster growth.
(The writer is a senior political commentator)