In the Third Reich, as the story goes, a German thought he would contest an urban local bodies elections. A friend and well-wisher who advised him not to do so, pointed out that he wouldn’t even get one per cent of the vote against the popular Fuhrer. Nor did the aspirant have any resources. But the German man said that despite the fact that losing was a certainty, he would be able to tell his grandchildren that their grandfather had stood up to challenge the Nazi regime during one of the most difficult periods in German history. And, he added, I am sure they shall be proud of me.
My purpose in recounting this anecdote is not to draw a parallel with the current politics in India. In a democracy, as Ram Manoha Lohia used to say, you don’t always contest elections to win but to convey a larger message to the polity, even when you lose. For Lohia, electoral contests were a platform to articulate your ideas and demonstrate how they were fundamentally different from your opponent. That is the spirit in which we, the political parties in the Opposition, perceive the forthcoming presidential elections — to convey a set of messages to the larger audience beyond the collegium that there are serious concerns afflicting the body politic and that the ruling party is in deliberate denial.
In view of the horrifying images of mob lynching and news of communal clashes emanating from all parts of India, even sympathisers of the BJP regime cannot but acknowledge that there are serious concerns vis-à-vis Constitutional propriety and the rule of law.
Never before in our history, barring the two years of Emergency from 1975-77, has criticism of the government been looked upon as a criticism of the national narrative or even the nation itself. In the last three years, our patriotic feelings and love for country have been subjected to “barbed-wire fencing” between people and communities. Meaning, brazen attempts are being made in full knowledge of the regime to define marginalised people like Dalits and Muslims exclusively in terms of their ethnic and social identifies and then seek to dehumanise them.
When farmers in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh were killed because they had demanded the redressal of grievances from their own government, the attempt was made to blame the Opposition. Rather than address the causes and punish the dominant caste perpetrators, violence against Dalits in Saharanpur was presented as the handiwork of a political party. Interestingly, in all these cases, constitutional values have been set aside, while the bizarre spin doctors of the government get unconditional support from a section of the media.
At another level, any voice raised against the ruling dispensation in Delhi has to now deal with not only the BJP, the RSS and several of their other social-cultural affiliates but also government agencies such as Income-Tax authorities, the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI. Without getting into the “merit” of the “cases,” whether related to Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) president and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav or Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal or key leaders of the Trinamool Congress, the modus operandi of these agencies has become quite predictable.
It is in this context that many leaders from the Opposition describe these “impartial investigative agencies” as the “new alliance partners” of the BJP for the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. There is a disturbing and visible correlation between the strong positions or even utterances of Opposition leaders against the BJP and the unleashing of these agencies after them. Certainly, an investigation into any perceived or imaginary wrongdoing must be probed without any influence from any quarter. Unfortunately, the message these days is contrary to the idea of rule of law. Together with this mischievous and unsubstantiated reports are being planted in the media regarding the RJD.
These pressing and alarming concerns notwithstanding, the RJD and Lalu Prasad have categorically stated that there shall be no compromise with the secular-socialist priorities of the republic, come what may. Thanks to the machinations of his political opponents, Lalu Yadav has his own share of long and arduous legal battles, but this has not been able to diminish his core nucleus— a strong political position against communal and anti-social justice leanings of the BJP and RSS.
The BJP and some friends from the media should not forget history before they decide to write Lalu Yadav’s political obituary. He made his politics unambiguously clear when on May 3 at Rajgir he gave a call for a meeting of all Opposition parties on August 27th at the historic Gandhi Maidan, in Patna, to develop an alternative political agenda against the BJP.
It needs to be recalled that that this is the first all-India call for the coming together of all Opposition parties, including those who have state-level differences amongst them, since the BJP came to power in 2014.
Even the decision to have a joint candidate for the Presidential elections was taken in the light of larger Opposition unity as well as the idea of creating a Save the Constitution Front (Samvidhan Bachao Morcha). The RJD stood with the larger narrative of the Opposition that seeks to pose questions of national importance amidst the unprecedented clamour and noise around the new priorities of New India— whether Constitutional values shall matter or will they be trampled over by the strong likes and dislikes of the Sangh Parivar.
As per article 53, the duties and powers are conferred upon the President to preserve, protect and defend the Indian Constitution. We collectively looked at this question setting aside the binary of winning or losing. Thus, 17 opposition parties took the decision to field Ms Meera Kumar against Mr Ram Nath Kovind, the NDA nominee. Unlike some television anchors who appear to be in extraordinary haste to conclude everything in favour of the ruling party, we believe history shall take a more nuanced and considerate view of our decision.
History shall also record that in the prevailing mood of despair, the nation needed a person in the Rashtrapati Bhavan who could be entrusted not only by a majority in the collegium, but by the general populace on the streets that our core constitutional values shall be protected through her persona. This election most certainly is not about who is going to live in Rashtrapati Bhavan for the next five years but about the shape of the republic in the coming five.
At a time when the vulnerabilities of the people and communities on the margins are at an all time high, when every sphere of life from the economy to social harmony is under unprecedented stress, the people need reassurances from the Opposition that they are willing to form long-term solidarities with them.
Just like the German man who wanted to contest an election irrespective of the outcome, joining the orchestra team of the regime cannot be the only choice available.