The rally of Opposition parties held at the initiative of the DMK in Delhi on Thursday to protest the Centre’s move in Jammu and Kashmir showcased the fissures within their ranks. An array of leaders, from the Congress and the communist parties to the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, and RJD besides the DMK, addressed the rally. However, the dissonance within came to the fore when most of the leaders limited their speeches to demanding the release of politicians detained in Jammu and Kashmir. Even the DMK, which had proposed the rally to protest the abrogation of Article 370, a move it had termed as an attack on federal principles, restricted itself to criticism of the detention of mainstream politicians.
It is nearly three weeks since the Centre removed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories, while detaining nearly all the major non-BJP politicians in the Valley, and in Jammu as well. Soon after the government action, the Left parties held protests in Delhi and elsewhere. But a joint Opposition rally had to wait till Thursday. Even then, it is telling that the initiative came from a regional party and not the Congress, the largest Opposition party in Parliament. The Congress itself has been a divided house with several of its prominent leaders backing the Centre on Article 370. Clearly, the BJP’s move to situate its actions in J&K within the framework of nationalism and national interest has left the Opposition confused and listless. The Janata splinters and the DMK, historically vocal on the need to safeguard state interests, have toned down their critique of the government and only raised procedural matters while feebly protesting the detentions. This is in stark contrast with the aggressive advocacy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah of the government’s decision in the Valley.
It is evident that the Opposition is unable to provide a collective and coherent response even as the government effects major policy shifts. This doesn’t augur well for democracy — a healthy polity calls for a strong and alert Opposition. The Congress, in disarray since its May 23 rout and the resignation of its president, has been unable to hold itself or the Opposition together. The vacuum in the Opposition space has never been so conspicuous.