A striking — and in a democracy, disquieting — aspect of the AAP landslide in Delhi is the decimation of its opposition. With 67 of the 70 MLAs in its fold, the ruling party in Delhi can now have an untrammelled run in the assembly, legislate without serious debate. Though the BJP does not enjoy quite such an overwhelming majority in Parliament, some of the imbalances caused by an emboldened executive and a dispirited, fragmented opposition have already been evident in the tenure of the Modi government at the Centre. A constitutional democracy thrives on checks and balances and the countervailing power of institutions.
In this context, it will be interesting to watch the response of parties of the national Opposition to the AAP’s massive victory, which has broken Modi’s winning streak. Many of these parties — including the CPM, which has long disdained the AAP as an upstart — offered it their unilateral support after it became evident that the relative newcomer had emerged as the main rival to the BJP in Delhi. After the famous victory, there appears to be rejoicing in these quarters at the snub the AAP has delivered to the formidable Modi machine. But amid the euphoria, a cautionary note may be in order. Winning against the BJP may require more than getting Kejriwal on your side — so far, though, the AAP itself has steadfastly refused to be part of any grand opposition coalition. It may also need more than a reworked arithmetic that aims to better consolidate the anti-BJP vote. The AAP’s sweep in Delhi shows that it will require, most of all, infusing new life within the party organisation and re-establishing the connect with the people. Parties need to draw the right lesson from a victory that came after the AAP built a grand coalition, not of parties but of the people, across castes and classes, ethnicities and religions, simply by reaching out to ordinary citizens and persuading them that it identifies with their concerns.
Opposition politics in India has mostly depended on isolating the party or alliance in power by forging coalitions of convenience. The Janata Parivar’s current bid to regroup in the wake of a perceived BJP upsurge in UP and Bihar is a case in point. Leaders are in talks in party backrooms but there is no attempt to go to the people and explain the case for such a merger. Voters do not always queue up behind, and can even be alienated from, a coalition visibly held together only by the immediate interests of leaders. The contradictions that build up within such hastily formed entities could also cause them to implode.