Updated: June 24, 2021 7:32:45 am
The meeting of eight non-BJP parties in New Delhi on Tuesday was followed by a round of disclaimers. Yes, the meeting was held at the residence of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, but no, he was not its chief organiser. Sure, no one from the Congress party attended it (as didn’t leaders of the DMK, RJD or BSP), but that does not mean the Congress was not invited. And this is the “Rashtra Manch”, not the beginning of a Third Front to take on the BJP. The fact is, whatever the reason for Congress’s absence on Tuesday, and whatever the name the group eventually gives itself, under whichever leader, it will have to contend with the challenge of playing the role of the Opposition in a political field radically transformed by the BJP. The Third Fronts of the past defined themselves primarily vis a vis Congress dominance. Any Third Front today must take on the Modi-led BJP in power, which is a very different adversary.
To begin with, any challenger to the BJP, old as well as new, must confront their limited room for manoeuvre in this regime — the party’s will-to-win and winner-takes-all approach is supported and strengthened by its government’s weaponisation of laws and commandeering of institutions, leaving only a shrinking space for the political opponent. Within this space, it must then face up to the fact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own popularity, which seems more able to withstand challenges that bog down his party. This may call for a leader of competing stature on the other side of the battlelines — or it may not. But if a personalised political brand is to be combated with a politics of ideas and ideology, that would pose another set of difficult decisions and challenges. It would require intellectual clarity, political courage and principled risk-taking on complicated and polarising issues that the BJP has brought to the front and centre of national politics and made its own — of “us” and “them”, of identity, nationalism and majoritarianism. The Opposition party/parties must stake out a position on these issues, or be constantly buffeted by the BJP’s purposeful and pro-active moves. On this count, they have singularly failed — the non-party opposition is more vibrant and resilient, even risking incarceration and legal harassment.
Indeed, any new stirring in the Opposition camp must also take on board a sobering message sent out by the popular mobilisations and protests in the last few years. Be it the anti-CAA protests or the farmers’ movement, protesters across the board have made a point of keeping the Opposition parties off their stage. This pointed exclusion may be specific to those moments and movements. But it has also meant that the political Opposition, by not engaging with these conflicts, has dug itself into a hole. It needs to find a way out — and that needs political daring and imagination, not just arithmetic.
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