The BSP and SP have administered a well-deserved snub to the Congress, making it clear that the two major opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh are ready to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls without it. Rubbing salt in the wounds they have added that the party is an insignificant player in the state. Smug with victories in the recently held state Assembly elections, the Congress Party had started dreaming of a mahagathbandhan led by RaGa. This is more than a small hiccup for what is often referred to without much reason as the Grand Old Party (GOP).
Nothing ‘grand’ survives except pretensions and chronological age. Some even argue that the Congress resembles more a mom-and-pop shop than a political party. But let us not forget that the party has 44 seats in the present Lok Sabha and is represented better in the Rajya Sabha. It also has formed governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, besides Karnataka and Punjab, and can’t be so easily dismissed.
What is amusing is the number of potential prime ministerial candidates who have suddenly emerged—eager to broker peace among bike-ring allies and to forge an invincible united forum against the ‘arrogant and dictatorial’ BJP-led NDA in power. KCR flies around—not exactly like a butterfly—but certainly carrying the bee’s sting. Not to be left behind, his arch rival Chandrababu Naidu is preparing to abdicate in favour of his son, preparing himself to shoulder more weighty burdens in Delhi. Mamata Banerjee’s name is chanted with monotonous regularity by those who feel that the Lady for All Seasons is the best person to conjure a rainbow of myriad hues. Sharad Pawar has found his voice after quite some time to announce that the time has come for a Maratha to be anointed the Prime Minister of India.
The top echelons of the BJP appear to be complacent only because of the many visible fault lines that divide those arrayed in Opposition. Narendra Modi has withstood whatever the Congress, the CPI(M) and others have managed to throw at him. But is his charisma enough to guarantee another term in office? The infallible strategist—party president Amit Shah—has by now bitten dust more than once at the battle of the ballot. Allies such as the Shiv Sena and the Akalis are disgruntled and sulking. Smaller allies are voting with their feet not waiting till elections are announced.
Assam too is in turmoil over the Citizenship Register and repatriation of illegal immigrants. In short, there is much to worry even without a unified Opposition.The PM may have managed to keep himself free of taint but many of his Cabinet colleagues have acquired a reputation of sheer incompetence and habitual floundering. Inflated egos and serial wisecracking to paper over manufacturing defects haven’t helped matters. The Finance Minister may scowl and the Law Minister may growl but they can’t change popular perceptions.
The ministers who combined experience with vision, humility with integrity appear to be deliberately kept away from the limelight. Those without a mass base or constituency are allowed a free run. Some of the ministers are lying low and keeping silent for tactical reasons. Others have cautiously started commentinwg on the mistakes their party has made.
There has been a series of decisions taken in haste that are likely to create serious problems in the run up to the elections. The mess at the CBI is of the government’s own creation. Not exactly very credible, the ‘caged parrot’ has now lost its plumage. When it conducts a raid—particularly against a political opponent—it smacks of thinly disguised vendetta. It may well boomerang on the BJP.
It is also pertinent to ask questions about the follow-up on the cases filed by the central agency. If money and political muscle can ensure that the accused can enjoy the luxurious respite provided by a long silken rope then why be afraid of arrest and interrogation? Headlines were ablaze with excitement when Lalu Yadav’s clan was targeted some time back. What came of it? Can’t the RJD clan members wear the persecution as martyrs’ badge of honour.
The Supreme Court order reinstating Alok Verma as the CBI chief has dealt an unsettling blow to the BJP. All that it is responding with is legislation for reservation for candidates in general category. The government has burnt its finger during the Jat and Maratha reservation agitation but doesn’t seem to have learnt any lessons. Opening the proverbial Pandora’s Box isn’t going to be of much help.
It’s time for presenting a report card for the past five years. Promises can wait a while.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University