Misfortune of an ineffectual opposition

The problem of India is that every Opposition party sees itself as a crown prince and fails to do the basic work other than waiting for people to be disenchanted with the ruling establishment.

Published: 13th February 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th February 2022 04:41 PM   |  A+A-

A democracy must have a functioning and effective Opposition as an endorsement of it. I don’t want to go as far as to say that a weak Opposition in a democracy is worse than a corrupt government as venality could be the common denominator. But surely a country is equally unfortunate without a functioning Opposition as with a ruling establishment exercising arbitrary power. An autocratic government will continue because the Opposition has not prepared itself to be the Opposition.

Democratic elections are meant to provide the winner to steward the government and an Opposition to keep the government under the watch and to call out when they indulge in excesses. The position is very different when the Opposition feels that the responsibility of sitting in the Opposition is only a temporary exile and their turn will come sooner than expected. In essence, the Opposition is readying itself for the crown rather than doing the grind which will give them glory.

The problem of India is that every Opposition party sees itself as a crown prince and fails to do the basic work other than waiting for people to be disenchanted with the ruling establishment. Recently when an Opposition leader laid bare the real template of the existing governance and how it is destroying the structure envisaged in the Constitution it brought approbation. But why such a speech was not forthcoming earlier when the details were visible to everyone will elude easy answer.

In a manner of speaking, getting an Opposition, which cannot discharge their appointed role, is extremely unfortunate. It is a case of double-whammy as there is nothing to stop the egregious consequence of the ruling party’s excesses. Almost by default, the ruling dispensation moves from one excess to the other; chipping away at the rights of the citizen, institutional integrity and constitutional basis of governance. If other institutions become co-opted by the ruling dispensation be it the media or judiciary which are expected to work as the moat around constitutionality and citizen-centricity, it is not difficult to understand. When the last post is battered, conscience keepers have a significantly diminished role.

Civil society organisations, public intellectuals and analysts may call out but such beautiful and ineffectual angels beat their luminous wings in a void. They can’t replace the Opposition. Just like the ruling party has got control over repressive instruments of the state, the Opposition has got the right and obligation to question the narrative and take it to the ground level. That is the reason in a democracy, people in the Opposition are more respected than their vote share, seats in the Parliament and despite having less ability to mobilise funds.

The position becomes a lot murkier when the Opposition outfit is family-run or clearly supportive of some caste formation. Realpolitik collaboration may tilt the scale off and on, all but the narrowly focused narrative doesn’t resonate among the broader mass of people. If their adversary is not family-run or caste-based, they certainly earn their spurs by showing them on a higher moral pedestal. In the process, the Opposition will have to brace for staying in the cold much longer. But the question is: 
do they have a game plan to stay relevant while staying in the cold?

They will have to change their strategy, their narrative and their perceived inclusiveness. Instead, we see personal ego, arrogance and completely misplaced hope scuppering the required focus. As a political commentator said, a party that polled less than 5 percent vote in 285 constituencies in the last 25 years doesn’t concede space and competes regardless. A quaint Sanskrit story narrated by Parakala Prabhakar is very instructive here.

When an Opposition has weaknesses because they are fragmented, the laws of bolted horses and burnt chariot (Nastswa Dagdha Ratha Naya) can guide them. Two travellers who set out on a journey in their own chariots ended up in the same inn at the end of the day. The next day they discovered that one chariot was burnt down and horses of the other had bolted. Horses of the traveller whose chariot was burnt were harnessed to the chariot of the man whose horses had bolted.

This collaboration worked and they travelled together to reach their destination. The country is in need of this Naya and Opposition parties should keep this in their mind to discover their complementarity in the face of disunity and collaborate to proceed. This is what the citizens are asking for and the Opposition should not lose sight of it. Otherwise, they will be complicit in guiding the democracy to unwelcome authoritarianism.

(Views are personal)

Satya Mohanty is former secretary, Government of India. He can be reached at satya_mohanty@rediffmail.com.

India Matters


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