With a bare year-and-a-half to go for the next general elections, the BJP has been looking vulnerable for some time with demonetisation, price spurt in petroleum products and GST hiccups combined with rural discontent pulling it down a few notches from the high that it had reached.
But so abject is the performance of the Opposition that a credible alternative to Narendra Modi seems too far-fetched. More than anything else, the Opposition woefully lacks an alternative narrative. There is neither a proper agenda, nor a sound strategy nor a leadership worth the name in the Opposition.
Whatever hope there may have been of an Opposition revival is dashed by the fact that Congress heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia are in no frame of mind to allow anyone except Rahul as the Opposition challenger to Modi. In any case, with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar now firmly in the Modi camp, there is a real dearth of leaders on the other side.
The Congress under Sonia-Rahul stewardship has let opportunities slip at crucial times. It was Rahul who, when he needed to lend an ear to Sarbananda Sonowal precipitated a revolt by his myopic actions that led to Sonowal deserting the Congress for the BJP in Assam and leading that party to a historic win. It was again poor leadership in the Congress that squandered opportunities in Goa and Manipur where it was the single largest party and virtually served power on a platter to the BJP while the Central leadership hibernated. It was also the Central leadership of the Congress that allowed Shankersinh Vaghela to leave the party when he was the only candidate with some fight in him in Gujarat. Even in Bihar, it was the Central party leadership that failed to persuade RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav to dump Lalu’s son Tejaswi to save the coalition with Nitish Kumar.
When Rahul Gandhi boasted that he knew about the Lalu-Nitish estrangement three or four months prior to the snapping of ties, he was only proving how naive and ill-suited for politics he has been. If he really was perceptive enough to know, what did he do to save the alliance? Nothing at all or precious little. Why blame upstart Rahul alone? Recently, a delegation of Central leaders led by former prime minister Manmohan Singh and with Ghulam Nabi Azad as part of it went on a fact-finding mission to Jammu and Kashmir. What a choice of time it was. After dithering for so long, the BJP is making some headway in the troubled state. While infiltration of terrorists from across the border is high, for once the armed forces are under clear direction to go on the offensive and kill terrorists and terror sympathisers. By all accounts, many commanders of terror groups have been eliminated and a sense of fear now pervades the local scene where fifth columnists are finding it difficult to shelter and help the terrorists.
At the same time, stone pelting incidents are on a clear decline and with separatist leaders in awe due to raids on them for receiving and funnelling terror funding, there is a new-found assertion of the authority of the state which was long overdue.In such a scenario when people across the country are appreciative of the crackdown in Kashmir by and large, the Congress has gone in a delegation to the state with no real clinching narrative and no blueprint for action. The impression that has gone around is that the party has no solution to offer and is critical of the Modi government for the sake of sounding critical. Wittingly or unwittingly, it is stoking the separatist fire. Dr Manmohan Singh has been so thoroughly exposed as a spineless leader that his own credibility has dipped sharply. While he still commands some respect for his erudition, the others are of little consequence. The likes of P. Chidambaram, Manish Tewari and Ghulam Nabi Azad keep ranting but nobody pays heed to them.
That the Congress is drifting towards a mood of desperation is evident from the abusive language for Prime Minister Modi used by leaders like Digvijay Singh and Manish Tewari that has done the Congress party incalculable harm. Whether the two Congress leaders used the crude words of abuse by themselves or they did it at the instance of the Gandhis or to play to the pathological hatred for Modi is unclear. But the fact remains that the remarks have evoked derision and rebuke from people at large.
If this is going to be the manner in which senior leaders of the party would behave in public, they are either out of their mind bereft of power or they are being led up the garden path.
For any opposition worth its salt this was the perfect opportunity to strike when the BJP government’s sheen appeared to be wearing off and the extended honeymoon was showing signs of fatigue. But the current opposition is gripped by inertia and virtual paralysis.
There are reports that the anointment of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president is round the corner after all. But the morale in the party is at a low ebb. His close circle of youth leaders is nowhere to be seen, be it Jyotiraditya Scindia or Sachin Pilot or Milind Deora. Instead, there are sycophants hovering around him. The old guard has apparently returned with a vengeance.
Rahul’s recent ‘lecture tour’ to the US yielded little though there was motivated wah wah from some ‘commentators and analysts’ which fooled only the very gullible ones. The Congress’ pseudo-secularism is indeed gaining less and less traction though there are takers for the impression that intolerance is growing under the BJP.
The author is a political commentator and
columnist. He has authored four books.