Is Opposition unity only a mirage? With just about 16 months left for the mega electoral battle of 2024, never have the Opposition ranks appeared more disparate and confused. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, which has now crossed the 100-day mark and is nearing its end game, while ostensibly delinked from electoral matters, is a great platform to bring anti-BJP voices together, but the response of the Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party, two key regional forces, is reflective of the waning index of Opposition unity. While Congress allies like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the NCP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra understandably joined the yatra, other anti-BJP parties like the BRS and Aam Aadmi Party have maintained a healthy distance from the Congress-led event.
On New Year’s Eve, Rahul Gandhi stressed on the need for unity among the Opposition to defeat the BJP at the hustings. While asserting that only the Congress can provide the central ideological pivot, Mr Gandhi admitted the importance of mutual respect among parties. On New Year’s Day, JD(U)-leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, too, expressed the hope that Opposition parties would unite and come up with a cogent plan to take on the BJP, his ally turned bitter enemy.
The truth is there does not appear to be even remotely a challenge to the BJP at present though the saffron party has faced defeat in states, most recently in Himachal Pradesh and during the municipal elections in Delhi. Strong regional leaders can challenge the BJP in their strongholds, but when it comes to parliamentary polls, the index of Opposition unity collapses. There is no cohesive leader or ideology to take on the majoritarian, populist, jingoistic appeal of the saffron forces. In practising soft Hindutva, Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP and the Congress are no match for the BJP which has perfected the polarisation template. Only a totally different narrative can make any difference to the electoral arithmetic of the nation. While Mr Gandhi and Mr Kumar appear to have realised this, it is moot whether such a construct will emerge in the next 16 months. The need of the hour is an alternative comprising leaders with a distinct vision for India who are willing to shed their egos, community and caste affiliations to strengthen a country that is in dire need of amity and unity. The clouds of hatred and fear engulfing the nation need to be dispersed sooner than later.
Minister in the eye of a storm
The allegation of sexual harassment levelled by a woman coach against Haryana Sports Minister Sandeep Singh, former India hockey captain and Olympian, is shocking but nothing new in the sordid saga of exploitation of women athletes in India. Mr Singh’s glorious exploits on the pitch have been overshadowed by these charges. That he has merely stepped back from his duties and handed over his portfolio to the Chief Minister till a probe is completed does not bode well for an impartial inquiry as he still commands the power and perks of a minister. Hark back to the horrific Ruchika Girhotra case when a budding tennis player was forced to take her own life after she and her family were hounded by senior IPS officer SPS Rathore, founder of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association, for spurning his advances and filing a complaint against him. The case dragged on for years.
There have been innumerable instances of women athletes being promised prized spots in return for sexual favours. In a system that is tilted so much in favour of men, to speak out against tainted officials requires a great deal of courage. Many promising sportspersons have had their careers cut short because they refused to give in to obnoxious demands. This malaise is not confined to India. Over the years Olympic gymnasts in the USA were subjected to sexual abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar. Athlete after athlete revealed his raft of misdeeds. It is imperative that a speedy inquiry is conducted in the Haryana case. It is for the Union Sports and Women and Child Development Ministries as well as national and state women’s commissions to take the lead and demand the minister’s sacking. Only then will justice be served to Haryana’s betis.
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