It is mind-boggling how the Opposition which was, until the Lok Sabha elections, breathing fire and brimstone has lost its verve and energy, shell-shocked by the results that reflected a steamroller win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. The current session of Parliament has exposed that it is yet to recover from the blow that it sustained. Howsoever ineffective Rahul Gandhi may have been as Congress president, his resignation has set the Opposition groping for a leader who is strong and credible. Rahul Gandhi indeed proved woefully unequal to the task of leading the Opposition but he was at least a rallying point for some Opposition parties. Now, with the Congress in limbo failing to elect an alternate leader after Rahul’s resignation, there is a deeper vacuum than before. The manner in which a triumphant BJP was able to secure the support of fence-sitters Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress and the AIADMK to defeat the Opposition bid to force the referral of the contentious Right to Information (Amendment) Bill to a select committee was an index of how the opposition to the ruling NDA has crumbled after the elections.
The twice-stalled Triple Talaq Bill will be the next big test. While it is a fact that the Opposition stands severely demoralised, this bill will be a different kettle of fish since two major parties are opposed to it. The Janata Dal (U) of Nitish Kumar and the YSR Congress of Jagan Mohan have a degree of dependence on the minority vote and if they vote with the Opposition the Bill could be in trouble. But they could well abstain and that would help the BJP which is a strong proponent of the Bill. Significantly, the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati stayed away from the Lok Sabha during the vote on the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill and it remains to be seen whether they would do the same on triple talaq. BJP floor managers would be hard at work to lobby for the Bill’s smooth sailing but it would be a challenge for the ruling party in the Rajya Sabha.
Contrary to earlier practice, there was no meeting among Opposition party leaders on floor co-ordination and to discuss their approach to the Parliament session. Though a meeting was originally scheduled for May 31, it had to be postponed as a majority of the parties were busy introspecting on the reasons for their losses. After that too no meeting was called. With Rahul Gandhi having resigned and Congress leaders not reconciled on a change, there was no action from the largest Opposition party. The DMK which is the third-largest party in the Lok Sabha passed the buck by saying it had not received a call for a meeting. The Trinamool, which had been equally active in setting the Opposition agenda, was busy fire-fighting on multiple fronts in West Bengal, where post-poll violence was yet to abate in the aftermath of the polling and an ongoing doctors’ agitation had disrupted medical services in the State. Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader N. Chandrababu Naidu was marginalised with his party now left with just three MPs in the Lok Sabha. Most Opposition leaders were blaming the Congress for arrogance and inflexibility in failing to field joint Opposition candidates against the ruling NDA but there was no one to give the lead.
Clearly, the myopia reflected in the strategy and conduct of Opposition parties will have a fallout on the upcoming elections in some states and subsequently even on the future Lok Sabha elections. The Opposition will indeed have to gird up its loins and function more effectively to at least partially retrieve lost ground. The strategy of concentrating all its ire on Prime Minister Modi in the last Lok Sabha elections evidently was a miserable flop. The parties will now have to come up with a viable and credible alternative set of policies. The principal lesson from the last election is that negativity per se is not good enough. There has to be a way to inspire hope in the people with concrete ideas and programmes. For that it is vital that a new leadership emerges in the Opposition.
- S Sadanand