by Ratnakar Tripathy
In the wake of the Bihar verdict, there are two important developments that have followed in quick succession. First, the opposition in the parliament is suddenly much enthused and seems far more vocal and coherent than seen in the last eighteen months. Second, the BJP seems on the defensive and Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his sphinx like silence on two occasions, asking the opposition for a modicum of cooperation. On the first occasion, on 27th November, Modi responded frontally to Sonia Gandhi’s doubts about the BJP’s commitment to the Indian constitution and democracy – he declared the constitution to be absolutely sacrosanct. This was a situation weighed with immeasurable irony as it concerned the very foundations of Indian democracy. The discussion was part of the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Bhimrao Ambedkar, considered the chief architect of the Constitution. It is almost as if the BJP reaffirmed its faith in a fundamental axiom that one would normally take for granted as an elementary matter. Suddenly the august house seemed reduced to the humdrum of a Civics classroom in a high school but also enhanced to a higher level of dialogue. Following the Constitution day celebrations, Modi also had a meeting with Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh seeking their cooperation over the much discussed GST Bill. Seeking cooperation from the opposition had earlier seemed out of character for Modi who would depute other leaders to make conciliatory moves.
The second occasion arose within days during the debates on intolerance that saw heavy speech-making activity by leaders from several parties including Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, Mayawati, and Sugata Bose from TMC. As the historian Sugata Bose pointed out in a brief speech ‘intolerance’ has become an issue only because of the government’s failure to provide protection and assurance to the citizenry. The context for this was of course the continuing attacks and violence by the so-called fringe groups in the name of Hindutva and the mass return of the literary awards by writers seen in the last several weeks. Strangely, the fringe has been rather quiet in the past few days, the fact being that some of the fringe voices actually come from within the parliament. Yogi Adityanath and Mahesh Sharma the state culture minister are names that come to the mind immediately. Here again, the opposition found a new source of energy and unity in attacking the government and the BJP. As a result while Venkataiya Naidu ended up admitting ‘some’ increase in intolerance, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh accused everyone of showing ‘intolerance’ towards the Indian PM Modi.
The rhetoric used in the ongoing debates and speeches is likely to resound for a long time in the corridors of the Indian democracy. The Indian media seems to have failed to note that the basic postulates of Indian democracy rarely get discussed in the parliament with the intensity and passion seen lately in the two mega sessions. Even as the echoes from the debates continue, the BJP is facing another major reverse on its home turf Gujarat in the local elections. ‘Though the BJP has retained all six municipal corporations - Ahmedabad, Surat, Bhavnagar, Vadodara, Rajkot and Jamnagar - and most municipalities - 40 out of 56 to the BJP and 8 to the Congress so far - it is the zilla and taluka panchayats in rural areas where the party has suffered a massive blow. At the time this report was filed the Congress had won 21 of 31 zilla panchayats and BJP had gained only six. Counting in four others was in progress. In the last local bodies elections, the BJP had won 30 out of 31 zilla panchayats.’ This may further sober up BJP and its affiliates including the sagely voices from Nagpur who have all been behaving like arrogant upstarts unused to power in the last eighteen months.
Whether the BJP’s and Modi’s turn for mildness and responsiveness is a purely opportunistic interregnum is immaterial. In a democracy the humbling of hubris is to be considered inherently healthy. Such humbling has of course come from two different sources – from the ballot boxes and more vocally and articulately from the leaders of the opposition who are unlikely to slacken their critical stance in a hurry.