Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why Nitish is not charmed by call for opposition unity

Ratnakar Tripathy

That Indian politics in its everyday sense is fast sliding from a state of excessive zeal to dire fatigue and anomie is becoming clearer by the day. While the critics of the present regime habitually look for a ray of hope in the opposition parties and find none, it seems wiser to follow the public mood of the voter, the government’s changing rhetoric at its different layers and likely developments within what seems a monolith of a regime with all the powers concentrated in the PMO. When one examines the regime as an executive engine and an agency of change, it becomes clear that there is little about it that seems lasting. If anything, the Modi regime is likely to leave behind a legacy of false starts and rather forgettable if not traumatic memories. The question is how soon will that happen? There is a certain persistence of hope among the citizens that continues to work as an emotional capital favouring the BJP in the minds of the voters – it is almost as if every time the voter may feel frustrated and angry with the present regime, the haunting images of a Rahul or Sonia Gandhi chases them back into what they see as a safer haven of the BJP. It is however becoming clear that the present regime, very much like the Emergency of 1975 will prove to be one more dead end for the Indian democracy – sometimes indeed, it is perhaps more important to learn pathways to be avoided rather than forge a clear path ahead. Such predicaments can seem like a psychological standstill or even an impasse but may represent a pause of political learning for the common voter.

Such is the context for any talk of opposition unity in the country. When recently Bihar’s Chief Minister was criticized by both RJD and Congress leaders for his inconsistent and ‘unethical’ support to the BJP over its presidential candidate Ramnath Kovind, till some days ago, the BJP-appointed Governor of Bihar, the ethical terminology failed to attract the ears of the voters. It is commonly known in Bihar that Nitish runs a regime in Bihar that is in equal measure supported and harassed by the RJD elements who would like a cut out of the government schemes and contracts. Nitish is not willing. Some say that Bihar’s prohibition of alcohol may be driven professedly by Nitish’s support among the woman voter of Bihar, but its real target were the RJD hyenas howling at the gates of Nitish. Banning alcohol has effectively decimated their largesse and a solid source of income. Similarly, when the Congress terms Nitish ‘unethical’, the question may be asked, despite the sublime abstraction called ‘opposition unity’, what can the Congress give Nitish that he already doesn’t have? That the Congress is a spent force at the centre is a fact that we must force down our gullets with great haste, as any hope of the Congress seen often as the lesser evil will seriously skew our political analysis. The Congress may indeed be a lesser evil but it is also completely effete and will remain so for a long time to come. If the Congress made substantial gains in the last Bihar assembly elections, it was largely due to the momentum that favoured the RJD and JD[U] and not the other way round.

As far as the ‘ethics’ of Nitish goes, he is stuck in a strange predicament. With a thinner voter base than the RJD in Bihar, he is reduced to playing the BJP and the RJD against each other on a daily basis and support for Kovind is no exception. As for the Congress, I am not sure Nitish’s already cluttered mental space will allow him to spare even a passing thought to a party wrecked by its top leaders despite its grand tradition. As for Modi-Shah duo, they will need more time to wreck the BJP but they are already at it on a daily basis. With these two megaliths gone, all you see on the Indian landscape of the future are small rocks, some stones and a huge expanse of fine gravel. If the Congress failed to run the engines of a heavily centralized structure, there is no reason to believe that the BJP with a much larger family of sister organizations will succeed at the same in the long run or even for a short term. Centralism as an ideology alone is not adequate for keeping a centralized structure intact and running. So if at all, the opposition’s strategic handshakes will only make sense during a regional election for some more time to come.        

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