When the UPA came back to power in 2009, they did so riding the praise for the work they had done in the five previous years. However, barely three years later it seemed they’d unravel at the seams.
The reason for this unprecedented turn was a united opposition led by current PM Narendra Modi which did a great job of exposing the many fallacies of the UPA regime. However, in the last 4 years since Mr. Modi became the PM, the opposition has faltered. Despite colossal failures of the government, the biggest failure has been the opposition’s inability to force the government to take stock by mounting a strong attack on their misgovernance.
This is not only bad, but disastrous for democracy because the lack of opposition to bad governance has often lead democracies straight under the hellfire of autocracy and dictatorship.
As the 2019 general election approaches, adding to misgovernance and failed promises, is an atmosphere of violence tacitly approved by the government. What does the opposition do in such a scenario, especially considering that some pundits are arguing that if they do not fight back now, chances are that 2024 might never see fair, democratic elections.
Arun Shourie, who has been in the bad books of both the Congress and BJP – the former for exposing their corruption as an editor and the latter now for vociferously opposing it - in a speech delivered on August 10 at a public meeting under the aegis of Rashtra Manch / National Forum that Yashwant Sinha had initiated 6 months ago - offered advice to the opposition. Following are excerpts from his speech.
“I want us to think about the future, about what we can do. 2019 is the last chance to reverse course. If this time you do not turn the train around, then forget about democracy. You’ll find that what you’ve seen so far (in the last four years) is but a trailer for the big show.
Earlier I used to say that the BJP and the GoI is of two and half men – Modi, Shah and half of Arun Jaitley trying to be useful. Now I say that it is a government of one and three fourth men. One is Amit Shah not Modi. Modi is busy getting himself clicked and managing events. Hence, the main agencies like CBI, Enforcement Directorate, Serious Frauds office etc. all report to Amit Shah. And to know his mentality, ask the people gathered on the dais or read Supreme Court’s judgment on transferring the Sohrabuddin case.
Keep all that has happened in (the last four years in) mind and think what’ll happen if they come back to power in 2019. And they know, that the way they came to power the last time, that won’t work anymore because the youth is not with them, neither the traders, nor the SMEs, farmers etc. Hence they know that the ground has slipped from under their feet.
They are also aware that if they do not come back in 2019, they would be in danger. Hence they would do whatever they think necessary to come to power: be it dividing people, killing people, spreading terror etc. Hence, the country will be in peril if they come back.
But I want to tell the leaders of oppositions, and I want you to explain to them, that obviously the country will be in danger but keeping the nation aside they personally will be in grave danger. Modi is not going to leave anyone because he considers everyone a rival.
Considering this, I want to give the leaders of the opposition a few suggestions.
DO NOT STAND ON PRESTIGE
The election of the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha might have been wrong or planted, but the oppositions attitude did not help. Arvind Kejriwal says let Rahul Gandhi call me first. Rahul Gandhi says, why should I call him. And in tussles like these, we lose track of the issue.
Consider the irony: on one side you claim that the nation is in danger but on the other you bicker about someone not calling you? How does that work? Once Mahatma Gandhi had a meeting with the Viceroy and took with himself an aluminium bowl he was given in British Prison in Yerawada. When he was asked why he was going like that to the Viceroy’s house, Gandhiji replied: I will stand on the steps of the Viceroy’s house with a begging bowl in my hand if it is in the interest of India.
Hence my first point is, you are leaders, please do not stand on the issue of prestige.
FORGET OPEN GAMBITS
Often it is said, and Yashwant ji can guide us on that, that alliances break up on the question of 3-4 seats and no understanding can be reached between the parties. What is this? On one side is the question of the nation, on the other your very lives are at stake, yet you fight for 3-4 seats?
Arvind Kejriwal said today that he will go it alone in Haryana and Delhi. Even Mayawati said that she needs a particular number of seats. Some reason that this is an opening move for bargaining. I will ask for 70 and finally agree on 35. But what do you think is the effect of this on the public mind? They think these guys can’t even unite on such a small issue, how will they run the government.
Hence do not operate out of the idea of prestige, and forget this concept of opening gambit.
FORGET BOTH THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
When we bicker about each other we say: he talked about me in the past that way or he did not give me this position in the last elections. Please forget the past. I would also add that forget the future for the time being. You might think that today the person you’re fighting elections with, you might have to oppose in the assembly tomorrow. Banish all such thoughts because that time might not come if you do not unite today.
DO NOT TALK ABOUT, BUT TO EACH OTHER
My next suggestion to the opposition is this: please do not talk about each other in public. The influential media’s tactic is to come to you and say: the other person said this about you so what do you have to say about that. Don’t talk ABOUT each other, talk TO each other. And if there is a problem in the relationship, then talk to each other in private.
I once asked Abdul Kalam about the success of ISRO. He told me that it was because of Satish Dhawan who started the concept of Monday morning meetings where project heads would sit together and iron out all the issues they had with each other and their departments. And there was another rule: if there was something you wanted to say to someone, don’t write a letter, pick up the phone and if there is an issue you can talk on the phone then don’t talk on the phone, go to them and sort it out.
In the same vein, don’t talk about each other, talk to each other. If there is a problem that you think must be attended to, tell it to your ally in private and help him solve it rather than point accusatory fingers.
REMEMBER THE NUMBERS 31-69 AND 90-60
Next I want you to remember two numbers. The first is: 31-69. It means that even during the peak of his popularity, Modi got only 31% of the votes. If you get together, you start with 69% votes. The key is one-to-one contest. Let everyone pledge that against every candidate of BJP, we will field only one of our candidate and then see the miracle. If the votes are divided, you will stand to lose. Look at what happened in Assam, Karnataka and Tripura.
The second number to remember is 90-60. Those states that contribute 60% of seats to the Lok Sabha, Modi won 90% of them, like in UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan etc. What should help your confidence is that there is no chance of him winning 90% of those seats this time around. What is also important to focus on, are the states they are focussing on i.e. the ones they had lost in or are weak in. At least in those states the opposition should focus and ensure one-to-one contest. Like in the Northeast and Orissa.
There are many more suggestions I have. But I would like to request the influential and persuasive leaders of their parties, that at least in these matters either put pressure, cajole or misguide your leaders so that they accept the idea of seat adjustments. Then and only then can the opposition truly have confidence.”
Translated and edited from the Hindi by Satyen K. Bordoloi.
(Satyen K Bordoloi is a writer based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)
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