Whither opposition?

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With the near marginalisation of the Congress party in Indian politics, the country today lacks a good opposition party, says Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi. For a healthy democracy, a good opposition is vital, he states.

The results of the recently concluded elections in a number of states including the mother of them all, Uttar Pradesh, have resulted in major gains for BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)/NDA (National Democratic Alliance), and a further dwindling of the opposition, led by Congress/UPA (United Progressive Alliance). While this augurs well for a strong government that can govern better than before, the further marginalisation of the opposition is not at all good for democracy, as democracies work best when checks and balances are firmly in place. Historically, it has been proved that ruling parties with huge majorities have resulted in flawed, if not highly authoritarian political decisions, which have hurt the polity in a number of ways. Examples of the Nehru, Indira and Rajiv eras immediately come to mind.

Need for a strong opposition
In a democracy and one as chaotic as ours, it is well established that political parties with huge majorities and weak oppositions have adversely impacted on the growth and fortunes of the nation in many crucial issues. Hence, while it is important that the ruling party should have the confidence of the majority of citizens, which is so today; there should also be a credible and effective opposition, so that any propensities for forcing agendas that may be harmful for the nation, are kept in check. It is only then that good governance, progress, economic growth, security and sovereignty of the nation, improvement in the lives of the masses, and similar other aspects will remain on an even keel.

After the recent state elections in both large and small states, it is fairly obvious that the domestic political power equation has shifted heavily to the ruling BJP. Obviously, the electorate has reposed its faith in the party, whether on account of anti-incumbency, inadequate governance, corruption, or other reasons. I have no quarrel with this, and hope the BJP and its allies forming the NDA will deliver. However, a complete decimation of the other political parties is also not good for our democracy. Democracies thrive when there is a credible opposition, otherwise there are likely to be adverse effects, which may well be increased imposition of policies not suited to a diverse nation as ours, or in the worst case, even authoritarianism of some variety. After all, one should pay heed to that old adage – “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”!

At present, the Lok Sabha comprising a total of 545 seats, has 339 seats forming part of the ruling NDA, led by BJP, and 206 in the opposition, of which the principal opposition is the UPA, having only 48 seats. The others support one side or the other depending on prevailing issues or agendas. In the Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, the equation is so far favourable to the opposition, as it has a total of 171 seats, while the NDA has only 74 seats. The equation in the Rajya Sabha is set to change, as present incumbents finishing their tenures are likely to be replaced by more BJP/NDA representatives, on account of the rise of the BJP/NDA ruled states.

The decline of Congress
Within the opposition, the Congress party has more seats than the others in both Houses. However, in the last three years or so, the Congress is on the decline, mainly because it continues to be led by the same leaders that are actually responsible for its rapid implosion, viz., the mother and son duo of the Gandhi dynasty. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that if the present leadership in the Congress party continues, there is little hope for the revival of this oldest party of the nation, despite the Congress win in Punjab. Yet, the other leaders and the rank and file of the Congress party seem unable to grasp this obvious truth, and are continuing to repose their faith and fortunes with them!

In the army, we had learnt that if a particular leader is unable to lead well, for whatever reason, it is best to replace him and select someone else. History is replete with instances where this has been done and the dwindling fortunes changed for the better. Why the Congress party does not do so is a mystery or in this case, perhaps ‘a mystery wrapped in an enigma’!

Frankly speaking, very few men and women in our country want to see a return of the old Congress party in power, but we do want an effective and credible opposition in Parliament for ensuring that checks and balances continue, and there is no imposition of authoritarian or near-authoritarian rule by an individual or a political party. The Congress party still has a few credible leaders and administrators, especially among the younger lot, but no apparent move to get rid of the current inept leadership is discernable. Is it a continuation of the sycophantic and dynastic culture of the past, or are the others unable or unwilling to see the bold ‘writing on the wall’? Already, staunch and senior members of the party, including those who have held important positions in the party hierarchy, are ‘abandoning the ship’.

The move to drastically change the Congress leadership must emanate from within the party, and the earlier it does so, the better it will be for both the party and the nation.

While a change in leadership in the Congress will undoubtedly be helpful to the party, it will also result in smaller political parties climbing the bandwagon. It is only then that a credible opposition to the BJP juggernaut will emerge. The Congress, besides being the oldest political party of the nation, still has a pan-India structure of committed party workers, albeit in a somnambulist state at present, and has the funds and the organisation to revive the party’s fortunes, provided they prevail on the present leadership of the party to step down, willingly or by other means, and let younger and more competent leaders take charge. Even if they do not win forthcoming elections, they would be able to play the part of a constructive opposition, if they are able to prevail on the others in the opposition to their way of thinking.

For BJP/NDA, it makes eminent sense not to want any change in the jaded leadership of the Congress party, as it makes their job easier to wrest both additional seats and states from the Congress. There is no lack of evidence for prosecuting the Gandhis in many cases of malfeasances and financial inappropriateness, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has quietly stayed even obvious prosecutions like the National Herald and Vadra cases, to cite only two.

Hence, getting the Gandhis to step down will have to be an entirely Congress affair. Are they up to it? I have my doubts as there are no discernable signals despite all the humiliation the party has suffered in the last many years.


Lt-Gen-Vijay-Oberoi

Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi

Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff.

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