Fresh rumblings within Congress underscore why a convincing opposition interrogation of BJP remains a nonstarter. Troubles in Rajasthan and Punjab, Jitin Prasada’s defection to BJP, and the party’s never-ending soul search about leadership yet again demonstrate that, nationally, Congress is one of BJP’s key advantages. GOP’s ineffectuality on the national stage is complemented by the inability, thus far, of any regional leader to play a pan-Indian role. Mamata Banerjee’s frequent jousts with the Modi government are a delight for national political reporters, they are considerably less meaningful when it comes to national political strategy. Neither Trinamool nor her political rhetoric travel well outside Bengal.
The irony, for the opposition, is that BJP is far from being at its confident best right now. Covid’s second wave battered India, questions on vaccination abounded, income and job losses are widespread, both the poor and the middle class have been hit, fuel prices look like a gifted batsman’s career average. True, not all of it is Centre’s fault. Opposition-governed states aren’t paragons of governance. But that’s not how national politics works – the party at Centre gets blamed the most. If BJP is not copping most of the blame it’s partly because even in the governing party’s most difficult moment since 2014, there are no opposition figures who can do what BJP in opposition did so effectively mid-way through UPA-2’s term – constant, coordinated criticism and carping.
The national political map is also not as saffron as it used to be – another advantage the opposition is unable to leverage. Despite BJP’s dominance of Parliament, state legislatures are nearly evenly split between NDA and non-NDA parties. The sum of all these parts is so much less than the whole because in many states regional parties have grown fighting Congress and state Congress leaders see regional parties as rivals to be beaten, not necessarily as allies in a grand anti-BJP national alliance. Still, if Congress were a fighting political unit nationally, the fact that it’s more or less head-to-head against BJP in around 150 Lok Sabha seats across nine states (MP, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Assam, Haryana, Uttarakhand and HP) would have given it the heft to effectively lead the opposition.
And the opposition should remember, bruised BJP may be, but its current avatar remains an election fighting mean machine. No doubt we will see it deployed in UP next year. How the opposition is planning to fight in UP is a very good question.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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