Where is the alternative?

Tavleen Singh writes: When things go badly for Modi, his spokesmen always invoke Rahul Gandhi to remind Indian voters that he is their only choice and that he is really no choice at all.

Written by Tavleen Singh

If proof were needed that Narendra Modi goes from strength to strength only because he faces no Opposition, it came this year. In the seven years that he has been Prime Minister, this has been the year most defined by blunders and fiascoes. The mistakes made by Modi personally in areas ranging from healthcare to national security are too long to list in this limited space. In my view the two that stand out are the desperate state that India found herself in at the height of the second Covid wave when public healthcare literally collapsed, and we discovered that the Prime Minister had failed to order enough vaccines to save us from this evil virus.

The second was Modi’s failure to understand in time that if farmers were ready to protest for a whole year against laws that they believed would ruin them, then the Prime Minister should have addressed their fears earlier instead of maligning them. Modi’s failure to consult the people he was trying to benefit was not just a terrible mistake but a poor reflection of the quality of his leadership.

It is remarkable that he has been able to ride out the storms of this year and has come through, if the polls are right, as a man who India’s voters still trust more than any other political leader. The failure, as the Chief Minister of West Bengal so vividly pointed out last week, is the failure of the Opposition parties to take advantage of Modi’s many serious mistakes. She said that it was important for whoever led the Opposition parties to have the courage to fight, and that the Congress party had shown that not only did it not have any fight left in it but that it had a leader who was always loafing off to some foreign country when he was needed here.

Brutal. But, sometimes it is essential for the truth to be told brutally, and the truth is that if despite this year in which Modi has totted up a litany of mistakes and failures, the Opposition still remains stagnant, then we need to start asking if we have an Opposition left at all. Not whether it is capable of uniting to defeat the BJP in vital state elections that draw ever closer, but if there is any Opposition out there at all.

The Opposition parties routinely accuse the Modi government of making Parliament dysfunctional, but who is it who spends more time sitting under the statue of Gandhiji than inside that vaunted ‘temple of democracy’? The last session of Parliament was wasted because of the Opposition parties insisting that until Pegasus spyware was discussed, nothing else would be. This Session looks as if it will be wasted because those 12 suspended members of the Rajya Sabha refuse to apologise for extremely bad behaviour and choose instead to spend their time under Gandhiji’s statue. If there is a strategy behind this endless disruption of Parliament, then it is a bad one. And, one that seems to be designed by political leaders stuck in a time warp.

In that long ago time before social media and instant news, this kind of protest may have had some value. It no longer does and really looks as foolish as gathering outside the gates of Parliament and trotting off to Rashtrapati Bhavan to complain to the President. Is it any wonder that Modi continues to be seen as India’s only leader? Is it any wonder that despite the many blunders he has made this year, he still appears unscathed? If you were watching Mamata Banerjee’s press conference in Mumbai last week, you would have noticed that the people who have flocked to her side are those who once believed that the Congress party was the one bulwark against India becoming a Hindu version of the Islamic republic next door. Horrible thought, but one that we must start dwelling upon albeit gloomily.

The truth is that without the Congress party, there can be no real political alternative at the national level. But not only does it seem incapable of rising to the task, it seems not to have understood how much politics has changed. Instead of renewal it seems to be wallowing in its past glories, as if it has nothing else to offer. The sad truth is that Sonia Gandhi and her children appear to have learned nothing at all about why they have led our oldest political party to humiliating defeats in two general elections.

Unless they begin to question why all the Congress party’s stalwarts have either left or seem unhappier by the day, there is every chance that regional players like Mamata Banerjee will try to do what they can to fill the empty space that grows larger and larger, where the national Opposition should be. In her diatribe against the Congress party last week, one of the charges Banerjee made was that the Congress has ‘become the TRP’ of Narendra Modi. She is not wrong. This is why when things go badly for Modi, his spokesmen always invoke Rahul Gandhi to remind Indian voters that he is their only choice and that he is really no choice at all. If this were not true, there is no chance that Modi would have emerged unscathed at the end of what has been the worst year of his long political career.

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