Past and present taint keeps opposition divided
The opposition stands divided to destroy one another.

Prabhu Chawla

The opposition stands divided to destroy one another.

Unity in politics is about rationalising opinions and ideologies. Hence adversities unite adversaries. Such a confederacy is often birthed by the maxim that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. But this isn’t the Indian opposition’s praxis. Though their leaders across regions and viewpoints are being hunted by central investigative agencies and jailed over the past eight years, no sign of them being a common front is visible. Last week, when the CBI arrested AAP honcho Manish Sisodia for allegedly dodgy dealings in the Delhi government’s excise policy scam, no prominent party or leader went beyond the customary press statement. Some even praised the arrest. There was no collaborative chorus of condemnation from non-BJP opposition parties when the dreaded ED swooped down on middle-level leaders and top skippers of TMC, BRS, Shiv Sena, TRS, et al. Ironically, Opposition parties rule almost half the states and have over 200 seats in Parliament. Emboldened by the divided opposition, the agencies have upped the ante to name and shame tainted leaders by digging up their distant past and unpleasant present, which will make them electoral liabilities and weaken the opposition. Hardly a day passes without the ED and CBI descending on the offices of various corporate houses and political activists even remotely connected with anyone who challenges the BJP anywhere in India without a squeak from non-saffron sections. And for the voters, it is business as usual. Even at the festivities held last week to celebrate Tamilnadu Chief Minister M K Stalin and attended by leaders of half a dozen parties, Sisodia didn’t get any empathy. Earlier, the 3500-kilometre-long Bharat Jodo Yatra undertaken by Rahul Gandhi was royally ignored by many prominent opposition leaders.  

According to a published report, over 95 per cent of leaders arrested in the past nine years are from the opposition. Even if it rattled them, this wasn’t enough to make them bury their individual ambitions to counter the ruling party by hitting the streets. They stand divided to destroy one another. In contrast, during the Emergency, the entire non-Congress opposition dumped their ideological predilections and set aside enmities to defenestrate the powerful prime minister Indira Gandhi and her party from the halls of absolute power. Like the BJP now, the Congress then ruled more than half the states, enjoyed a two thirds majority in Parliament and had a pliable bureaucracy genuflecting to Indira’s slightest nod. It was Jayaprakash Narayan who appeared like an avenging angel to unite them. After seat adjustments, staunch enemies Jan Sangh and the CPM forged an electoral alliance. Their collective ensured that the Congress won just one seat in the entire North India. Indira and her son Sanjay were humiliated in their pocket boroughs Amethi and Rae Bareli. This happened because the anti-Congress forces fought from a moral high ground. Most of them, barring the DMK, were in the opposition. Their leaders, such as Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, George Fernandes, Charan Singh, etc., had spotless reputations. The opposition had a battery of leaders who enjoyed the people’s trust and were an ethical and credible group than the ruling party. But once the Congress lost power after Rajiv Gandhi, fragmentation followed not just of the Grand Old Party but also of several regional outfits. The coalition era began in the 1990s. Various regional parties with caste and regional bases came to power in many states. They dominated the administrations of prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh. The first stock market scandal broke during Rao’s tenure when Manmohan Singh was finance minister. Later, on his watch, many scandals involving regional parties, such as the DMK and the RLD, were exposed. The three decades between 1990-2020 saw regional parties like SP, BSP, TMC, YSRC and BRS assuming power in their states. Since power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, corruption by their ministers and minions left enough breadcrumbs for vengeful agencies to trap them.

Though Indira created the template, Modi perfected it. He changed the rule of the game and governance. After winning two consecutive terms on the twin planks of anti-corruption and good governance, he has the opposition on the run. Their mutual suspicion is their failing. Modi is aware that morality unites and immorality divides. His team burned the midnight oil preparing files on hundreds of cases against each party and organisation hostile to him. Giving a dog a bad name and hanging him became the motto. Since politics cannot be done sans money, Modi has destroyed the opposition’s gravy train. His strategy is to keep the opposition from closing ranks on a single issue like the BJP did the Congress in 2014. Natch, Mamata Banerjee wouldn’t seek support from the Left or the Congress even when a dozen of her party’s leaders are in jail or face prosecution. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao hates to deal with the Congress when his own daughter is facing probes. Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi abhor each other more than they hate Modi. Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati wouldn’t break bread with each other even when the ED and the CBI are sniffing out their past records and deals. The Congress leadership shudders at reaching out to other opposition parties when Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot are sitting ducks for the agencies. Baghel’s personal staff and some Congress MLAs have been raided in the past few weeks. Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have been traipsing in and out of the ED offices, answering uncomfortable questions. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is spending sleepless nights because the ED has detained a senior IAS officer attached to his office. The Lalu Prasad clan, including his son who is Bihar’s deputy chief minister, are daily visitors to the offices of one agency or another. Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren is surviving in the office on a daily basis as Damocles’ sword is permanently fixed over his head. But both Soren and Yadav get no credible support from any quarter. The NCP hasn’t been able to unite the opposition because two ex-NCP ministers in the state and at the Centre are facing graft investigations and are afraid of going to jail.

The isolation of opposition chief ministers from their counterparts stems from the fact that they live under the perpetual fear of ED and CBI raids. It’s just their bad luck that Modi is Mr Clean. The opposition failed to substantiate their allegations on the Rafael deal and allegations of nepotism. Moreover, the courts vindicated the Modi government on all fronts. The reality of 2024 is that the discredited and divided opposition lacks the heft to even marginally maim mighty Modi in political warfare. Their accusations of vendetta politics and sloganeering have flopped. The agencies have, indeed, acquired pernicious legitimacy for many illegitimate actions. The nation has got the opposition it neither deserves nor needs. Divided, they have fallen, leaving the nation without a credible alternative voice against the ruling party.

(The writer is an Indian journalist)