The Bhartiya Janata Party is currently in the strongest position it has ever been, and the strongest position any non-Congress outfit has ever been since independence. Apart from occupying the topmost constitutional posts of the country, a simple majority in the Lok Sabha and the highest number in the Rajya Sabha, the party and its allies rule eighteen states in the country.
The latest entrant to the ruling party’s side of the fence, is Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. Touted as the only potential challenger to prime minister Modi in 2019, Nitish realized the futility of such ambitions and joined hands with the BJP overnight. The question on everybody’s mind today is this: can the opposition find a credible face that can unite and lead it, perhaps even give prime minister Modi a good fight, instead of the current leadership which can only amount to being sacrificial lambs in 2019?
I decided to look for five credible faces within the opposition ranks who have proven their mettle, are capable of garnering pan-India approval if need be, and have it in them to give the BJP a fitting battle. To begin with, let us examine India’s political landscape and see where the opposition stands.
The Congress Party, the largest outfit among the opposition, is in shambles. Since 2014, it has been a downhill journey for the party. The Gandhi family continues to dominate the party, although even the mother-son duo’s election from their respective constituencies in Uttar Pradesh cannot be guaranteed in 2019. They have been losing state after state and ally after ally, and any chance of recovery especially under the family’s leadership, is very slim. The second largest party, the AIADMK, is a divided house after the passing of their leader Jayalalithaa. They are expected to ally themselves with the BJP soon. The Left is restricted to Kerala, and because of its murderous reputation and short-sighted ideology, will never have a pan-India appeal. The Mamata-led TMC is the dominant political force in Bengal, due to the one-third minority votes which remain solidly behind it come what may. Outside Bengal, the BJP has appropriated whatever little presence the TMC had in the northeast. With allegations of corruption and minority-appeasement, it will be impossible for Mamata to project herself as a national alternative. The Naveen-led BJD has dominated Odisha politics for two decades. But the BJP looks all set to break his fortress in 2019. Arvind Kejriwal harbored prime ministerial ambitions after winning the elections of a union territory. He dreamed of capturing state after state and finally capturing power at the center. But today, he continues to rule only one union territory and is mired in scandals.
Among the other potentially important players who are neither with the BJP nor rule any other state currently, we have the Pawar-led NCP and the Lalu-led RJD. In Maharashtra, the state that NCP is based out of, the BJP government led by Devendra Fadnavis remains highly popular. Fadnavis is politically astute, and is quietly crushing the opposition. In Bihar, Lalu might lead the single largest party, but Nitish has rendered him into a non-entity. Lalu is a convict himself, and his family and party are mired in corruption.
It is keeping these factors in mind that I began scouting for five credible faces who could unite the opposition and lead it. The first one that came to mind was Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
Although the former soldier is seventy-five years old, he comes across as the only leader in the Congress Party who controls his own destiny. He is open about the fact that he was on the verge of walking out of the party before the state elections, and that the high command finally buckled and heeded to his demands. It is believed that Rahul Gandhi was specifically told not to campaign in Punjab based on strict instructions from the captain. The patriarch of the kingdom of Patiala is, unlike his party, a hardcore nationalist. Often getting himself photographed with army jawans and using social media to attack the anti-national brigade, perhaps he could bring the much-needed element of nationalism to the Congress Party. His political acumen is strong, having defeated the well-entrenched SAD and the upstart AAP in the assembly elections last year. The only problem with letting Amarinder unite and lead the opposition is this: will the rest of the sycophants allow the Gandhi family to be overthrown and make way for a leader like him?
If the Congress Party is prepared to overthrow the Gandhi family and allow a credible face to lead the opposition, perhaps one of the younger leaders might strike a chord instead of a discredited veteran. It is true that most of the party’s younger leaders are part of one dynasty or the other, but in terms of political acumen, some have shown promise. Both Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora come across as suave and levelheaded men, but neither could get re-elected to parliament after serving one term.
The young gun who did get re-elected, and who has displayed a high level of political acumen, is Jyotiraditya Scindia. From his television appearances and his passionate speeches on the floor of parliament against the Modi government’s policies, he has used his position in the opposition ranks effectively and garnered a lot more publicity than he would have, were he in government. Today, despite being relatively uninfluential, he has become a voice to be reckoned with. With speculation rife that he will take over as the leader of the Congress Party in parliament soon, Scindia probably has what it takes to play a national role. But unlike Amarinder, Scindia is as much of a sycophant as anyone in the Congress Party. Whether he will have the opportunity to unite and lead the opposition, will once again depend on whether the party gets rid of the family that bogs it down.
Until the family dominates the Congress Party, Amarinder or Jyotiraditya uniting and leading the opposition is mere conjecture. Apart from the Congress Party and its leaders, there is one leader in the country who belongs to neither sides of the political spectrum and who could potentially make a good opposition leader. Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao will not join the BJP-led NDA until archrival N Chandrababu Naidu is a part of it. He will not join the Congress-led UPA because he is clever enough not to join a sinking ship. KCR is well-entrenched in his home state, and it is unlikely that any of his rivals will be able to displace him for a long time. A wily politician and an effective administrator, KCR is probably the only face with an unblemished reputation that the BJP juggernaut will find hard to take down. KCR might not have the necessary skill-set to transform himself into a pan-India face that leads the opposition, but he figures on my list because he is perhaps the only credible political personality who can potentially dent the BJP’s electorate successes to a certain extent.
I set out with the objective of finding five credible politicians who could unite and lead the opposition against Narendra Modi and his BJP. But that did not happen. With a lot of difficulty, I found only three.
This is the extent of BJP’s domination, and an illustration of the opposition’s pathetic and divided condition. Many would say that this a dangerous situation, that a strong opposition is the symptom of a healthy democracy. I for one do not buy such mindless, politically-correct niceties. In fact, the BJP’s growing domination is democracy at play. The opposition is in a pitiable state, but do they have anyone other than themselves to blame for it?
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