Rat­tled by the Lok Sabha poll de­feat, a de­mor­alised op­po­si­tion ap­pears to have ceded all space to the rul­ing dis­pen­sa­tion— both in and out­side Par­lia­ment


An in­co­her­ent and di­vided op­po­si­tion is giv­ing the BJP-led gov­ern­ment a walkover—both in and out­side Par­lia­ment


the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced four con­tentious bills—the RTI (Amend­ment) Bill, the Aad­haar and Other Laws (Amend­ment) Bill, the Mus­lim Women (Protection of Rights on Mar­riage) Bill, which ren­ders in­stant triple ta­laq il­le­gal, and the Un­law­ful Ac­tiv­i­ties (Pre­ven­tion) Amend­ment Bill. Al­most all the op­po­si­tion par­ties and some al­lies of the rul­ing BJP, such as the Janata Dal (United), raised con­cerns about the pro­posed new laws. Yet, the gov­ern­ment has suc­cess­fully steered the first three bills through both houses of Par­lia­ment and the fourth is also un­likely to face any re­sis­tance. The BJP has a brute ma­jor­ity in the Lok Sabha—303 in a house of 543 mem­bers. With NDA al­lies, the strength goes up to 335. In the Ra­jya Sabha, the BJP and al­lies have 113 seats, eight short of the ma­jor­ity mark of 121 in the 245-mem­ber house where four seats are va­cant.

The nu­mer­i­cal strength may have given the BJP im­mu­nity from any re­sis­tance from ri­vals, but what’s star­tling is the meek sur­ren­der by op­po­si­tion par­ties both in and out­side Par­lia­ment. De­spite the rit­u­al­is­tic Twit­ter protests and some force­ful state­ments in Par­lia­ment by the likes of Asadud­din Owaisi, pres­i­dent of the All India Ma­jlis-e-It­te­had-ul-Mus­limeen (AIMIM), the house saw no co­her­ent, united or com­pelling counter against the rul­ing dis­pen­sa­tion on sev­eral bills. Op­po­si­tion par­ties wanted the Right to In­for­ma­tion (Amend­ment) Bill sent to a se­lect com­mit­tee for greater scru­tiny, but sup­port from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Te­lan­gana Rash­tra Samithi (TRS) and the Yu­va­jana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) helped the BJP avert such a motion.

Sev­en­teen op­po­si­tion par­ties, in a let­ter to vice-pres­i­dent and Ra­jya Sabha chair­man M. Venka­iah Naidu, have ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of “hur­riedly pass­ing” leg­is­la­tion with­out par­lia­men­tary scru­tiny. The let­ter says 60 per cent of the bills in the 14th Lok Sabha were re­ferred to par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees. In the next one, 71 per cent of the bills went to such com­mit­tees. But in the 16th Lok Sabha, when the Naren­dra Modi-led gov­ern­ment came to power first, the fig­ure dropped dras­ti­cally to 26 per cent. Now, in the first ses­sion of the 17th Lok Sabha, 14 bills have been passed, but not a sin­gle one was sent to a house com­mit­tee.

The Congress, the main op­po­si­tion party with 52 Lok Sabha mem­bers and 46 Ra­jya Sabha MPs, did make some noise in Par­lia­ment. But post-May 23— when Modi shot to power for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive term with a broader man­date—an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis has gripped most re­gional par­ties not of­fi­cially aligned with the BJP.

This is not the first but the ninth time a sin­gle party has won over 300 seats in the Lok Sabha. The Ra­jiv Gandhi-led Congress won 426 seats in 1984. Un­der Indira Gandhi, the party crossed 370 seats twice, in 1971 and 1980. Yet th­ese cen­tral gov­ern­ments were kept in check by an ar­ray of strong op­po­si­tion lead­ers, such as Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee, L.K. Ad­vani, Ge­orge Fer­nan­des and Chan­dra Shekhar. The states, too, had iconic lead­ers—Jy­oti Basu in West Bengal, N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh, Bal Thack­eray in Ma­ha­rash­tra and Devi Lal in Haryana.

While the BJP has mo­nop­o­lised the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal power, the legacy of other po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights is al­most shattered now. Most re­gional par­ties are fam­ily-run and have, of late, gone through gen­er­a­tional tran­si­tions. But while the vet­er­ans are ail­ing or fad­ing away, the in­her­i­tors look out of place in the chairs they have oc­cu­pied.

In Ma­ha­rash­tra, Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, 78, with­drew from the Lok Sabha elec­tion to ac­com­mo­date grand­nephew Parth in Maval con­stituency, a new ter­rain for the fam­ily, in a des­per­ate at­tempt to avoid a fam­ily feud in pub­lic. The NCP’s fu­ture lead­er­ship re­mains un­de­cided be­tween Pawar’s daugh­ter Supriya Sule and nephew Ajit Pawar. Sev­eral top lead­ers have de­serted the party and there is spec­u­la­tion that while Pawar may merge the NCP with the Congress af­ter the Ma­ha­rash­tra as­sem­bly poll, sched­uled in Oc­to­ber, Ajit may float a new party. The NCP chief, how­ever, dis­misses the prospect. “We have seen de­fec­tions in the past too. We will re­build the party. The BJP is us­ing cen­tral in­ves­ti­ga­tion agen­cies to pres­surise our peo­ple,” he says.

In Ut­tar Pradesh, a nasty spat in Mulayam Singh Ya­dav’s fam­ily caused a split, with Shiv­pal Ya­dav, one of the Sa­ma­jwadi Party’s (SP’s) found­ing mem­bers and Mulayam’s brother, form­ing a splin­ter group that may have helped the BJP in the Lok Sabha elec­tion. SP chief Akhilesh Ya­dav has not won a sin­gle elec­tion since he took charge of the party in 2016. Mulayam, now 79, em­bar­rassed his son be­fore the Lok Sabha elec­tion by say­ing that he


wished Modi would re­turn as prime min­is­ter. De­spite a much-hyped pre-Lok Sabha poll al­liance with archri­val Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP), the SP’s tally re­mained static at five while the BSP won 10 seats, up from zero in 2014. “The main rea­son for our poor per­for­mance was [our party’s] fail­ure to ex­plain its good poli­cies to the peo­ple,” claims SP chief spokesper­son Ra­jen­dra Chaud­hary.

The in­crease in tally, how­ever, did not sat­isfy BSP chief Mayawati and she has since bro­ken away from the al­liance. “The BSP’s tie-up with the SP didn’t work. The SP failed to trans­fer its votes to our party. The BSP will contest elec­tions on its own in the fu­ture,” Mayawati said, ig­nor­ing the fact that her party’s vote share has been con­sis­tently falling since the 2007 Ut­tar Pradesh as­sem­bly elec­tion. Other than Mayawati, the BSP has no cred­i­ble pub­lic face and may be turn­ing into a fam­ily fief­dom. Mayawati’s brother Anand Ku­mar is the party’s na­tional vice-pres­i­dent and his son Akash Anand is the na­tional co­or­di­na­tor.

In Bi­har, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Ya­dav is in jail fol­low­ing con­vic­tions in fod­der scam cases. His ab­sence has pro­voked a saga of sib­ling ri­valry be­ing played out in pub­lic be­tween el­der son Tej Pratap and the younger Te­jashwi, who runs the party. To the RJD’s em­bar­rass­ment, Te­jashwi stopped mak­ing pub­lic ap­pear­ances soon af­ter the RJD’s historic low—draw­ing a blank in the Lok Sabha elec­tion—while Tej Pratap con­tin­ued with his street spec­ta­cles, pe­ri­od­i­cally ap­pear­ing in pub­lic dressed up as Lord Shiva.

In West Bengal, chief min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee’s Tri­namool Congress (TMC), the fourth largest party in Par­lia­ment with 22 seats, is still smart­ing from the dra­matic ero­sion of its base, ow­ing to an ag­gres­sive cam­paign by the BJP, which won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state and is now gear­ing up to challenge the party in the 2021 as­sem­bly poll. The TMC has also suf­fered a se­ries of de­fec­tions of MLAs and coun­cil­lors to the BJP. Ban­er­jee, who fan­cied her­self as a prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date of the op­po­si­tion con­glom­er­ate in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elec­tion, is now busy pro­tect­ing her Bengal fortress. Bengal ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Partha Chat­ter­jee, though, pre­dicts a turn­around soon: “The TMC’s vote share in­creased by 3 per cent in the Lok Sabha poll. The BJP will be ousted in the 2020 mu­nic­i­pal­ity and 2021 as­sem­bly elec­tions.”

The Left, which once mo­nop­o­lised Bengal and Tripura and was a strong op­po­si­tion voice in Par­lia­ment, is now re­duced to five MPs in the Lok Sabha. Gasp­ing for breath in Bengal and Tripura, its only saving grace is the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment in Ker­ala. How­ever, if the Lok Sabha poll is any in­di­ca­tion, the fu­ture doesn’t seem bright for the Left even in Ker­ala.

Delhi chief min­is­ter Arvind Ke­jri­wal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), whose pol­i­tics blends Ma­mata’s street­fight­ing skills and the Left’s pop­ulism, has failed to grow be­yond the Delhi as­sem­bly. In two con­sec­u­tive Lok Sabha elec­tions, it could not win a sin­gle seat from Delhi and it also failed to de­throne the BJP in the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Delhi. In Pun­jab, its Lok Sabha tally has gone down from four in 2014 to one. The AAP, which started as a move­ment against cor­rup­tion, has, like most par­ties in India, de­graded to a party built around a per­son­al­ity cult—that of Ke­jri­wal.

Ke­jri­wal’s new­found friend N. Chan­drababu Naidu’s po­lit­i­cal for­tunes have also taken a down­turn. In Andhra Pradesh, his Tel­ugu De­sam Party (TDP) has been wiped out in both the as­sem­bly and Lok Sabha elec­tions. Sev­eral TDP lead­ers moved to the BJP or Ja­gan Mo­han Reddy’s Yu­va­jana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP). A sim­i­lar prospect now faces the Janata Dal (Sec­u­lar), which lost power in Kar­nataka, thanks to de­fec­tions by its MLAs and those of its ally Congress. The

de­feat of JD(S) pa­tri­arch Deve Gowda, 86, in the Lok Sabha poll added to the hu­mil­i­a­tion.

Two anti-BJP par­ties that have seen an up­swing in 2019 are the Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Na­tional Con­fer­ence (NC). Both drew a blank in 2014, but in 2019, the DMK won 23 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu while the NC won three of the six Lok Sabha seats from Jammu and Kash­mir. Both par­ties, how­ever, owe their turn­arounds to the dis­in­te­gra­tion of their ri­vals and the BJP’s fail­ure to make in­roads into their turf. In Tamil Nadu, the death of for­mer chief min­is­ter J. Jay­alalithaa in 2016, in­fight­ing and lack­lus­tre lead­er­ship hit the rul­ing All India Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam (AIADMK), now a BJP ally.

In J&K, the Peoples Demo­cratic Party (PDP) saw a dra­matic ero­sion of its core base af­ter it joined hands with the BJP to form the state gov­ern­ment in 2014. The al­liance is over and Me­hbooba Mufti, who took charge af­ter PDP founder and fa­ther Mufti Mo­ham­mad Say­eed’s death in 2016, lacks a de­ci­sive grip over the party. Af­flicted by de­ser­tions, the PDP failed to win any Lok Sabha seat this time. Party spokesper­son Suhail Bukhari, how­ever, says: “The PDP has a vi­able self-rule doc­u­ment to bring J&K out of this po­lit­i­cal morass. We face chal­lenges but are cer­tain that our agenda is go­ing to at­tract peo­ple.”

And then there are re­gional forces that have main­tained a ‘neu­tral’ po­si­tion, a ploy to strike deals with the Cen­tre to serve their states’ in­ter­ests. In Odisha and Te­lan­gana re­spec­tively, the rul­ing Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Te­lan­gana Rash­tra Samithi (TRS) faced chal­lenges from the BJP in the Lok Sabha poll, but both swept to a ma­jor­ity in the as­sem­bly polls. BJD chief and Odisha chief min­is­ter Naveen Pat­naik and his Te­lan­gana coun­ter­part K. Chan­drashekar Rao re­main vo­cal op­po­nents of the BJP at the state level, but are eye­ing hard bar­gains with the Cen­tre in ex­change for their sup­port in the Ra­jya Sabha, where the NDA is short of a ma­jor­ity. Andhra Pradesh chief min­is­ter and YSRCP chief Ja­gan

Mo­han Reddy has adopted the same pol­icy though he has more bar­gain­ing power since the BJP is a non-starter in the state.

The op­po­si­tion par­ties are headed for a deep lead­er­ship cri­sis. Most of them are star­ing at the retirement of heavy­weights who earned their spurs in mass move­ments or in­tense po­lit­i­cal bat­tles. The likely in­her­i­tors have no such ex­pe­ri­ence. What makes the job eas­ier for the BJP is that the con­trol of sev­eral anti-BJP par­ties is shift­ing to in­ept or in­ex­pe­ri­enced dy­nasts. But that also of­fers the saf­fron party a les­son of its own. Va­j­payee and Ad­vani nur­tured a range of sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers, such as Sushma Swaraj, Ra­j­nath Singh, Arun Jait­ley, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Naren­dra Modi. In the Modi era, the prime min­is­ter out­shines ev­ery­one else, leav­ing a huge lead­er­ship vac­uum. The party still has at least five years to fix that gap. ■

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