Six months after Lok Sabha defeat, Opposition still unable to get back on its feet.
Some elections are won even before a single vote is cast. The coming Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly polls later this month seem to be among them. Only a miracle can prevent the incumbent Chief Ministers from renewing their mandate for yet another five-year term. Both Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar go into the polls as leaders in their own right, having grown from virtual nobodies, when first nominated by Narendra Modi to the coveted posts, to become the most popular incumbents now on course to retain their chief ministerial gaddis.
Of the two, Khattar’s transformation from a namby-pamby nobody in Haryana politics five years ago to being the sole claimant to the Chief Minister’s post in 2019 is more remarkable. A lifetime RSS apparatchik, he exudes none of the street-smartness that some of his former colleagues acquire on being seconded to the political wing. Surviving internal dissidence and jibes from the people for his apparent lack of leadership and command over the state machinery, Khattar has come a long way, consolidating his grip on both, especially after the clean sweep in the Lok Sabha polls. No-one now mocks him for being a political lightweight.
For sure, it is the failure of the Opposition that makes the task of the incumbents much easier. The lead party in the Opposition continues to be in complete disarray, the constant exodus from its ranks in Maharashtra being a reflection of the dejection and hopelessness that permeates the once-mighty party at all levels. Morale in the Maharashtra Congress is so low that the former Chief Ministers feel insecure even in their own pocket-boroughs. Despite being down in the dumps, factionalism still scars the party—the tantrum of Sanjay Nirupam, the former Mumbai Congress chief, being only the latest display of the much deeper malaise.
In Haryana, two-time Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was ready to vamoose along with his loyalists till the return of the old guard following the recall of the ailing Sonia Gandhi as the party chief. That led to his quick rehabilitation, but not before he had extracted his pound of flesh, axing his bête noire Ashok Tanwar as state party chief. Now Tanwar is has resigned from the party. He is bound to damage whatever little prospects the Congress might have had in the 21 October poll.
Even in the May parliamentary poll there was an element of a contest, even though the outcome had left the Opposition so badly mauled that some of the parties are still nursing their wounds, unable to get back on their feet. Among the latter, no doubt, the foremost is the Congress, whose frontman mumbled Rafale even in his deep sleep, only to forget all about it when the voters dumped him and his party so mercilessly that he caused an upheaval by quitting his hereditary headship of the party.
Fear of losing ownership of the family fiefdom caused Sonia Gandhi to come out of illness to take charge. She had presided over its fall in 2014. She cannot now be expected to infuse life into a moribund organisation with most of its leaders having become ciphers even in their home states. Her return has only delayed the much-needed generational change the party needs if it has to become relevant once again. In fact, the Congress Working Committee is now a collection of known names without an address to call their own. None of the CWC veterans is in a position to win an election on their own. Remember, without the DMK the Congress would not have won a single seat in Tamil Nadu. That goes for its near clean sweep in Kerala too where smaller parties in the United Front gave it a leg-up, helping it bag a substantial chunk of the 52 seats it now has in the Lok Sabha.
Without a new leader, a clear-headed message, a complete break from the corrupt and criminal baggage of the past, the Grand Old Party cannot expect to win back the trust of the people. The party still lives in the past. The shrill opposition to the deletion of Article 370 is bound to be a key factor for its inability to find traction in the Assembly poll later this month aside from all other reasons. Priyanka Vadra might unfailingly get notice from a friendly TV channel for her social media twittering, but that is unlikely to help settle the leadership question with her brother or make her relevant in UP or elsewhere in the country.
The state of other Opposition parties is no better. Sharad Pawar is now too old to carry on the fight simultaneously within the NCP and outside with the ascendant BJP-Sena. His nephew Ajit Pawar has virtually marginalised him, disallowing daughter Supriya Sule even to dream of a hereditary succession in the party her father had floated actually to battle the Sonia-led Congress. Ajit Pawar too is scam-ridden, though old-style networks of vested interests in cooperative sugar mills and banks help stay afloat politically. He cannot be the future of the NCP or the Maharashtra politics.
Aditya, the third generation of Thackerays, taking the electoral plunge could possibly challenge Fadnavis for chief ministership at a later stage but it seems highly unlikely that the BJP would forfeit its pole position in the foreseeable future. Did you notice that after keeping up the anti-BJP chants for nearly four-and-a-half years, the Sena boss meekly fell in line on poll-eve, reconciling to his junior status in the alliance. Uddhav Thackeray has got better at reading the tea leaves than was the case five years ago when he went solo and came to grief.
In Haryana too, there is a vacuum in the Opposition ranks. This is probably Hooda’s last bid for chief ministership. The descendants of the three Lals, that is, Devil Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal, are now in decline. The Jat vote is divided between the rival factions of the Chauthala family and the Hooda-led Congress, though a good chunk of it is also likely to be polled by the BJP due to Khattar’s clean image and the caste-agnostic delivery of basic services. Whereas a substantial percentage of the non-Jat vote will go to the BJP not only because Khattar is a non-Jat Chief Minister in decades, but because he has provided an administration which at the grassroots put into action the promise of “sabka saath, sabka vikas”. In Haryana they don’t recall any other Chief Minister who was so untouched even with a whiff of personal corruption than Manohar Lal Khattar. His honesty speaks to the voter.
SEARCHING FOR A MODI CHALLENGER
A large corporate group, which has its point-persons in every party, may have already devised a plan to revive the moribund Opposition. A JDU leader, whose links with the said group go back a long time, has been apparently working on the idea to unsettle Nitish Kumar’s alliance with the BJP. The objective is to get Nitish to lead an alliance of the JDU, RJD and Congress in the Assembly poll in Bihar due later next year. And if the new alliance succeeds in keeping the BJP at bay, the effort would be to pit Nitish against Modi as the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate. This may sound too far-fetched, but when the corporate czar seeks leverage with the Modi government and the down-in-the-dumps Gandhis are desperate for escape from various investigations into corruption scams, they would sign on the dotted line, their prime ministerial ambitions can be put on the backburner until investigations are buried a millions fathoms deep.
FAKE NEWS, FAKE CLAIMS
Speculation that the AAP government is surveying all households in the capital in order to deliver cooked lunches and dinners free of cost has been denied as false. Though the Delhiites are still warned to store salt in enough quantity, given that Arvind Kejriwal’s each claim of great achievements in full-page ads is required to be taken with tonnes of salt.