The whole idea of democracy is that parliament would be the forum where contentious issues are discussed and sorted out. Street protests should not become the accepted format for opposing government policies – it should be the task of the opposition parties in the Lok and Rajya Sabhas, as also the state assemblies. It may be recalled that, as the ongoing farmers’ protests burgeoned, the leaders of the opposition were vociferous in their demands for the matter to be taken up in Parliament. However, going by their performance so far in the ongoing session, they have been ill-prepared and certainly not very persuasive in their arguments. In the larger task of defeating the ruling BJP led by Prime Minister Modi, they are not making much of an impact in shaping public opinion.
So, what is lacking? It is just that past karma is catching up with them. Having jettisoned grassroots functioning over the years and limited themselves to manipulating ‘votebanks’ by catering to sectional interests, they have painted themselves into ever narrowing corners. So confident have they been of the fealty of these sections that inner party democracy has been entirely surrendered to dynastic succession. It is no coincidence that, starting with the Congress, almost every party is being run on this basis. It is only natural that, when it really matters, there is little talent available to function in an increasingly competitive environment.
It is also no surprise that, having been taken for granted for so long, all the small sections of voters are now setting up their own outfits in the expectation that they would negotiate a bigger slice of the cake. These parties are too numerous to name, but the efficacy of their approach is apparent from the successes of the AIMIM. This has resulted in further narrowing down of the larger parties’ base.
Any effort at united action against the BJP is thwarted by the lack of unity and the obvious contradictions. For instance, the Congress can join forces with the Left in West Bengal, but is its bitter rival in Kerala. Its coalition with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra may have kept the BJP out, but can only lead to surrendering its own voters to the likes of NCP. It would seem that the ideological decline of the opposition is going to continue in the coming elections in several states, where unprincipled, self-serving and short-sighted alliances will be forged in the attempt to keep the BJP out. It does not seem likely that the deeper malaise of compromised inner democracy is going to be addressed soon.