Who shall lead the opposition front at the hustings?

By S.M. Anwar Hussain

There is an undercurrent realisation among the non NDA party workers and common masses, that the  big promises made by BJP have turned out hollow. All the opposition parties should join hands to heap a crushing defeat to BJP led by the duo Amit Shah and Narender Modi .

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It is now a reality that  all slogans and promises made by BJP – of a corruption free India, depositing 15 lakh rupees in the bank account of every Indian, bringing back black money, creating jobs for youth, bringing huge foreign investments, revolution in the agrarian sector, accelerating the growth rate of GDP, punishing the neighbouring enemy Pakistan, leaving China behind in the race of industrial growth, and taking a “Shining India” on the top of the comity of nations- have all proven to be a big sham.

Demonetisation and GST have created new woes for the public including the traders and small scale business and industrial sectors. Life has become difficult for ordinary peoplewith increasing prices of  commodities of daily use. Quality medicines are out of reach of poor people. Petrol and diesel are at their near-zenith. (I have not used the word ‘zenith’ because some analysts say it will cross Rs.100 per litre ), Indian ‘rupee’ is at its lowest against US dollar. The  secrecy around the Rafale deal is causing new worries among already ill-equipped defence personnel. Is the nation’s security being compromised and jeopardised? That is the question in every conscious and thinking mind.

The reported nexus between corporate houses and Modi government is a new vision of development- ‘a vision aimed at creating all kinds of luxuries and comforts for the creamy layer of the rich and affluent class.’

Multi-track high speed express ways are being built  spending billions of rupees so cars like Rolls Royce, BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche that are the status symbol of rich can run smoothly. But the government does not have money to build medium sized speciality hospitals with proper infrastructure.  Instead, five star hospitals are being patronised and financed to cater to the rich and where the poor are fleeced to the last rupee.

Five star and seven star hotels of international chains are being encouraged and brought in every important city of the country so that wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, foreign guests and political friends can enjoy various international cuisines, sauna and jacuzzi bath. And even those from RSS and their friends who claimed to be diehard fans of Indian dishes are found relishing these multinational cuisines in these posh restaurants.

 Every city is being connected with air services to provide more business opportunities to the corporate friends who are fleecing the passengers boarding the economy class. The public sector transport, the railways, the life line of Indian transport, as well as economy is being neglected and run in such a way as if some very cunning ‘baniya’, who knows how to squeeze money from the middle and lower middle class, is sitting at the helm of affairs. Railway is no more the choice of the neo rich class. The government of India, therefore, has already extended the begging bowl before Japan to lay down rail tracks for a bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmadabad.

The promised agrarian revolution is not very far away. Today farmers are not able to get back even their production cost— thus driving them to suicide. This seems to be a deliberate bid to either drive farmers to suicide due to heavy loans or force them to sell their fields. So that some select corporate houses will ‘buy’ these agricultural lands and start organic farming for the rich and toxic farming for the poor. And the poor farmer who is today the bread provider for others will be very soon standing in que at some ‘Reliance Fresh’ outlet to buy bread for himself. It seems there is an urgency to bring all the national resources under the control of few chosen hands-  whether they are forests, mountains, rivers or farm land and mines.

For the poor common man, irrespective of cast and creed, the situation is very murky and disappointing. For those who keep a watchful eye on what is happening around, the scenario is dreadful. They see in it the danger of India itself being sold out to few private hands- clandestinely controlled and guided by some ‘foreign hands’ like Israel and the United States. A vast majority of people, both educated and illiterate, wise and naive, want to get rid of the present regime. They now realise that, in the words of Uma Bharati, “Narender Modi is not a Vikas Purush, but a Vinash Purush.” Situation is far worse than Emergency.  By slapping emergency, Mrs Indira Gandhi  had temporarily exhibited some traits of dictatorship, but even her bitter critics never blamed her for compromising the security of the country.

All eyes are on the coming general elections to be held next year. Until last year, the BJP appeared unassailable, but after the Gujrat and Karnataka Assembly elections and defeat in many parliamentary by-elections, its vulnerability has come forth. Everybody now knows and even the BJP fears that if different regional parties join hands with Congress, its days are over.

Fortunately for the BJP, and unfortunately for the country, we don’t have the leaders of all India stature like Jai Prakash Narayan, Chander Shekhar, Morarji Desai and Chaudhry Charan Singh, that we had during the Emergency.

Forging unity among various opposition parties- both big and small – is the urgent and earnest need of the hour. The question is, who shall take the lead in forging this unity and bring all other opposition parties on board and lead them at the hustings. As a principle, Congress should take the lead, as it is the largest opposition party and the only all India party, though with a very shrunk public base now. But the problem lies with the tackling ability of the Congress chief. Rahul Gandhi is yet to demonstrate the maturity and the political acumen to prove himself as true heir of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. It is not that he is not keen enough to knit various regional parties of various political hue and colours into one contesting unit. He is sagacious. His joining hands with Samajwadi Party as a small and junior partner in the last UP assembly election, and conceding the post of chief minister to JDS in Karnataka provide ample evidence of his sincerity to defeat the NDA  by a UPA-3.

Fortunately, Rahul Gandhi is not alone in this endeavour. There are some senior politicians, social workers, intellectuals, writers and journalists who are, from behind the curtain,  involved in giving a final shape to this unity. Seat adjustments, framing the common minimum policy programmes, satisfying the whims and wishes of different regional satraps will not be so insurmountable. The biggest bone of contention will be who shall lead this opposition in the coming general election, and then occupy the seat of Prime Minister. There are many silent and keen contenders for this coveted post. Mayawati, Mamta Bannerji, Sharad Pawar and Rahul Gandhi himself.

Mayawati, over the years, has created a large following for herself among some sections of Dalits, but there are scores of other Dalit leaders and outfits who do not approve her style of functioning. For them, she has not done anything  significant except exploiting Dalit symbols and icons, and amassing wealth for herself. If she is projected as the leader, many social groups, although secular and progressive in approach, are not ready to accept her as the Prime Minister. Most importantly, there are some question marks on her secular credentials itself.

Next is Sharad Pawar. So long as he was in the Congress, he was seen as a very strong Maratha leader and a potential candidate for the top job. After leaving Congress, and following a zig zag and wavering political line, his influence has shrunk to Maharashtra only. But he has the capability of wrecking the boat from within if his ambitions are not satisfied. Keeping him on board is not a task less than ‘taming a shrew’.

A very potential candidate for the top job is Mamta Bannerji. She is young, dynamic and hardworking with an unquestionable secular credentials. She has proven herself as a fighter and a messiah of poor. She knows how to govern a pluralistic society. She has become symbol of development and communal amity in West Bengal which can be seen in the infra structural development in and around Calcutta. Although she was part and parcel of Atalji’s government, she never allowed the communal forces to raise their heads in Bengal. In fact she has been keeping RSS and other Hindutva forces at bay ,rather under her shoes (She does not wear shoes. She likes slippers only). She is the most ordinarily dressed woman among all the politicians, in sharp contrast to Shri Modiji and Shrimati Simirti Irani. Although she has earned a respect across the country, her political appeal is still confined to the Bengali folk and the people living in the bordering areas of Bengal. Moreover, the left may not back her candidature. However, if the regional representation is taken into account , she has the strongest claim for the top chair representing eastern India.

Accepting Rahul Gandhi as the person to lead the opposition in the election will depend much on the performance of the Congress in the coming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhaya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. But if Rahul Gandhi is not in a hurry, like Chacha Sita Ram kesari was once upon a time, and can wait for some more years to mature himself before occupying the top chair and has the single goal to finish Modi in this election, he should once more push the name of Manmohan Singh as the Prime Ministerial candidate. Manmohan Singh will be acceptable not only to all the parties opposed to BJP, but also acceptable to all the layers of the Indian masses. Once various parties agree on Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi may lead the election campaign.

And if the opposition parties do not agree on any name and defer it for the post-election scenario, there is a strong possibility of Mulayam Singh. Although today he stands completely side-lined in his own party, he is not a dead horse. He can still kick and thrive. He has his own connections with many regional leaders who have soft corner for him owing to his seniority and strong secular, socialist credentials. However, it will much depend on Akhilesh, how he plays his cards after the election, and how he ropes in his ‘Bua’ in support of his ageing father.

S.M. Anwar Hussain, Former President, AMU Students’ Union, Aligarh. He can be reached at [email protected]