India’s Opposition parties are gradually recovering from the impact of their stunning defeat at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party in last year’s Lok Sabha poll and trying to put their act together.
The BJP won an absolute majority in the lower house of Parliament on its own in the elections, thanks to the vigorous campaign run by its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. In the later Assembly elections too he personally led the party’s campaign, chalking up a series of victories.
The party seized power for the first time in Haryana. Its spectacular performance in the Hindu-majority region of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir compelled the largest party, the People’s Democratic Party, to accommodate it in the coalition government, also for the first time.
Only in Delhi state did the Modi magic fail. An unprecedented consolidation of non-BJP votes in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party there broke the party’s run of successes.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which played a key role in the BJP’s election campaign, has since strengthened its hold by inducting some of its leaders into important position in the party and the government. Flush with power, some RSS-affiliated outfits have been making efforts to convert poor people belonging to the minority communities to Hinduism under a ghar wapasi (homecoming) programme, offering allurements.
Desecration of churches has been reported from several places, including Delhi. Government spokesmen have claimed that the attackers were thieves and that there was no religious motive.
BJP members of Parliament have called upon Hindu women to produce more children. A leader of the Shiv Sena, the BJP’s partner in the Central as well as Maharashtra governments, recently called for sterilisation of members of the minority communities. Following criticism, he withdrew the statement.
While opposition parties have formally condemned such statements, there has been no organised resistance to Hindutva activists’ attempt to polarise society on communal lines. By and large the secular parties have been unwilling to confront the the BJP and its affiliates.
Last week, for the first time, the Opposition showed signs that it is ready to take them on.
The party that has suffered the most damage as a result of the BJP’s rise under Modi is the Congress, which had led the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre for 10 years. It did not win enough seats in the new Lok Sabha for its leader to be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition.
In the Assembly elections that followed, the Congress lost power in Haryana, in Maharashtra, where it headed a coalition with the National Congress Party, and in Jammu and Kashmir, where it was a partner in the government headed by the J and K National Conference.
For long the country’s largest party, the Congress has now been pushed to the second position. Modi makes no secret of his dream of a Congress-free India.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi had made her son Rahul the party’s Vice-President in 2013 amid speculation that she would soon hand over the reins to him. As the party’s main campaigner, he earned the most criticism for the electoral reverses from inside as well as outside. With the party in a state of paralysis, the expected transition did not take place.
Last week Rahul Gandhi returned home after an eight-week sabbatical abroad. On Sunday he appeared with his mother at a farmers’ rally in Delhi to protest against the Modi government’s plan to turn over agricultural land to industries. This may well be the issue on which the Modi government faces the biggest challenge.
Also on Sunday the Communist Party of India-Marxist picked Sitaram Yechury as its General Secretary in place of Prakash Karat whose tenure saw a sharp decline in its fortunes. Yechury vowed to mobilise resistance to the BJP’s neoliberal policies and communal agenda.
Earlier this month six breakaway factions of the Janata Party, which was put together by eminent freedom-fighter Jayaprakash Narayan to challenge Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime, announced their decision to reunite to take on the BJP. They include the Samajwadi Party, the ruling party of Uttar Pradesh, the Janata Dal (United), the ruling party of Bihar, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Janata Dal (Secular), former ruling parties of Bihar, Haryana and Karnataka respectively.
In the Lok Sabha poll the BJP had established supremacy over these parties in their strongholds. They have come together to protect their turf.
The BJP recently conducted a membership campaign and claims it is now the world’s largest political party. The strength of a party cannot be measured only in terms of number of members. The opposition parties need to improve their working from the grassroots level upwards to pose an effective challenge to the resurgent BJP. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 21, 2015.