Where’s the Opposition?

An integral part of a functioning democracy is the Opposition. It’s the Opposition’s responsibility to raise public’s issues because, let’s face it, the ruling party doesn’t need these issues until the next elections. Issues are nothing but pesky distractions for the governing party, well if avoided and better if managed it into being yesterday’s news. So, if the opposition isn’t performing it’s role in making the governing party’s reign difficult, does the system continue to be a functioning democracy?

Women's Rally
Politics – Will it ever be a social movement?.

Some ideologies are brandished best by parties who are perennial Opposition backbenchers. The Communist parties of India and the Janata Party of yore are both good examples of this. In both their cases their grassroots organizing capabilities and their internal functioning of raising pertinent issues and agitating for their causes were always encouraged. The central functionaries of both these parties would not try to control such activities, merely bless them. As a result they would prove extremely effective in making the job of governance as difficult as possible. I remember the days when ‘bandhs’ and political unrest because of price rise, shortage of commodities, transport woes, etc. were monthly happenings. Everybody argued, only if the Opposition was a little patient. Only if government was allowed to govern then the public services would be timely and efficient.

Back then, politics was as close to being a social movement as my generation has ever seen.

Even the BJP, with their share of ideologies, now find themselves addleminded from their stint at governance. Twice bitten – and twice as much shy – from their two, seemingly inexplicable to themselves, losses in the elections for the centre, their attitude now is like the proverbial ‘bheegi billi’ (drenched cat). Without any central leadership after Shri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s retirement, L.K. Advani’s demotion, Jaswant Singh’s brief banishment and most recently, a bungling and subsequently fumbling-for-apologies Nitin Gadkari, have all failed to inspire it’s workers. There is no activism within their ranks to speak of. Their failure to capitalize on a potentially incendiary issue such as price rise in the last elections exposed the ineffectiveness of their ageing agitators and the bare cupboard of young ones. The only young candidate who made any impression on their behalf was the other Nehru scion, Varun, with his acerbic anti-Muslim retorts. His personal victory and the collective failure of it’s senior leaders highlighted BJP’s position as a single-issue (pro Hindu) party, yet again.

Now, in UPA government’s second stint, the price rise issue has only made itself more alluring in it’s sheer magnitude. Any political party wishing to make a quick impact on the national stage has the perfect opportunity. Yet there are no takers. The ‘dahi handi’, hung high by the UPA government, fueled to it’s heights by dreams of double digit growth, has been beckoning it’s band of liberators. Sadly, there are no takers.

The most effective agitator of recent times, Mamata Banerjee, decided to join the ruling government. UPA government must have breathed easy knowing that the most feared political scalper of our times is on their side. The very same Mamata Banerjee who out-gunned the CPI(M) of Bengal at their own game, fracturing their decades old organization, could have been a sight to witness had she been on the other side of this issue. Her aspirations have primarily been regional until she decided to join the UPA at center. Had she chosen to sit in opposition one never knows, circumstances could have conspired in favour of her meeting her destiny at the national stage on a different path.

The other activist political party of our times is the MNS of Raj Thackeray. He is rattling all the right sabers in forging a name for his party. At present he’s more driven to shaming his uncle’s party than making any name for himself at the national level. He has the unique opportunity where Congress is ruling at the centre and state. Had he chosen to push his cadres the Congress party could have been easily embarrassed. Instead, he finds himself shackled by petty cases against him because of his ill conceived agitation against North Indian migrants. The very common man who’s support he would have needed at the national stage.

This lack in spirit for a fight among the opposition parties of our times is not just limited to the Indian polity. Even in US and UK the opposition parties during Tony Blair and George W. Bush’s reigns were impotent. Both governments were sloppy in the execution of their respective agendas, frequently letting slip embers that could have been stoked into raging fires. Instead of utilizing them, the Democrats (despite a house majority) as well as Conservatives, chose to tip-toe around them to the frustration of it’s citizens. Under threat of being termed as anti-nationalist by the popular media at a time of ‘war’ both parties displayed valiant timidity in ignoring these issues. The Republican party has always been a tough opposition but even their vanity has been exposed. They are facing a similar crisis of quality leaders like the BJP. And just like Nitin Gadkari of BJP, the Republicans have chosen characters who would make a caricaturist drool instead of promoting someone of substance.

The predictable overthrowing of Gordon Brown and his party by the Tories, in coalition with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, was the only good news on this topic in recent times. Even the cringe-worthy union of titles and ideas between the ‘Conservative & Unionist Party’ with the ‘Liberal Democrats’ seemed like an acceptable sacrifice to re-validate the idea of an Opposition. The Tories performed their duties in opposition decently enough to be awarded their current reign. Now it’s up to the ‘New’ Labour party to reciprocate in performing the duties of an Opposition.

No other scene highlighted the ambivalent Opposition of our times more succinctly than our MP’s disrupting the house proceedings in trying to wrest a 500% pay hike for themselves. If only they could summon such passions for someone else.

The institution of republic democracy has received much PR since the days of the Roman republic. With an essential ingredient to this formula not functioning anymore, the idea of republic democracy seems to be trapped in an amoral quicksand. Rome once morphed from a republic to an empire under similar circumstances. It would seem that we are all condemned to repeat history, over and over again.

23rd August, 2010, Mumbai.

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  • Images shared by Justin at http://picasaweb.google.com/jpgoldblatt/India2008

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