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India’s Opposition needs to reinvent itself for 2019

Image Source: Livemint

Like in the United States of America they have the mid-term polls to gauge the mood of the Nation halfway through the term of the President, India had Assembly polls in five States for 609 seats. Coincidentally, the Modi Govt has completed half its term already. The massive victory for BJP in the largest State of the country – Uttar Pradesh – will surely boost the morale of the ruling party. The Opposition clearly needs to face the mirror, for 2019 is barely 24 months away.

A lot of opinions have emerged on the victory of BJP in UP, most praising Modi-Shah duo for riding their party towards a stupendous win. Of course, praise is due for them for getting their caste arithmetic and social-engineering right. One must not also forget that BJP currently is a rehabilitation centre for the disgruntled leaders from other parties. Personal charismas of local candidates may have helped too.

Those who think development agenda won the BJP this election will be living in fool’s paradise. From the shamshan-kabristan remark to the ‘Mandir Wahi Banayenge’ rants or the diatribe of the likes of Sakshi Maharaj against Muslims clearly gave away the BJP’s intentions. As a friend wrote on Twitter, the Muslim vote was fractured between BSPand SP, while the Hindu vote, cutting across castes went en-bloc to BJP.

I for one was hoping for a win for the SP (and I say SP not SP-Congress alliance because the Congress virtually non-existent in the political map of India at present and the alliance was an illogical decision on Akhilesh Yadav’s part; an alliance with Mayawati would have been more fruitful). Could sabotage by the old guard be a reason for the shocking defeat? Akhilesh clearly enjoys huge popularity among the people but it didn’t translate into votes. Only organisational weakness is to blame for it.

After this verdict, Modi’s position as the leader of the country is consolidated further. So, the Opposition must reinvent its strategy. Currently there is no face to challenge Modi on the national scale. The Congress must get off the high horse it is sitting on and take all parties on board for a rainbow coalition against the BJP. Criticism of Modi is not enough to dislodge him from 7, Racecourse Road. The Opposition needs to present a credible alternative.

The elections post 2014 have thrown up one interesting factoid. Modi is not invincible. States where there have been strong leaders have rejected the BJP – be it Bengal, Bihar or Delhi. Direct contests between Congress and BJP have obviously led to BJP’s victory; credibility of the Congress is at an all-time low and only a change of guard can bolster the party’s image.

A major factor that played its role in the elections is the complete collapse of the Opposition. Rewind to the turbulent times between 2010 and 2013 – BJP would hit the streets on issues all and sundry. Have we seen any such mass-scale protests by the Indian Opposition parties on the issue of demonetisation? I remember only Mamata Banerjee holding multi-city protests! Sharing memes on digital media is an important communication tool. But to make the masses understand the alternative is a different ball-game altogether.

Two years is a long time in politics. All is not lost yet. The right strategy and the perfect leadership can turn things around. In politics, you should never write anyone off. Remember, in 2004 Mamata Banerjee was the lone MP from Trinamool. Now Trinamool is the fourth largest party in Lok Sabha with 34 MPs.

10 lessons for Modi in Obama’s SOTU address

President of the United States, Barack Obama delivered his last State of the Union address earlier this morning (as per Indian Standard Time). A good orator who knows how to win over his audience, Obama cast a spell on yours truly. It was a moment of déjà vu; his address reminded me of his speech on the day he was sworn in as the 44th President of the US.

Obama SOTU

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Although aimed at giving a direction to American people for the coming year, this year’s address by Obama easily qualifies as a textbook example of how a democracy should function. Not just his Republican comrades, Obama’s suggestions apply to the Indian Right Wing as well.

Here are 10 quotes from Obama’s SOTU speech that the Indian Prime Minister Modi can share with his compatriots in the Sangh:

  1. A great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security…. That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.

After coming to power, the Modi Sarkar had slashed the budget for social sector and delinked several schemes. The budgetary support to States for schemes like mid-day meal has been stopped; states are burdened with the expenditure of NREGA. Healthcare spending has also taken a hit in the new regime.


  1. Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.

The BJP has built its whole propaganda on the issue of “illegal immigrants”. All ills of the country have been pinned on these people (following a certain faith). Obama’s message has a bearing on the BJP too.

Moreover, the BJP after coming to power has been burdening the common people with taxes and cess. Small businesses are suffering as big corporate honchos enjoy tax benefits. As Obama points out, Modi must realise the middle class’ woes and take corrective measures. Ending subsidy is not the solution, cleaning up the system is.


  1. We’ve protected an open internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.

Open internet is essential for Digital India. But the BJP government has come across as a headless chicken when it comes to Net Neutrality with the Telecom Minister defending freedom of expression on the internet with Net Neutrality during his statement in the Rajya Sabha.


  1. Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.

During an interaction with students on September 5, 2014, Modi had said, “climate has not changed, we have changed”. Modi was also vague on global warming and its causes in an interview with The Hindu a few days earlier.

“Climate change? Is this terminology correct? The reality is this that in our family, some people are old … They say this time the weather is colder. And, people’s ability to bear cold becomes less,” he said.


  1. We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.

No matter how fiercely the BJP contests the fact that intolerance is on the rise in India, there can be no iota of doubt that BJP leaders and MPs have been repeatedly making xenophobic comments against fellow citizens just because they follow a different faith or support a different party. The silence of the PM on the issue is a mark of approval for his partymen’s actions.


  1. The future we want – opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids – all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.

The space for debates in India has been shrinking since this government came to power. It’s my way of the highway. Anybody who criticises BJP is asked to go to Pakistan. Modi has become the gospel truth. Fake photos, shrill diatribes and crass behaviour has become the mainstay online.


  1. A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too.

This is the strength of a democracy. Unless we accept the diversity of India, we cannot succeed. Multiplicity of views is our strength and we cannot ignore it. The Sadhvis and Yogis of BJP must be taken to task by the PM.


  1. We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections – and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution.

“Black money leads to money power. Money power leads to muscle power. Muscle and money power are a toxic combination in democracy” – This is the stand of Mamata Banerjee regarding election reforms. On numerous occasions, Trinamool has voiced the message and asked for all parties to come forward to set the wheels of change in motion.

In 2014, BJP ran a campaign worth thousands of crores. The media blitzkrieg was responsible to an extent in shaping public opinion. Therein lies the danger of money power in democracy. India, like US, needs electoral reforms.


  1. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native-born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.

Unity in diversity is the thread that binds India. We must respect the diversity; then only can we become true Indians. We must respect each other’s cultures. Imposition of ‘Raj Bhasha’ from Delhi or dictatorial interferences in state matters is counter-productive. We must not just be tolerant of other cultures but also respect them. And most importantly, the government of India must accept that rights of sexual minorities are also human rights!


  1. Democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.

From ministers to MPs, “fringe” elements to party president, BJP has a whole list of netas who think they are the flag bearers of patriotism and anybody who does not agree with their brand of politics must be sent to Pakistan. That’s why ‘Go to Pakistan’ becomes common exchange during election season, the BJP Party President remarks Pakistan will celebrate if BJP loses or the PM (denigrating his own office) takes potshots at those who eat biriyani!


India is a great nation with not so great people. We can make India proud. We must strengthen our democracy. Obama’s speech today was a small guiding principle for the government of India to practice in the days to come!


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