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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.

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Jayalalitha and Mamata – The Iron Ladies of Indian Politics

mamata-banerjee-and-jayalalitha

The Iron Ladies – Photo Courtesy: Political Mirror

As Jayalalitha’s cortege reached MGR Memorial near Marina Beach in Chennai, the solemnity of the occasion triggered a volley of thoughts in my minds. A panelist on some English news channel casually remarked how similar the struggles of Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee have been and I could not agree more.

Jayalalitha, who ruled the silver screen before taking the political plunge, was the protege of MG Ramachandran, the founder of AIADMK. She was the Propaganda Secretary of the party and went on to become a Rajya Sabha MP in 1984, the same year Mamata Banerjee emerged as a ‘giant-killer’ in Jadavpur, making her way to Lok Sabha.

After MGR’s death, Jayalalitha had to face stiff competition from within her party. Late MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran apparently did not even allow Jayalalitha to attend MGR’s funeral. The party headed for a split with the political future of Jayalalitha under question. AIADMK faced crushing defeat in the 1989 Assembly elections.

Mamata Banerjee’s feud with West Bengal Pradesh Congress is well-known. In the 1990s, the State Congress had virtually turned into a party of watermelons (green on the outside and red on the inside). Some senior leaders colluded with the Left to keep their Delhi ambitions afloat. From the famous ‘Outdoor’ Congress Party meet in 1996 to the subsequent formation of Trinamool, Mamata Banerjee’s struggle followed similar course as Jayalalitha’s.

Both Didi and Amma battled it out in a man’s world. With grit, determination and strong will-power they held on to their forte of mass appeal and galvanised the cadre and won the trust of the people. While Jayalalitha rode to power in 1991 as Tamil Nadu’s first female CM, Didi swept the polls in Bengal two decades later.

Even as the administrative heads of their respective States, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha pursued similar policies. Inclusive governance through social empowerment seems to have been their guiding force. From fair price medicine shops to fair price vegetable stores, subsidised food to affordable healthcare, both the leaders have worked for the masses. In fact, despite the ‘populism’ economies of both Tamil Nadu and Bengal have prospered under the leaderships of Jayalalitha and Mamata, respectively.

There are very few mass leaders in India who command the love and respect of millions of people. The outpouring of grief and the sea of humanity at Marina Beach today is a testimony of Amma’s popularity. And Didi’s charismatic popularity can easily be gauged during her district visits, or from the massive turnout on annual 21 July rallies in the heart of Kolkata. Interestingly, the support of women forms a big pillar behind the success of both these leaders.

With Jayalalitha in heavenly abode now, the future of India rests on the Tigress of Bengal, specially in these tumultuous times. The days to come will determine how posterity scripts the history of the times we call the present Indian political scene.

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