Greater battle lies ahead in 2019

The secular forces will therefore have to work harder to fight this permissive influence for the sake of their own future and survival, if for nothing else.

Aijaz Zaka Syed
Srinagar, Publish Date: Dec 18 2018 10:25PM | Updated Date: Dec 18 2018 10:25PM
Greater battle lies ahead in 2019Representational pic

The Bharatiya Janata Party and its powerful propaganda machine had pitched this as a contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi -- Naamdar versus kaamdar (the entitled one vs someone who has worked his way up). And the voters have spoken what they think of the performance of the Kaamdar!

The BJP went to absurd lengths to win the just-concluded elections in five states – three of them at the very centre of the Hindi heartland.  Narendra Modi himself led from the front launching unbelievably personal attacks on the Congress leadership, not sparing even a convalescing and retired Sonia Gandhi and the long-deceased icons of the Gandhi-Nehru family.

The Hindutva brigade used every trick in its book to polarise and split the electorate along sectarian lines with Yogi Adityanath and others addressing hundreds of public meetings spreading sweetness and light and promising the kind of ‘sab ka sath’ that Uttar Pradesh boasts today.

Yet if the Congress has managed to win and carry these big Hindi states in the north and central India -- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – the credit for this emphatic victory goes to Rahul Gandhi and young leaders like Sachin Pilot.  The spring of hope has arrived at last.

The success arriving as it did on the day Rahul completed one year at the helm of the grand old party couldn’t have been sweeter considering the open hostility and witch hunt that he has had to suffer at the hands of the saffron clan and much of the ‘Modi-fied’ media. 

From being endlessly humiliated and ridiculed as Pappu (idiot) to being questioned on his very ‘Indianness’ and leadership and communication skills, Rahul has been at the centre of an incredibly vicious campaign for the past five years and more.  And it has been personally led by none other than the Prime Minister himself deliberately distorting and falsifying every word spoken by the opposition leader. 

Which is why Rahul has every reason to pat himself on the back for not just standing up to Modi and the BJP and their all-out witch hunt but coming out of it with flying colours. 

To his immense credit, the Congress leader has remained incredibly humble and gracious in his victory, never once gloating even after capturing the three strategic fortresses of the BJP.  

It had been a totally one-sided contest from the word get-go.  A typical David versus Goliath kind of battle, if ever there was one.  Given the massive resources and big moneybags at the BJP’s disposal with more than 90% of corporate donations being cornered by the party and the unabashed support it has been receiving from the media.  

Yet given the overwhelming popular anger and rural distress in these battleground states over the continuing devastating effects of demonetisation, GST and the anti-incumbency factor, it is surprising that the Congress did not register a far more forceful victory. The BJP managed to put up a strong show both in MP and Rajasthan, losing many seats by a couple of hundred votes or even less.

Which means although the saffron brigade may have lost these elections thanks to its disastrous management of the economy and neglecting farmers, its core constituency largely remains intact. 

Indeed, the poisonous influence of the RSS now pervades all arms and sinews of the body-politic. From the government and administration to bureaucracy and from universities and think tanks to the media, no area remains free of its sway.  

The secular forces will therefore have to work harder to fight this permissive influence for the sake of their own future and survival, if for nothing else.    

And now that the BJP has suffered these losses in these critical states, seen as the core of the BJP’s ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ worldview, it is certain that the party and its battle-hardened election winning machinery led by Machiavellian Modi and Amit Shah will pull out all stops for the greater battle ahead in 2019. 

Is the opposition up to the task? While this much-needed victory has understandably lifted the mood in the long-demoralised and dispirited Congress and cheered up opposition forces and all those believing in an inclusive democracy, the challenge ahead is hardly going to be an easy one.

With its back to the wall, the BJP is almost certain to fight even harder and dirty and will do everything to return to power.  Justice Markandey Katju’s apprehensions that a desperate Parivar could start a major communal conflagration or even a war with Pakistan to rally popular support aren’t entirely without basis. 

The only way for the Congress and other secular opposition parties to fight the BJP and its sinister Parivar is to rally their forces and put up a united fight.  Nothing else is going to work. 

Notwithstanding the vital lessons of Karnataka, where a last-minute Congress-Janata Dal (S) coalition was able to keep out the BJP, the grand old party spurned fellow travellers such as the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and Samajwadi Party waiting and chose to go it alone in both MP and Rajasthan.  

If only the Congress had tied up with secular parties, the electoral tally in these states that would elect 65 Members of Parliament in 2019 would have been decidedly much better.

Of course, Telangana has been an exception. The Congress’ partnership with Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam, once bitter rivals, did not take off because of the far more irresistible alternative that was offered by Chandrashekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti. 

In addition to its formidable alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi’s Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, what really worked for the TRS was its unprecedented welfare measures targeting virtually every section of the electorate.  The Muslim community, for instance, has benefited much from the 121 minority residential schools established by the Telangana government. This is why Rahul’s unusual rallies with Naidu in what had once been a Congress bastion did not work in Telangana.      

Yet an accommodative approach by the Congress and other secular stakeholders is what is badly needed in months and years ahead.   

What will it take for the Congress to come off its high horse? The question is important considering it is the only party with presence in all parts of the country and is the only force that can stop the saffron juggernaut.  It remains the lynchpin and key to the opposition unity against the RSS’ ideology of hate and intolerance. 

Yet at a time when it is fighting for its very survival across the country, the Congress inexplicably continues to harbour these delusions of grandeur and has repeatedly failed to reach out to other secular parties.

The BJP has always been far more accommodative and quick to cobble up alliances.  Indeed, the BJP of Vajpayee and Advani grew from a 2-member outfit to its overarching presence today, riding on the shoulders of its allies like the Janata Dal of yore.  It acquired a pan-India acceptability cleverly using its secular allies. 

When will the Congress wake up to the new political realities of a new India? The answer holds the key to 2019 and the nation’s future.  Only a more accommodative and nimble-footed Congress that is willing to walk the proverbial extra mile to put together a rainbow coalition can stop the BJP and Modi from returning to power. 

What lies ahead is not just a battle between the BJP and Congress or between Modi and Rahul Gandhi.  At stake is the very idea of a democratic and inclusive India.  

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