The State Of The Opposition And Bharat Jodo Yatra| MENAFN.COM

Wednesday, 01 February 2023 07:40 GMT

The State Of The Opposition And Bharat Jodo Yatra


(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer)

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with supporters during the party's 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' in Samba district on Sunday – PTI photo

By Syed Faizan Bukhari

IN a recent column for the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta reiterated a guiding maxim of democratic politics:“The fate of democracies often rests on the quality of the political Opposition.” Ever since BJP assumed the reins of government in 2014, India's Opposition has been characterised by a conceptual and ideological chaos. It has been running around its tail because its intellectual capacities and political imaginations have been unable to process the explosion of uncontrolled forces unleashed by BJP's spectacular triumphs. Its response to BJP's onslaughts has been an odd mixture of reactionary politics, calculated expediency and, at times, uncomfortable quiescence. The Congress has been forced to recede into an unending winter of political irrelevance.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra is the first serious attempt by the Congress to arrest its decline. Currently in the last leg of its journey, the yatra will end on 30th January in Srinagar where it has invited twenty- one“like minded” parties, perhaps as a show of strength.

Since long, Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India's grand old party, has been reeling under the burden of his inheritance. Castigated by BJP as a privileged and indecisive politician, bereft of the common touch of his political adversary, Gandhi has struggled to steer his party out of troubled waters. The once mighty Congress has seen its prospects diminish in the face of high ranking defections, messy scandals and infighting.

During the course of the yatra, Rahul Gandhi has complained that the government has used all its institutional power to disadvantage the opposition and has pushed them out of platforms where they can reach the masses

In the face of this dour context, the Bharat Jodo Yatra is an innovative attempt to create a fresh political space. It seeks to invent a new language of political engagement suffused with a vocabulary of empathy, love and harmony. It seeks to contemporize a forgotten political truth – fraternity – a political ideal that has been summarily emptied out of“New India's” zeitgeist.

Detractors of Rahul Gandhi, along with cynical political pundits, have looked at the Bharat Jodo Yatra merely as the last-ditch attempt to revive the fortunes of the Congress party and to bolster its weakening national image. However, no political outfit should be expected to shun the considerations of realpolitik. In fact, linking party politics to politics in the larger sense is a rare sight in the Indian political theatre.

Through an unrelenting campaign, Modi's BJP has been peddling its own worldview as the only legitimate form of national self-identification. Quite inventively, the yatra is being styled as a national movement, dissociated from immediate political calculus, to recapture a sense of collective identity amid plurality.

In India, politics is often reduced merely to a periodic exercise of popular authorization. To the yatra's credit, it is expanding the category of the“political” beyond the electoral and opening space for new possibilities for the articulation of dissent and the creation of new axes of mobilisation in a political context dominated by sharp divisions, growing hate and rising inequalities.

The act of reaching out to citizens and not voters is aimed towards widening social reach. In this context, the Bharat Jodo Yatra, seen as an act of political improvisation, holds the potential to create new forms of self-identification that are egalitarian and inclusive rather than exclusivist.

While it is audacious to not reduce politics to elections, to restrict it to a moral pursuit is plain naivety. Whether we like it or not, the fate of India as a multiparty democracy is inextricably tied with the fate of the Congress party.

As of now, it seems that the momentum generated by the yatra has reenergized the comatose carders of the Congress. Will this newfound energy be enough to make a difference in the electoral calculus? This question will remain salient because any new idiom of resistance cannot remain indifferent to electoral outcomes if it seeks to transform into a durable and alternative brand of politics. The logic of numbers is structurally woven into the systemic fabric of electoral democracies. Will the yatra then, rejuvenate the Congress?

The yatra has managed to put some wind in Congress's sails. It is already witnessing a reversal of fortunes in its favour, at least in Jammu and Kashmir. Many founding members of the Democratic Azad Party have jumped ship again and re-joined the Congress where they have been welcomed back with open arms. The return of the defectors is indicative of the positive change in the party's perceptions as a political force to be reckoned with.

But the Congress's ailments are too serious to be fixed by the nostrum that is the Bharat Jodo Yatra. After Indira Gandhi's centralization and personalization of power, the party has acquired a top-down pyramidal decision-making structure that has weakened its organisational capacities. The lack of internal democracy within the party has resulted in crippling factionalism and incoherence. The brisk traffic of defectors from the Congress to the BJP is an indication of the absence of a comprehensible ideological framework. This is perhaps why the future of the Congress as the fulcrum of opposition unity remains under a cloud of doubt.

Having said that, the success of the yatra must not be judged on the endorsements of other political parties alone. It must also be assessed from the new refrains that it inserts into the discursive space.

BJP's uncontested triumphs and Modi's imprint on India's political culture is so deep that its idiom has become the default language of political engagement. India's social and political climate has metamorphosed under Modi. Standards of acceptable discourse in public and social life have significantly deteriorated over the years. The line in the sand between popular authorization and majoritarianism has become faint with the passage of time. The opposition has watched helplessly as the imposing wave of strongman politics has crested over India's democracy.

While opposition parties have sometimes gained lost ground in legislative assembly elections, they have continued to fail at stalling the rise of the BJP because they have not been able to get a grip on the national discourse. They have miserably failed at steering a national conversation that provides an alternate vision for India. Instead, they have, at their best, blurted incoherent ad-hoc reactions. At their worst, they have helplessly remained silent.

It is possibly for the first time in many years that the ruling party isn't setting the narrative but responding to the one designed by the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Using the political thrust of the yatra, Congress needs to rediscover itself and fashion its own voice. It needs to invent a durable language in which it can meaningfully offer a healthy expression to the immense reserve of resentment harboured by those who have been pushed to the margins of India's stumbling growth story. It must carry forward the momentum and energy from the yatra to cure the deep-seated blight within its organisation. It needs to invent an ideological repertoire for itself, and for the perusal of other parties opposed to the BJP, so that they can draw from its reserves to present a national counterpoint to the politics of the current regime. If the yatra's impact manages to enhance the Congress's capacity to facilitate the unity of the opposition, it will have achieved more than it had set out to do.

The greatest achievement of the yatra so far has been that Rahul Gandhi has decimated the tag of“pappu” stuck on his back by his detractors to paint him as an ignoramus dynast. He has proven that he isn't an entitled political dilettante and that he means serious business. His well-crafted videos that appear on our social media timelines seem to suggest that he practices a style of politics that is decent, sobering and reciprocal – a welcome change from the shouting matches that define the soundscape of our public discourse. But there are reasons to worry.

The Congress and the liberal anglophone commentariat often respond to the crisis of our present moment by seeking comfort in the mythical certainties of a past that never was. During his long march, Rahul Gandhi has raised pertinent issues that adversely affect the quotidian lives of people – inequality, unemployment and inflation. But neither him, nor his party, make any attempts to figure out why the crisis of democracy emerged against the backdrop of obscene inequalities, unchecked liberalisation and an ever-expanding precariat at a time when cold numbers suggested a healthy economy. The link between the two is conspicuously missing in the opposition's worldview.

The criticism of the pre-2014 Congress as a coterie of disconnected technocratic elite isn't entirely misplaced either. After all, we did not arrive here in a day. All political parties – including the Congress – must share the responsibility of ushering in a socio-cultural order that created an insatiable appetite for a strongman to emerge. Parties on the centre, and towards the left of the centre on India's political spectrum, emptied out of our zeitgeist a vocabulary through which the marginalised could make sense of their dispossession. They left the discontent of furious majorities unaddressed who felt betrayed by liberal India's failed promise of general prosperity. A nation shaped by the Congress set the stage for BJP's grand entry. As long as the Congress party and its allies don't look back at history with greater honesty, they will find themselves running on a political hamster wheel.

The task that lies ahead is to find a more acute diagnosis of the crises of our present moment. The Bharat Jodo Yatra must resist being frozen into a moment in India's political timeline. It has to continually strive towards transforming itself into a movement. The arduous work of translating the moral and ideological critique into sustainable politics will begin after the yatra ends on 30th of January. Until then, all eyes must remain on Srinagar.

Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  • Syed Faizan is a New Delhi based columnist

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