Bihar CM Nitish Kumar Coordinates Opposition Unity Moves

Asia News Agency

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar Coordinates Opposition Unity Moves

Stepping up the bid for Opposition unity, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar Monday met the West Bengal CM and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chairperson Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata. Thereafter, the next day, he met Samajwadi Party (SP) president and ex-UP CM Akhilesh Yadav. He held separate discussions with Mamata and Akhilesh on ways and means to unite the Opposition so that it could together take on the ruling BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Earlier,  Nitish had also met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi  in Delhi, following which the Bihar leaders also met Delhi CM and AAP supremo Kejriwal.


Opposition unity not just about simple arithmetic

The objective of  a united Opposition is to prevent a split in votes and present a unified electoral front  against the BJP.

The foundational premise for the ‘Opposition unity’ strategy, writes Praveen Chakravarty (senior office bearer of the Congress party)  “is that the BJP won only 37% of the votes in the 2019 election and that 63% of Indians voted against the party. The argument goes that if the 63% of the voters can be united, then it ensures an automatic opposition victory. This is a fallacy. The BJP only contested 80% of the seats in 2019, leaving the rest to its alliance partners. In the seats that the BJP won, it secured well more than half the votes, implying that no amount of ‘opposition unity’ could have prevented its victory. Together with its alliance partners, the BJP won the support of 45% of all voters. However, this still does not mean that the remaining 55% disapproves of the BJP and can be united to vote against them.’


‘Opposition unity is a potent political force, but does not mean it can be a powerful electoral force too’

Democratic politics at its core, argues Chakravarty “is about representation of interest groups. In an extremely diverse society such as India, the proliferation of numerous political parties is a reflection of the need for representation for many diverse groups. In the last six decades, there have always been 20 or more parties represented in Parliament. This staggering political diversity is the steam whistle of the pressure for representation in a very diverse Indian society. Artificially suppressing this outlet through a forced and manufactured unity of political parties can backfire, if not articulated carefully to the public. Electoral unity of political parties does not immediately mean unity of their voters.

“To be clear, this is not to imply that there can be no amalgamation of different parties along ideological or identity axes. There are already synergistic alliances between the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar, and the National Conference in J&K……”

But Opposition unity with a show of joint hands of Opposition leaders for television cameras in New Delhi “may not immediately lure voters to discard State barriers and vote for a united Opposition…..”

This is however, states Chakravarty “not to say that there is no scope for a united fight against the ruling party. A united Opposition is both a necessary and a powerful weapon to fight for a level playing field and rights of Opposition politics in India’s democracy……A joint political action against the ruling party by all Opposition parties can reverberate much louder across the nation. But this does not mean a combined electoral front of these parties will translate into votes for the joint Opposition in first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. It is important not to conflate united political action of Opposition parties with a united act of voting by each party’s supporters."

In the end, “Opposition unity is a potent political force, but does not mean it can be a powerful electoral force too.”


Critical internal  issues for the BJP

At another level, writes Hilal Ahmed (Associate Professor, CSDS, New Delhi) “the electoral success of the Bharatiya Janata Party in post-2014 India cannot be disassociated from the multifaceted story of Indian democracy. The BJP, like any other party, follows the unwritten norms of electoral politics to persuade, attract and manage voters to its advantage. This professional attitude has helped the party establish Hindutva-driven nationalism as the dominant narrative in contemporary Indian politics. In fact, the party has given a significant conceptual shift to the idea of democracy itself in recent years by describing India as the ‘Mother of democracy’.” 

This portrayal of the BJP’s electoral triumph, however, states Ahmed “is almost one-sided,” and  pro-BJP.  “They intentionally avoid any meaningful debate on the problems, challenges and possible crises the party might face in the future…..”

No institutional effort to nurture a second-level leadership: Ahmed focusses on  BJP’s internal problems and  identifies  three critical issues in this regard.     “The rise of Modi as ‘the leader’ of the BJP has certainly helped the party manage its electoral victories. In fact, the party has cultivated the image of Modi not merely as a charismatic leader but also as a political symbol. In a way, the party has given Modi a two-fold responsibility: he has to invent politically suitable images to maintain himself as the prime political symbol of the BJP. At the same time, he has to perform the task of an effective communicator to offer meanings to his own image. This over-reliability on Modi has the potential of creating an imbalance in the party organisation. On the one hand, there is an extraordinary burden on Modi to become the permanent performer for the party; while on the other, there is no institutional effort to nurture a second-level leadership….

Marginalisation of intellectuals: “The marginalisation of intellectuals inside the party is the second critical issue. It is worth noting that the BJP always presents its ideology of cultural nationalism and integral humanism with great intellectual pride…..However, the intellectual class inside the party is not as vibrant as it used to be…..

Attitude towards the autonomy of established institutions: “The third critical issue is related to the BJP’s attitude towards the autonomy of established institutions. The debate on the appointment of judges, the use of investigative agencies against Opposition leaders, and even the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi create a strong impression that the BJP leadership wants to control the entire system in its favour. There is certainly an element of truth in this criticism.  However, the problem is much more complicated. We should not forget that the BJP is an institution in itself. It is an inseparable constituent of two very powerful coalitions: the ideological coalition of the ‘sangh parivar’ (RSS family)  and the electoral coalition called the National Democratic Alliance. For the effective functioning of these coalitions, the BJP has to abide by institutional ethics of some kind……”

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