Democracy & One-Party Hegemony

When Opposition Abandons Its Responsibility

The stubborn refusal of the Congress top leadership to revive the party is confounding indeed. Eight years after its biggest electoral debacle and three years after repeat performance, it is yet to stir into action. Visible initiatives for the party’s revival are yet to take off. It’s not even ready to have a leader. There’s something seriously wrong here.

On the face of it, it should be the internal matter of the party, nothing for a bystander to be bothered about. But this is not only about a political party, but the opposition’s wider role in a democracy.

The recent fracas over a call to action appeal from a section of impatient leaders, however, exposes more than the perplexing internal dynamics of the party; it reveals a cynical disregard for its basic obligations to the country as a political entity.

A political party faces redundancy when it isolates itself from the assigned role in a  democracy. It doesn’t survive for itself or a few or for power alone; it has a well-defined responsibility towards the Constitution, the people, and finally, the country. The developments in Congress suggest that it has abandoned it. In fact, all players in the opposition space stand guilty on this count. If that makes the BJP the default number one choice for voters, there’s little to be surprised about.

For citizens in a democracy, the option of an opposition political party is a bargaining chip. If the ruling party fails to perform up to their expectation, they can switch to other options. The Constitution encapsulates the spirit, values and aspirations of the nation, thus serves as its lodestar. All parties are duty-bound to follow its basic principles. When one or a few deviate too much, the others are expected to restore balance through democratic resistance. The country, is much larger in its connotation than the party in power, the majority of its population, and even the combined force of all political parties. Politics is only one dimension of the idea of the country. When that idea is under attack or sought to be distorted, parties are supposed to stand up against it.

The ideal situation in a democracy is when the opposition is active and vocal. It keeps the heat on the government going by articulating and shaping public opinion and offering alternative views on matters of public import. It is essential in a robust polity that the government stays on its toes throughout its tenure. We are, of course, nowhere near the ideal now. Unipolar polity, redolent of the Congress hegemony six decades ago, is in at the national level. The sole opposition, Congress, has been a colossal failure at offering resistance. In the states, the collapse of regional parties with national ambition means the option of coalition governments, a feature in national politics for more than three decades, is virtually closed.

The problems besetting most of these parties are public knowledge by now and require no elaboration. Yet we can point to a few common to them. These include ineffectual leadership, lack of ideological clarity, severely corroded organisational base, lack of leadership at the local level and fractious party units. Long and short-term structural and organisational revamp plans are critical to addressing these. After the debacle in two consecutive elections, in 2014 and 2019, none of the vanquished parties has shown serious intent to put correctives in place. They have been content to blame the BJP  for trying to engineer trouble for them through defections or enticement, while none has bothered to honestly answer why so many second and lower rung leaders, even from the top, are switching sides with no moral qualm.

The case of Congress is particularly curious. While the Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot episodes in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan respectively were visibly rooted in intra-party factionalism, it sought to blame the BJP for trying to break the party in states. Even in the recent episode, the letter written by 23 senior members to the party chief seeking revival initiatives, was painted as a BJP conspiracy. At one level, it reflects the party’s fear of the saffron outfit, at another, it reveals its obstinate preference to stay in denial about its own weaknesses. At yet another, it smacks of arrogance.

Arrogance because it appears to be taking people for granted. Perhaps it stems from the glum belief that ultimately all those not happy with the BJP would automatically gravitate towards it. It doesn’t have to get into a conversation with them or make no effort to engage with them. The unwillingness to communicate with the masses has been a problem with it for long. Two disastrous elections later, nothing much has changed.

Coming back to people, the Constitution and the country, it has apparently failed all of them. At some point sooner rather than later, it has to realise that as a political entity it has to be responsive to developments around and articulate the concerns of people ceaselessly. The responsibility becomes heavier when the party in power enjoys a brute majority and is thus susceptible to making hasty decisions. After alienating people for so long, the Grand Old Party must convince them that it exists, is responsible and thus, is still relevant.

This goes for other decimated and rudderless parties as well. This is where may lie the key to their revival as political forces.

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