The massive BJP poll victory should ensure a stable and strong central government. That is to be greatly welcomed. The Congress appears incapable of revival in its present form. There is therefore no effective opposition in the country. That is to be deplored. This is not because Mr. Modi’s government needs to be criticized. It may perform wonderfully well. But there is scope for constructive criticism which in effect helps the government to fine tune and improves its policies. Indeed Prime Minister Mr. Modi has indicated that he welcomes criticism and suggestions. That is what makes democracy the best system. Today such an opposition does not exist. It needs to be created. How might that be done?
Democracy needs a healthy opposition. India needs a two party system. Events have provided the opportunity to create one. It is up to regional leaders and those marginalized by the recent poll to discuss, unite and fight.
The first requirement for a genuine opposition to emerge would be to create an ideological and policy agenda that presents an alternative view to the existing ruling party. None will deny that Mr. Modi represents a strong central authority which the public was yearning for after ten years of a wishy-washy leadership. That makes good a discrepancy in India’s federal democracy that was never recognized. States invoked federalism only to demand more rights for themselves. They never appreciated that for genuine federalism it is equally necessary for the central government to have a clearly demarcated sphere of jurisdiction to allow it unfettered governance. That is why Indian democracy has failed to deliver effective governance. It is worth noting that in India the term federal is used only in the context of decentralizing power. But in America the same term is used only in the context of centralized power.
The second great distortion in our democracy arose from the fact that while state chief ministers waxed eloquent about the need for more powers for themselves, they ignored for the most part the equal need to grant due powers to district and local administrations. This rendered federalism farcical. This lack of participation in the system was what gave a quick boost to the Aam Admi Party which failed to exploit its opportunity. It is necessary for the government to restore governance through greater participation as Mr. Modi has repeatedly stated, not merely through executive decisions but through institutional restructuring and reform. In other words the system needs reform through reappraisal of our Constitution.
The natural ideological polarization in Indian politics is not between the Left and the Right as understood in the West, related to the degree of state intervention in the economy. It is between centralization and decentralization of power to be exercised between the centripetal and centrifugal forces. Egalitarian reform will not come from focusing only on the economy as the West has come to accept after the advent of Karl Marx. The real key to egalitarian reform lies as much if not more with democracy. And it is federalism that ensures that self-rule and democracy allow equal participation to all citizens. The formulation of an alternative agenda therefore to confront Mr. Modi’s government with healthy opposition should offer little problem. What remains is the task of building a political organizational structure that can represent the whole nation.
Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Orissa, Telangana and some smaller northeast states have all withstood the Modi onslaught successfully. Parties like the BSP, SP, RJD, JDU, NCP, RLD and others may have lost presence in parliament. They still have workers on the ground. The Aam Admi Party retains potential in Delhi and Punjab. There are still 48 Congress MPs in parliament and many Congress workers on the ground across India. They need to rethink. Many supporters of the Congress and BJP scoff at regional leaders and say they are incapable of uniting because of inflated egos and divisive vote banks. These critics betray their appalling ignorance about the egos and divisive tendencies that exist among leaders of the national parties. They betray their ignorance about the architecture of governance and the weakness of so called national parties. Now is the time for regional parties to confer, consolidate and challenge the Modi government by agreeing on a policy agenda, on a federal party constitution, on common purpose and on a common campaign to bid for power in the future. They will have to demonstrate through alternative policies that not only will they offer more power to villages, districts and states, but also to the centre by creating a stronger government more capable of promoting national interest than the present incumbent.
Need one recall that Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mr. Nitish Kumar were united before they split? Also, SP and BSP were united before they split? Indeed, this writer initiated moves for the alliance between late Kanshi Ram and Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav which first gave the BSP its legislative presence. These leaders split because they got influenced by caste instead of by class. They focused on secularism instead of on federalism. It is time they got on the right course.
So, what will it be? Will regional leaders sulk or kowtow before the central government? Or galvanize their workers to take a new, creative policy agenda to the people and start mobilizing support? Democracy needs a healthy opposition. India needs a two party system. Events have provided the opportunity to create one. It is up to regional leaders and those marginalized by the recent poll to discuss, unite and fight.