Normally loath to indulging in any kind of consensus building on vital issues or problems facing the nation Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was rather quick to convene a virtual all-party meeting in the face of Chinese ingress and aggression resulting in 20 Indian soldiers getting martyred, in quest for a consensus to meet the challenge. It was more out of compulsion than any change of heart on abandoning his unipolar approach since the issue involved answerability with a direct bearing on the electoral politics and, hence the need to share the responsibility to ward-off criticism. Nevertheless, it was a welcome move.
The Chinese action certainly eroded the indomitability of Mr Modi, an aura which he had carefully crafted around himself since he came to power at the Centre. More so it happened to be China which by all indications of the past nearly two decades, has been his favourite destination. He has been touring China as chief minister of Gujarat seeking Chinese collaboration for the state, it was well within his rights, and till date has already held at least 18 meetings with Chinese President, Mr Xi Jinping. This includes his nine official visits to China, five times as PM and four times as Chief Minister.
The Chinese misadventure taking place at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Ladakh in this backdrop must have weighed heavily on Mr Modi’s mind egging him on to convene an all party meeting and it opened a window for the opposition parties to at least close their ranks to ask legitimate questions of the Government as to what went wrong. And at whose table the buck should stop.
And this window of an opportunity did came in the form of the all party meeting for which Mr Modi must be credited. The Government had started this consultative process after much delay in the face of breakout of COVID-19 pandemic by holding series of videoconferences with chief ministers of the states and in between an occasional meeting with leaders of the opposition parties.
So in many ways his decision to hold a virtual consultative process with the opposition parties quickly, ostensibly did take these political parties by surprise. Already divided, vertically and horizontally, the leaders of these parties could hardly get anytime to frame a joint strategy to corner the Government. Notwithstanding the fact that the Congress did wage a lone battle of sorts and posed incisive questions blaming the Government’s wrong policies for the martyrdom of soldiers and ingress by the Chinese troops, it was a lost opportunity for the opposition as a whole.
There is no doubt that the entire country should rally behind the Government in such hours of crisis and the opposition parties did that in one form or the other. But this does not take away the right of any political party and an individual to ask questions and the Government is bound to take them into confidence. It is the Government’s prerogative how and to which extent respond in the matters of national security.
Coming back to the issue of elusive opposition unity with political parties such as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) having almost abandoned their roles of an opposition party, and others like Trinmool Congress and even Congress’ allies Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena’s visible attempt to keep a safe distance from it, the combine would have been more incisive had they adopted a common line on questioning the Government, other than their including Congress, resolve to fully support the Government to counter the Chinese threat.
The Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi also surprised the country through her strident posture which her arch-rivals described as “taking pot shots” at the Government. Congress under her stewardship has not been known for either quick decision making or taking courageous stands on varied issues. Her changed demeanour in this context could have a lot to do with Mr Rahul Gandhi’s no-holds-bar barrage of questions that he has been firing at Mr Modi on different issues including the Chinese incursion. This was vindicated by his statement reportedly made at the Congress Working Committee held on June 23 wherein he openly blamed his party leaders for not pointedly taking-on the Prime Minister on issues such as the LAC standoff and COVID-19 PANDEMIC. Mrs Gandhi, if the insiders are to be believed, remained a silent spectator as he poured scorn on the senior brigade.
Such change is clearly visibly on news channel screens also as Congress has not only started sending its spokespersons for debates but they, for a change, have succeeded to a great extent to make their presence felt. They have been able to create an impression that they are no mean pushovers and are well equipped with facts and figures contrary to their early expressions of being resigned to their fate.
The COVID-19 and Chinese incursion has created an opportunity for both the ruling BJP (read Mr Modi) and the opposition to rethink their strategies or policies particularly when faced with such challenges. The ruling party must have learnt a lesson by now that it is important in a democratic set up to carry the opposition along for a united fight to meet such challenges. Will it translate in the Government’s or ruling BJP’s future thinking, only a lion hearted would dare to bet?
It looks equally unlikely that the opposition parties would close their ranks to unitedly take on the might of Mr Narendra Modi in near future. The one reason for this pessimism on opposition unity is lack of any attempt on their part to come together for politically very important Bihar assembly elections which are only three to four months away. It is to be followed by West Bengal which is also BJP’s prime target where the party has been making all attempts to dislodge Ms Mamta Banerjee. No doubt she is on firm footing and a grassroots and a mass leader, but the three way division among Trinmool Congress, Congress and the Left Parties can become a challenging proposition in the absence of any effort on a covert or overt political understanding.
Being the only national party, in the opposition ranks, with pan-India presence, it leaves Congress with a daunting task. That is to plough a lonely furrow which was reflected during all party meeting on Chinese incursion. Raising the issues of national importance in right perspective and try to keep the Government and the ruling party on tenterhook by exposing their failures, is a tough act to follow which the Congress could embed in its strategy in future.
Apart from this ‘ekela chalo’ policy, the Congress should keep exploring chances of opposition unity at the national or state and regional levels. The opposition would care only if the Congress manages to regain its public space through establishing greater contact with the people. The glimpses of this were visible during the lockdown period as after long the Congress leaders and workers were visible on ground, and of course the line taken by its president in the all party meeting.
Situation forced Prime Minister Mr Modi to convene an all party meeting due to bloody Indo-Sino LAC standoff. But it should dawn on the opposition parties that such a situations where in the ruling dispensation takes the opposition parties into confidence, would arise as there are plethora of domestic issues irritating the people including continuous increase in price of petrol and diesel on daily basis. Provided they (opposition) keep building pressure on the Government for which mobilising public opinion is must.
This would happen only if the opposition parties put up a united face even if it is issue based without hurting the individual ambitions of their leaders. Let them not relent and keep building pressure on the Government till facts of the LAC incursion leading to martyrdom of soldiers come out and responsibility fixed for failure if any. That would be a good head-start for opposition unity and a healthy trend for the democracy to keep a check on the Government.