The UP governor recently remarked that the Opposition does precious little politics beyond presenting representations to her. As a long-term politician, she must know what politics entails. When in Opposition, there is an implicit obligation to provide constructive cooperation and honest scrutiny of government decisions.
The governor need not go very far to test her idea of politics as farmers, including from western UP, are gathered on the border of the national capital to protest the farm laws. The Opposition, including the Congress, have extended their unqualified support to the movement but have strategically refrained from stealing the thunder of the farmers. Sadly, politics has taken a strange turn, so much so that organic protests like those against the CAA-NRC and now the farm laws remain uneasy about political parties being seen sharing the stage with them. This model owes much to Kejriwal-IAC, where the hidden agenda for transforming the agitation into a political party happily allowed taking discreet support from the opponents of the Congress, but without conceding them space directly. It is another matter that the enterprise helped the BJP and hurt the Congress.
The Congress is the only Opposition party that has the footprint to make a difference to the resistance to the incumbent government, although given the present conditions, we understand that we will have to keep space for like-minded Opposition parties. It is still early to expect a workable two-way accommodation, given the regional contradictions that exist. However, a joint effort within Parliament and beyond on demonetisation, GST implementation, the Citizenship Amendment Act, police atrocities, mixed marriages laws, the future of J&K, farm laws, incompetent handling of COVID-19, etc, is neither inconsistent with political ideology nor the strategies of the entire spectrum of the Opposition. Let us not forget, if India lives there will be opportunity for the Opposition. Some stillborn steps were taken in the past months but time is running out to put up a formidable challenge to the insensitive and incompetent functioning of a government that claims overwhelming popular support but in electoral records can show less than 40 per cent of the popular vote. The government believes that its majority makes all differing views irrelevant. Laws that they legislate can still be reversed in the future, but changes like the new Parliament and Central Vista will impose the will of a transitory majority on future generations.
Several of the far-reaching changes to the structure of India have, of course, been approved by the Supreme Court but then so was the Emergency, which the apex court is wondering if it can declare unlawful decades later. In a democracy, you either live with the past you inherit or pretend that it was different. The present government wants to rewrite history and certainly alter the path of the future. We seem to have made the mistake of only attacking the government for that instead of engaging with citizens who support the government. We need to ask them why, if at all, they hate us; how they believe their preferred way of life is being adversely impacted by the alternative way of life; what in the system we have inherited prevents them from feeling that their proud Hindu identity is complete; how the Hindutva project will address our collective concerns about food, jobs, education, health and happiness.
Despite our deep differences, we cannot and must not countenance anything like a civil war to the finish. We have lived together and our destiny is to live together. The project to acquire power and retain it for some time will certainly be served by accentuating an ostensible divide — but then what? Even a powerful military is unable to secure status quo beyond a period; powerful demagogues lose their grip; unshakeable structures like the Soviet Union give way; demigods are humbled. Only dialogue and empathy survive in the ultimate analysis.
To return to the governor of UP: Surely Her Excellency accepts that all this is about politics. To believe in this, to articulate this, to educate the electorate about this, to stand up and be counted — it is politics at the highest and certainly different from politicking that everyone seems to confuse with politics. But, of course, there is another dimension: Debate and discourse are dismissed as non-starters and politics is noticed only when there is disruption. Make it impossible for a government to work; block the streets and trains; switch off electricity and water; squeeze supply of food and other supplies; disturb public peace — these are certainly not publicly advocated by anyone in authority yet are we to believe that they are symptoms of live politics? Furthermore, a hapless police force contorts public protest into sedition, though thankfully yet not into insurrection — the word being used for the storming of the US Capitol by the rednecks supporting President Donald Trump. But who will explain to the hundreds of incarcerated youth charged with UAPA and other offences in the CAA-NRC FIRs that their politics was a crime? Understandably, there is a red line between protest and sedition but advising the citizen to protest for politics should come with an assurance that it will not be crushed by an impervious law.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 25, 2021 under the title ‘Majority complex’. The writer is senior Congress leader and former Union minister