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Bihar may be topographically and linguistically a Hindi-belt state, but it has always been sui generis. Or, if you prefer, the Tamil Nadu or Kerala of the north.
From the time of the Buddha, bold philosophical and political departures have come from its unceasing social churns. When others conform, Bihar strikes the note of momentous dissent.
Where opposition governments have been victims of breaches engineered by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bihar has dumped a government of which the BJP was a part. With the departure of the Janata Dal (United), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has become a Nominal Disbanded Alliance. Only some allies in the North-East remain within it.
The departure of Nitish Kumar from the now non-existent alliance is the result of a growing conviction among non-BJP parties that the Modi-led Hindutva force means to emulate China as a political system – a one party, one unquestionable leader state, albeit, economically not a Left-wing but a Right-wing one. And that, to accomplish that purpose, it uses all state agencies, captive media, money-bags galore, and political subterfuge without the least scruple.
Indeed, a few days ago, the president of the BJP clearly stated in a party meeting that all regional outfits that have not yet disappeared will also disappear, leaving the BJP as the only party in India.
A cry is out that the federal ‘Union of States’ which comprises the constitutional republic may indeed be in danger of a fatal transformation, which, if not stopped, would overturn all the major ideals of India’s anti-colonial freedom movement.
Although there have been policy-level dissensions between the BJP and the JD(U), bearing chiefly on the status of Article 370, Uniform Civil Code, National Register of Citizens, conducting a Caste census (which we expect now to happen as an exercise that is likely to show up how Hindutva still remain a largely upper caste hegemony, as well as contribute to secularising the struggle for rights), Nitish’s second return to his socialist home turf is not simply a habitual somersault. Nor simply a cloaked signal of his personal ambition to try for bigger things. Not that such ambition in his case is wholly outré.
It bespeaks a recognition that India’s time-honoured social, religious, and political plurality is at stake; and that this likely prospect cannot be thwarted decisively unless this recognition becomes preponderant, both among the populace and the social and political leaderships who represent them.
There is already a widespread perception that those who are crying foul are indeed the progenitors of the death of ethics in our contemporary political culture: a Sushil Kumar Modi can say with a straight face that they broke the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra because the BJP could then form a government, whereas this was not possible to do by breaking the ally in Bihar.
Clearly, Operation Lotus in Bihar has been part of the larger purpose to demolish regional parties, those in opposition and also those who may be allies of the BJP.
Needless to say, acts of individual uprightness can no longer bind India’s political opposition into a winning force. Nor can one-upmanship among regional leaders achieve any decisive national purpose, however well they may have been governing their particular states.
The question now for all those among the populace and civil society who wish to see the republic return to secular humanism, socialist equity, a rule of law that is transparently non-partisan, playing no favourites and exacting no vendetta, subservient only to the constitution, is this: how to persuade all opposition forces to work out a Common Agenda and a Common Programme of Action that makes such recuperation the chief goal of state policy.
This will require reviving the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as a no-nonsense work-a-day think tank where clearly-formulated policy directions are generated with a non-coercive consensus, and with a thought only to rejuvenating democratic imperatives and practices and forging ways to address the multiplying livelihood concerns of the vast mass of Indians.
And a transparently arrived at consenus on who ought to head the UPA should be embraced by all elements of the opposition. Once this is achieved, the sooner the better, the next order of business must be to evolve electoral strategies that can beat the BJP, constituency after constituency.
Clearly, the ideal here has to be to put up one on one candidates preferably in all constituencies, conceding full consent to the most well-placed party and candidate in each constituency.
It is only if and when the Hindutva forces are bested in the electoral battle that clarity will emerge in regard to who may be best placed to lead the opposition to form a ministry at the centre.
There is reason to think that the Indian National Congress, the party with the most widespread footprint across the nation, whose Rahul Gandhi has never lost any opportunity to critique the Modi model of politics and economic governance, may be willing to step back and let the best man or woman come forward to lead an alternate government.
The caveat here clearly is that should the performance of the Indian National Congress be exemplary, no element of the opposition should put up objections rooted merely in unreasoned aversion to the grand old party, or covert ambition not vindicated by electoral results.
Such is the consequence that faces the republic in the event of a mis-step that dishonourable dithering by any element of the opposition would not but place a heavy onus of betrayal on it.
The contending opposition knows that autocratic forces now in power will ensure that the media continuously demoralises it and debunks its messaging to the electorate.
This has always been so in world history when democracy has come apart at the behest of those who bear the onus to perpetuate and strengthen it. They use its institutional mechanisms to most breach their authenticity.
Given that the Election Commission of India inspires rather scant confidence, it will be anything but easy to counter the onslaught of propaganda.
That circumstance enjoins upon the opposition to do leg-work of an untiring nature day after day, interacting with their constituents face to face rather than merely through their IT outlets, although these will remain crucial as well to unravel fake claims and charges.
They must carry the conviction that hate, joblessness, soaring prices, disingenuous promises, hubris, vigilante violence, glib assertions by smooth-talking spokespersons and tainted satraps are finally telling among the masses.
Any failure to foreground and drive home the patent and multiplying agonies of some 80% of Indians for the purposes of both a truthful connect between power and people and for forging ameliorative reconstructions may prove terminally disastrous.
To re-emphasise at the end: no desirable recovery may be possible without a staunch ideological clarity among all elements of the forces opposed to Hindutva as the expression of a covenant between upper caste elites and private, corporate wealth, bolstered by trumped-up militarism and loud-mouthed claims to ownership of nationalism.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.