“The Founders recognized that Government is quite literally a necessary evil, that there must be opposition, between its various branches, and between political parties, for these are the only ways to temper the individual’s greed for power and the electorates’ desires for peace by submission to coercion or blandishment.”
These lines seem to have been custom written for our nation, but Pulitzer Prize winning screenwriter and director David Mamet didn’t have the world’s largest democracy on his mind when he penned this, instead, he was referring to one of the world’s oldest.
The penchant of the ruling dispensation to rule absolutely and on its own terms is a human trait much older than the concept of democracy itself. Every leader, democratic or otherwise, wants to paint a successful picture about his achievements and takes great pains to erase the failures. Mamet showcases this trait in the critically acclaimed movie Wag the Dog, where an American President embroiled in a sex scandal, distracts an entire nation by waging a fake war with Albania.
Obfuscation of facts, distraction via bogies and even suppression by force are political tools for survival even in mature democracies; but that’s where the opposition comes in to play the critical aspect of democracy - that of checks and balances. A responsible opposition allows the government to be authoritative and prevents it from becoming authoritarian. Sadly in India’s case, after the debacle of the 2014, most opposition parties are simply wallowing in the background as BJP bulldozes its way.
Besides the Land Ordinance Bill, there has been precious little floor coordination amongst the opposition parties to corner the government and to make it answerable for its omissions and commissions. Yes a recharged Rahul Gandhi has been making surprising inroads but he’s hardly rallied the opposition as one yet his recent attempts show that it doesn’t really take a Hercules to expose the chinks in the government’s armor.
It is therefore surprising that despite a plethora of issues, the government is just not being badgered enough by the opposition; that may not be a good thing for the cause of genuine democracy and the principles of checks and balances. Take a look at the laundry list of issues
>> Economy ke bure din – a spectacular 1000 point slide on the Sensex in two days has taken us back to 26k levels, contrast this with the 30,000 a few months ago (when mount 50k was being dreamt of). Now analysts aren’t ruling out a return to sub 25,000 levels on the Sensex in the near term. Truth be told - the economy simply hasn’t taken off and the biggest plank on which Modi steamed into power is appearing to be really creaky; yet there is no concerted attack on BJP for failing to kick start the economy.
>> Rain Rain go away - That’s a song that the dispensation won’t be singing. While cooling of international crude came as the biggest blessing for Modi, the rain gods are not being that kind. If the MET department gets it right - then Modi Sarkar has a drought to deal with (and the backlash / economic gloom that comes free of cost) Not fair to blame the PM for natural causes you say? But this is politics! BJP lost power to Onion two decades ago in Delhi - it’s still to get back on the saddle. An aggressive opposition would love a good drought.
>> Media Misunderstanding – that Modi detests the mainstream media is an open fact (therefore the attempt to bypass newspapers / television channels to reach the voter direct through social media, radio, etc.) However both AAP and Congress were busy playing their own games to have occupied this prime vacant slot - the mainstream still reaches out to the masses and shapes general perception - YET the opposition failed to use this medium to counter the government.
>> Soft-pedaling Hindutva – ‘No one can defeat the Congress, but the Congress itself’ said Manish Tiwari in the aftermath of the Congress rout in 2014. However given the antics of the Sangh and elements within BJP itself - they seemed to have taken fancy to this axiom. BJP in many ways is walking down the path of 1992 and 2002; the path of self-destruction. The manifestation may not be an “event” this time - but the play/pressure/ tactics/subterfuge is the same. Yet opposition parties are unclear on how to tackle this silent tide of Hindutva that is rearing its head again, perhaps they are worried of upsetting their own ‘support bases’
>> I Me Myself - Indians value their freedom (perhaps a bit too much) that is why the peculiar habit of not wanting to follow rules. Every Indian is a nation state into himself. What is then not surprising, is their utter disdain for authoritarian regimes and heads. It’s a lesson that the British and Indira Gandhi learnt the hard way. Far from Vajpayee’s statesmanship, Modi comes across as gruff, blunt, and authoritative. Yet despite so many cases of freedom of speech being blocked - Modi doesn’t come under constant and consistent attack.
>> Curse of an accha campaign - Modi’s election campaign was good, in fact too good for his political well-being. While bloated promises do win elections, they come back to haunt you with expectations that are immense and delivery time - that is immediate. The opposition parties however have failed to systematically / daily fish out these campaign claims and roast the BJP for having promised the moon (and fifteen lakh rupees) to the citizens of India.
While there is no doubt that citizens of India has chosen a majority government with a clear mandate – it’s the right of that same citizen to question that choice and raise a flag of dissent where necessary. Let there be no ambiguity that dissent of an individual or an institution isn’t anti-national (as is portrayed many times)....it’s just the cogs of the democratic wheel turning.
A wheel that needs some serious oiling by all the opposition parties; if the spirit of democracy is to be kept alive.
Akash Banerjee is a broadcast professional and author of Tales from Shining and Sinking India, about how news channels deliver the big breaking story.