An Ordinary Opposition Response to An Extraordinary Political Situation

New Delhi: Narendra Modi’s government is currently facing one of its greatest diplomatic crises following an international outcry over remarks made against the prophet by two official spokespersons for the ruling Bharatiya Janata party.

Pressure on the Union government was so great that the BJP – which has made anti-Muslim rhetoric its main political plank – was forced to not only remove both spokespersons from their official positions, but also issue multiple clarifications on the issue. .

For a government that has mastered the ability to score political brownie points through even its perceived failures, the situation it currently finds itself in is extraordinary.

But what should have been an opportune moment for the opposition to push the Modi government harder was lost. Instead, the country saw lukewarm — if not ordinary — responses that failed to address the BJP and its affiliates.

The justification the opposition parties and sections of civil society have found in the controversy may be natural, given the way they have been outclassed by the BJP in political tactics and strategy in recent years. But the fact that their criticism of the government has been limited to the same old rhetoric reflects both a lack of imagination and leadership in the ranks of the opposition.

Immediately after the diplomatic defense of the Modi government, which was based on blaming the hateful comments by prominent BJP leaders Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal about “edge” elements, opposition forces quickly asked the most obvious question : How can official spokespersons of a ruling party be dismissed as “random”.

But now that they have found exactly that loophole, they seem to have missed what could have been a great political opportunity to effectively confront the Saffron Party in domestic politics.

Although Rahul Gandhi and other congressional leaders, along with those from Trinamool Congress, left-wing parties and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) point out that the BJP spokespersons were not “random”, struck out at the saffron festival for encouraging bigotry that caused India’s isolation in the international arena.

Most felt justified in their criticism of the ruling party being noticed internationally, ignoring the fact that 40% of the electorate who chose to give the BJP two consecutive wins with an all-embracing majority would likely double their support in the light. of this “international pressure”.

Likewise, the critical section of civil society especially mocked the Modi government and the BJP for discrediting India.

Indian minorities, who have been the biggest victims of the BJP’s exclusionary policies, have limited themselves to pushing the government harder to take legal action against Sharma and Jindal, despite their protests and demands being largely rejected through the use of state violence. in the BJP-ruled states.

This cocktail of lethargy and desire in the ranks of the opposition contrasted sharply with the BJP’s shrewd ambiguity and the Sangh Parivar’s own ‘opposition’ to the Modi government. Despite being completely taken by surprise this time, the BJP and the Sangh responded to the situation in a more practical way.

While the Modi government touted the Indian republic’s values ​​of plurality and diversity in its official statements to tackle international resistance, the BJP quickly extended a helping hand by make statements in the media say all its official spokespersons have been “warned” against criticizing any religion, its symbols or religious figures. The BJP chief also said that “without any provocation (in televised debates or elsewhere) they can violate the ideals of the party”.

At the same time, the Sangh parivar unleashed an army of social media users to taunt the Modi government, in what appeared to be an organized effort to politically tame any opposition across the spectrum of the political right. Hindutva foot soldiers flooded social media platforms with a layered campaign against the Modi government that in large part diverted attention from genuine criticism from the opposition.

Some said it was “cowardly” on the part of the BJP to fire its own spokespersons, others said it was “shameful” that the Modi government succumbed to pressure from “Islamic” countries, while some called for a boycott. of Arab countries.

The greater benefit of such a campaign is twofold.

The religious affiliation binary that the BJP has successfully created remains the main hub of Indian politics. The “enemy” is still the Muslim. By emphasizing the resistance of Muslim-majority countries, Hindutva activists have reaffirmed the misleading perception that any political claim made by Hindus in Hindu-majority India will only be refuted by “Islamism,” of which every Muslim , regardless of nationality, is a follower.

Nuances such as rivalry and conflict within the Arab countries or even Saudi Arabia and Iran – the BJP’s bigotry managed to align Riyadh and Tehran – are lost amid such cacophony.

By highlighting the diversity of views within its ranks and bringing its majority ideology to the fore even amid a governmental crisis, the Sangh parivar has effectively kept its majority support intact. In fact, the story that the “Hindu claim” that Modi initiated under his leadership in 2014 faces the greatest threat from Islamists – both inside and outside the country – among Hindutva followers has only grown harsher in light of the ongoing backlash in the Islamic world.

The Sangh’s hard campaign parivar and the BJP’s calculated soft moves both positioned the saffron party as the most dominant political force, considering all aspects of electoral choice.

The opposition’s ‘business-as-usual’ approach has only helped the BJP cement its political dominance, despite the massive damage it has done internationally to India’s democratic credentials. This could have been an opportunity for opposition parties and civil society to offer the Indian people an alternative constitutional and secular nationalism by contrasting it with the nationalism of the BJP. The occasion could also have been an opportune time to strike an emotional chord in people.

The opposition doesn’t tire of talking about constitutional nationalism, but it may have missed one of the most important moments to get its point home. Just last month, in its acclaimed Chintan Shivir, Congress spoke about its intention to reach people with its own brand nationalism and contrast it with BJP’s “exclusive and divisive” nationalism. But it has been lazy enough to pass up a pivotal moment like this when India is cornered globally because of the BJP’s bigoted politics.

In recent years, we have seen a lively advocacy of constitutional nationalism amid protests against the Amendment Act and years of peasant agitation.

But the same civic groups that held up the banner of constitutional nationalism during these protests resorted to informal or faith-based responses at a time when their views on nationalism needed to be communicated effectively.

Only one opposition voice, that of Telangana Rashtra Samithi scion KTRama Rao, stood out in a string of uninspiring opposition responses.

The son of Telangana chief K. Chandrashekar Rao – ‘KTR’ as he is popularly known – unequivocally demonstrated his nationalist credentials by asking the prime minister a pointed question: why should India kneel before the international community for the sins of BJPs spokespersons?

Other than KTR, no opposition leader attempted to build a political narrative that could have challenged the BJP’s exclusionary nationalism. Rather than just beaming at what was indeed a rare ‘I told you so’ moment, this was also an opportunity for the opposition to speak with a unified voice and present a compelling cultural and political alternative to the BJP.

If the only opposition unit is to inspire India’s people for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it can only be united at times like these, not when elections are imminent.

By now, most opposition forces have realized that only by promoting an alternative vision of nationalism – a vision that its founders had embraced after independence but never really lived up to as a free India aging – can BJP’s brand be diminished. . But more often than not, they are ashamed of the BJP’s political vigilance.

History shows how Mahatma Gandhi turned moments of crises for the British government into opportunities to transcend social contradictions, such as religion, caste and regional background, that could have derailed the freedom struggle. On the basis of pure political insight, he successfully established a pan-Indian, non-violent and self-respecting nationalist movement. Opposition leaders, today, always fail to invoke him in their speeches, but no one has shown even the slightest sign of following his political model to tackle the Modi-led BJP which, on the other hand, has its exclusionary credentials as its greatest strength. created.

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