Countering the Modi wave
Opposition parties cannot rely on merely mocking Modi. They must devise a common agenda to stall BJP’s success.
Narendra Modi is a leader of indomitable energy, enthusiasm, passion, commitment, smooth communication, convincing arguments and a strong appeal to take on the opposition with his party's organisational strength and structure (both BJP and RSS) throughout the country. BJP's massive expansion has been rattling the regional political parties and, even today, Narendra Modi exudes an impression to the public, opinion makers, intellectuals, and the media that he is a winning horse. There is no doubt that public anger is increasing by the day against the establishment, yet, there is no sign of consolidation in the opposition's organisational power to take on Modi. All the symbols, values associated with nation building which have been vacated by Indian National Congress, over time, have been captured by BJP. BJP has not only captured the nationalist symbols and values from INC but also drawn sizable cadres of Congress. If anyone disagrees with Narendra Modi's programme and process of performance, they should have evolved an alternative programme to counter his actions, governance, and politics. People's perception has to be changed, for which an imaginative programme has to be evolved. To counter Narendra Modi by accusing him is not enough — it must be complemented by a programme. Only then can Narendra Modi be challenged.
It may be true that Congress has perceived that the people of the country have concluded that Narendra Modi delivers only lectures and speeches without tangible benefits to them, and thereby, they will be in a position to seek an alternative. In the process of finding an alternative, people have no other option except Congress. With this belief, Rahul Gandhi and his party's old guards are moving ahead to face the 2019 elections. Congress has no alternative programme and no alternative leaders. Further, it is organisationally weak. Even if people are tired of Narendra Modi's governance and politics, how will they support a party that is organisationally weak, without an alternative programme? This is a critical question that Congress has to ponder over. The energy and fire of Narendra Modi radiate into the Sangh Parivar organisations who are well-equipped to face the elections. Modi assumed centre-stage with programmes and an agenda – he continues with the same till date. Realistically, while visualising the national political scenario, one would easily conclude that to take on Modi, a powerful force with a common agenda and fire is the need of the hour. Rahul Gandhi is slowly emerging, but barely to the level of Narendra Modi.
The political parties which are opposing Narendra Modi have to introspect whether they have leaders, organisational ability, and alternative programmes. Politics in the country has gone far away from the pattern of thinking of the Congress leaders. If Congress is really serious about governing the country, it must abstain from speaking about Narendra Modi. It has to speak about the policies of the BJP governments at the Centre and in the states. It should realistically understand the image of Narendra Modi without underestimating him.
To unseat BJP, efforts have to be taken akin to Jaya Prakash Narayan's in 1977 and Harkishan Singh Surjeet's of CPI(M) in 2004. They were tall leaders and their interest was always the nation and not the party. Rahul Gandhi has to undertake new initiative to form a formidable alliance, for which, someone has to bring together all the political forces opposing BJP. They should not presume that people will choose Congress merely out of frustration. Once the regional parties depended on Congress for an alternative, but now, they are also losing hope in the grand old party of the country. By projecting an argument that BJP is also corrupt, Rahul Gandhi adds no strength to his vision. To change the image, Congress has to tender its apology to the people for its lapses and those involved in corruption must face the legal consequences in such a way that a discourse is created. When UPA II was at its lowest ebb, Narendra Modi provided a new vision, a new agenda which drew the attention of the people. People are experiencing the impact of the policies and schemes both positively and negatively.
At this juncture, Congress has to provide an alternative programme which is coherent and attractive. The leaders at the front must be credible and reliable. The Congress needs sagacious leaders to stitch an alliance with the other regional political parties. Who will initiate this process is the question. Now, there is a leader who has image, knowledge, credibility, and experience to redeem the political situation – it is none other than Pranab Mukherjee. If Congress is really interested in the nation and the country, it should heed Mukherjee's advice. When people are looking for an alternative, Congress has to rise to the occasion. Regional party leaders like Chandrasekar Rao and Mamta Banerjee are posing themselves as the pivot of galvanising support from the political parties which are opposing BJP, hinting at the clear vacuum in Congress' present leadership. In this context, both Indian National Congress and the regional political parties have to work together if they are serious about the country. Otherwise, 2019 is for Narendra Modi.
(The author is Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. The views expressed are strictly personal)