Congress: The Only Opposition Party Left Standing

All of the opposition parties are regional parties and their leaders are regional leaders and these leaders are busy defending their political territory in the states 

By Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Like it or not, Congress is the only party left standing on its feet by Covid-19 and dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been revelling that the opposition parties have been packed off into oblivion in the two general elections of 2014 and 2019, and that the prime minister is truly the monarch of all the surveys.

But Congress with all its structural infi rmities – it remains a Nehru-Gandhi family dominated party – has managed to keep its voice clear and loud so that people are compelled to take note of it.

It is so because most of the many opposition parties have fallen silent for various reasons. Congress is the only opposition party at the national level.

REGIONAL INTEREST

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) are indeed in the opposition camp fighting the BJP, but they are confined to the state.

Banerjee is not a voice heard across the country. The two main opposition parties in the most populous state in the country – Uttar Pradesh — Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav have remained muted because it appears that the two leaders would only speak when something matters in their own state, and this time round the two leaders were not heard even as the plight of migrant labour in the wake of Covid-19 lockdown was making people angry across the country.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Yadav in Bihar seems to be withering away and son Tejashwi Prasad is yet to emerge on his own though he shows promise of an able leader.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader M.K. Stalin seems content to confine himself to the politics of Tamil Nadu with no enthusiasm and interest in national affairs.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury should have been a national political voice but he is not because his party is no more a significant player in West Bengal, the one big state where the party was in power for three decades and it had a significant presence in the Parliament.

Today, the CPI-M is a political cipher in a state which was its stronghold. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has emerged an efficient chief minister in Kerala but that has not yet catapulted him onto the national stage.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy remains a state leader and he does not seem inclined to assert his voice at the national level.

Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who had carved a role for himself in national politics from 1996 to 2004, first with the United Front governments between 1996 and 1998 and that of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee at a time when no party had enough numbers in parliament.

Though he had aligned with the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate in 2014 Narendra Modi, he found himself marginalized and he had to leave NDA in the run-up to the 2019 general election.

And with his party losing power in the state in the 2019 assembly election, Naidu had become marginalized in the state as well as national politics.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao does not seem to know whether he should oppose the BJP at the national level because he is politically secure in his own state though in the run up to the 2019 general election he did flirt with the idea of forming a national front formation comprising parties opposed to the BJP as well as to the Congress.

 But he had not pursued it with any determination. He seems to be happy ruling Telangana and he would not look beyond his state for the moment.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar was always focused on Maharashtra politics though he is one of the few politicians in the country with a national perspective but he knows that in terms of his party’s strength in parliament he does not have much of a say in politics at the national level.

ON CENTER STAGE

Right from the time the prime minister had declared a national lockdown on March 24, Congress president Sonia Gandhi sat down to work. She used the video messaging to tell her party workers and leaders and the state governments where the party is in power that the people affected by the shutdown should be taken care of.

Then she wrote letters to the prime minister pointing to the problems arising out of the lockdown and what needs to be done to help the most affected people.

The prime minister of course ignored the letters. The party’s former president Rahul Gandhi came back and time again to warn the government that coronavirus poses a danger to the country and to the economy.

The prime minister and his party ignored his statements with contempt. The mean propaganda machinery of the BJP aided by a partisan media had succeeded in reducing Gandhi to a caricature of himself, and whatever he had to say was brushed aside as the rant of a man who did not count in national politics where the BJP and the prime minister discredited everyone else.

RAHUL GANDHI IS EXPECTED TO DON THE MANTLE OF PARTY LEADERSHIP AGAIN, AND THAT PARTY PRESIDENT SONIA GANDHI IS ONLY HOLDING THE PLACE FOR HIM, AND THAT HIS SISTER IS
NOT A RIVAL BUT A TRUSTED COLLEAGUE IN THE LEADERSHIP STAKES OF THE PARTY.

Gandhi moved from regular warnings over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic into the more constructive mode of addressing the issues that arose from the lockdown and its economic impact.

He held a video conference with former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan and the man who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2019, Abhijit Banerjee to find ways of addressing the economic disruption caused by the pandemic.

Though many of the anti-BJP critics in the media applauded Gandhi’s efforts and saw his public dialogue with the distinguished economists as a sign of his mellowing style in contrast to Mr Modi’s utter disregard of expert advice captured in his off-the-cuff phrase ‘Hard work, not Harvard’.

But Rahul Gandhi’s dialogue with these two internationally established economists could not be pooh-poohed by the Modi troll army. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman when asked about the suggestions made by Rajan and Banerjee in their interaction with the Congress leader did not react in the predictable BJP way of pouring scorn on the whole exercise.

All that she had to say was that all suggestions were taken on board, and that the government chose what it felt was the best and that she would not question the premises of the other suggestions.

That is, Ms Sitharaman was not willing to cross swords with Rajan and Banerjee though she and others in the BJP would have loved to joust with Gandhi and even unhorse him. There is the glimmer of hope then that through the publicized interaction with Rajan and Banerjee, Rahul Gandhi had managed to keep his toe in the door of public discourse.

SHARAD PAWAR WAS ALWAYS FOCUSED ON MAHARASHTRA POLITICS THOUGH HE IS ONE OF THE FEW POLITICIANS IN THE COUNTRY WITH A NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE BUT HE KNOWS THAT IN TERMS OF HIS PARTY’S STRENGTH IN PARLIAMENT

FOCUS ON UTTAR PRADESH

Party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, who is also part in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, has been engaged with the BJP at the ground level, where she persisted in writing to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, to give permission to transport the stranded migrant labour in Delhi in 1000 buses to be arranged and paid for by the party.

In a partisan response, the state government filed a criminal case against the personal secretary of Priyanka Gandhi and the president of the state Congress party for submitting wrong names of the drivers and wrong numbers of vehicles which were not buses.

But what remained after the clearing of the dust and din was that Priyanka Gandhi, the third member of Nehru-Gandhi triumvirate, was there standing her ground with the intent to take the stranded people home.

This is political action at the ground level, and the Priyanka Gandhi model perhaps needs to be followed in other parts of the country.

PROACTIVE RAHUL

It is also clear that Rahul Gandhi is expected to don the mantle of party leadership again, and that party president Sonia Gandhi is only holding the place for him, and that his sister is not a rival but a trusted colleague in the leadership stakes of the party.

But it may not be enough to bring Congress back into national politics in a more energetic way. In response to party president Sonia Gandhi’s call for an all opposition party video conference to discuss the post-lockdown Covid-19 situation and challenges in the country, Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary Atul Kumar Anjan told the Urdu newspaper Inquilab that Sonia Gandhi is a temporary president of the party and that Congress should have a permanent president.

Congress leaders can dismiss Anjan’s view as of no value because the issue of the party president is an internal matter but it is quite clear that the view of Rajan is reflective of the general view of other opposition parties about stability at the top in the Congress.

PRIYANKA GANDHI PERSISTED IN WRITING TO CHIEF MINISTER YOGI ADITYANATH, TO GIVE PERMISSION TO TRANSPORT THE STRANDED MIGRANT LABOUR IN DELHI IN 1000 BUSES TO BE ARRANGED AND PAID FOR BY THE PARTY

It would be a mistake to believe that Rahul Gandhi’s dialogue about the state of the country with the experts pits him as a suitable prime ministerial alternative to Mr Modi.

There is a long road to travel for both Rahul Gandhi and the Congress before it can be claimed that an alternative to Mr Modi and to the BJP is taking place.

What is however clear is that only the Congress can spearhead the opposition to the BJP. It is the dream of many in the other opposition parties that there should be a non-Congress coalition to take on the BJP.

It does not work. It did not work for V P Singh in 1989, it did not work for the United Front governments of H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral in 1996-1998. So, a weakened and decimated Congress remains the only credible opposition party in the country in 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic disruption.

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