By Jawed Naqvi
India’s opposition parties must quickly deal with two problems ahead of the next election. One stems from an irrational fear of Prime Minister Modi, of what tricks he might have up his sleeve and so forth to outsmart the opposition in 2019. This problem is rooted in low self-belief and a battered self-esteem, which by habit doubts the hugely positive ground reality.
The other problem the opposition must overcome is the addiction of some, not all, to the gambling casino that a group of croupiers has turned Indian elections into. The croupiers use everything they have — tantric amulets, charms, horoscopes and the inviolable right to throw the dice — to turn their political quarries into addicts and junkies. The croupiers took a call one day that Narasimha Rao would save the country. They were applauded by punters like Harshad Mehta and cheered by the gang that destroyed a dilapidated mosque to change the discourse from issues important to the people.
The croupiers took the view another day that Sonia Gandhi was a foreigner hence not entitled to lead India. Then they decided that Modi was just right for the country. The casino runners have already reaped more than they invested in the 2014 campaign. And yet, the croupiers run the establishment, which currently is a right-wing establishment. Sadly for them though, the soul of India resides on the left. This is not lazy ideological bumpf but the plain truth, beyond the grasp of TV channels and social media.
What constitutes India’s left and right? If anyone’s agenda is to stop the suicides of farmers they cannot be right wing. If the agenda is to stop the loot of the banks, which were nationalised to prevent them from looting the people, farmers mostly, it cannot be right wing. The constitution in its spirit is a leftist document. It harnessed the spirit of socialism and secularism even before the two words were added in the preamble. Defend it and you are through.
There’s nothing the Modi government can do to win in 2019 if the opposition doesn’t want him to.
So what’s the antidote to the right-wing establishment the croupiers favour?
A recent answer, a compelling one, may lie in New York. The primary defeat last week of top-ranking House Democrat Joe Crowley at the hands of a 28-year-old political rookie named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can be and has been replicated in India. It started in recent memory with Arvind Kejriwal and flourished with Jignesh Mewani and Hardik Patel. It can only consolidate into a great force if Rahul Gandhi and H.D. Kumarswamy forget about seat arrangements and focus on saving the country from an obscurantist establishment. Ocasio-Cortez defied the croupiers, and Indian opposition parties can easily replicate her feat.
We are told that Modi has imposed his rule in blood-drenched Kashmir to influence the course of the coming elections. That’s the fear the best of my liberal and leftist friends have expressed. Will there be a televised stand-off on the borders? Anyone can see the steady evidence to the contrary — from Churchill to Manmohan Singh — that wars don’t win elections while peace often fetches electoral dividends. With all the images of body bags flashed on TV during the Kargil collision, Atal Behari Vajpayee barely scraped through in the 1999 polls, leaving his claims of military victory somewhat undermined.
Vajpayee’s BJP secured 23.8 per cent of the vote, pointedly below its 25.5pc in 1998. Worse, it suffered its biggest setback in electorally crucial Uttar Pradesh. The BJP won only 29 of the state’s 85 parliamentary seats, down from the 57 seats it won in the pre-Kargil contest of 1998.
In the United States, Bush Jr gained an embarrassingly narrow lead over John Kerry despite the claims of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides, Vajpayee never explained what president Clinton meant when he claimed in an address to the Indian parliament that it was the US that saved the day for India by pummelling Pakistan with a diplomatic démarche served on an utterly perplexed Nawaz Sharif.
Row back in time. While Vajpayee’s vote percentage had dropped despite televised jingoism, in Pakistan, the Kargil goof-up required a military coup to mask the embarrassing endgame. And those who have won popular support since were parties who promised peace with India. It was the same with the Mumbai terror strike. In 2009, shortly after the carnage, amid calls for revenge, Manmohan Singh won his second consecutive term without lifting a finger. It was the Indian people’s less-discussed endorsement of his understated, phlegmatic response to Pakistan. This the croupiers and their in-house media will not discuss.
Instead, the blue-turbaned prime minister headed off to Sharm al-Sheikh to agree on a comprehensive path to peace with his difficult and troubled western neighbour. When Singh lost in 2014 after 10 years in office, it was on account of a weakened control on his own coalition partners.
Therefore, editorial writers and worried experts who warn of a Modi plot in the recent events in Kashmir need to calm down. There’s nothing the Modi government can do to win in 2019 if the opposition doesn’t want him to. The ground reality in India has changed from the day he defeated a divided opposition.
The coming together of arch rivals Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh has shown that the opposition holds all the aces. Even in Srinagar, if the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party can bury the hatchet and invite the Hurriyat to work out a durable end to the self-wounding bloodbath, there is nothing that Modi or his hawkish advisers can do to take the initiative from them. The blood of innocent lives will not go waste if Kashmir can find a solution that undermines the croupiers and elevates the chances for a battered and abused region to join the global quest for peace and justice.