Opposition For Oppositions Sake?

In the Westminster model of Parliamentary democracy, there is a concept of a Shadow Cabinet. Ministers in government are sought to be kept on their toes by opposition spokespersons who have specific portfolios. Generally speaking the spokesperson goes on to become minister of that very department if the party is voted into office. Looking at the present UP government and indeed the UP opposition, one finds a lot of shadows, a large Cabinet and ofcourse no Shadow Cabinet! No one can safely predict what the government policy is on anything, not even the Congress party that supports the government, and was in a sense instrumental in making it possible. There is no Common Minimum Programme. Indeed there has been no obvious attempt to define policy positions on anything “ industry, education, health, agriculture or Ayodhya. What do the supporting partners support? And what does one oppose in the opposition?

While there is very little to bring the coalition partners closer together, there is a great deal that constantly pulls them apart. Congress and Samajwadi candidates are pitted against each other in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi, not to mention in the UP MLC elections as well. We can hardly be expected to be praising each other in the campaign. Besides, the Samajwadi Party seems to have picked seats dominated by Muslim votes. I don't know what their leader thinks but I do know that the candidates are merrily repeating their old song about Ayodhya. Every thing is fair in love and war. What does the Samajwadi Party think we are engaged in? To borrow a recent parse, perhaps it is proxy war!

Although absence of a clear policy or indeed emerging ideological differences between cooperating parties might be of prime concern to the Congress Party policy makers, the average Congress leader and worker has a more serious worry. Forget courtesies and cooperation, they have to face obvious hostility and negative attitude. Little things matter a lot in the constituencies, and little men can become tin pot dictators very easily with a little nod from the Capital. The power of the SP and DM is understandable. But BDOs, CDOs, SDM, SOs, COs, and a whole range of alphabets that make up modern government in UP seem to wield more power than Cabinet Ministers in New Delhi. This is not a good sign “ not for a democracy. Add to that each official's personal links with the coterie in Lucknow, caste bonds with political bosses, and the arrogance of having secured their post for a payment “ it's a recipe for disaster.

I pity a state where the rulers cannot do anything constructive and the opposition will not do anything imaginative. I pity the BJP because it seems that there was a time when they had the will to perform, but their obsession with Ayodhya and self conscious surrender to the bigots of hate has left them utterly confused. Now they don't even know what to do with their past object of hate the leader of the Samajwadi Party. Our own party colleagues seem to have lost the feel of the inner strength of the Congress. We must be clear “ the Congress of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru was the largest and finest people's movement in the history of the country. And equally the Congress Party of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi gave ambitious target for political and economic institutions of a new age.

It is obviously difficult to be a party of opposition, having been a ruling party for greater part of half a century. Because we understand administrative compulsions and the insiders point of view, it is difficult to go the extra mile in opposing the incumbent government. But on the flip side, many people also believe that it is not the business of the opposition to provide a complete alternative plan of governance. Why should we make the government's job easy by committing ourselves to unpleasant decisions? Why should we labour to discover answers to complex problems? Well, because we are truly the party that is different. We owe it to our democracy to support decisions that further its cause, oppose those that undermine it, and propose such that can enhance and consolidate it. Politics without statesmanship is the worst form of intellectual poverty!

It is true that public mobilization is easy if there is an object of public disquiet or resentment. So water and electricity, farmers dues, corruption, high cost of medial care and education, make good causes. But in each case it can hardly be right to merely add our voice to the general noise of protest and yet not suggest an alternative. Presumably one day as the elected government we will have to face these problems and find the answers. Why not actually seek a mandate on our unique answer? It is really silly to think that others will copy our plan even before we have a chance to implement it. Ofcourse they may try, but if they were so good why would the country have to face such a mess? And let us not forget that in politics and governance, as in other things, there will always remain a difference between an original, an imitation and a fake. Today this country has to choose between the colours of the BJP and the Congress. Both represent distinct ways of life based on certain fundamental beliefs. We should not be distracted by some paler colours in between belonging to politicians for whom politics is only about manipulating elections in order to control the levers of power. The Congress should have faith that its tricolour goes beyond the self-serving ambition of some politicians and the destructive obsession of others. That it has a vision that will be lost if dazzled by the first or puts on blinkers against the other.

Salman Khurshid