The most sensitive weather cock in Indian politics today, Nitish Kumar, has signaled that the wind has again changed direction. The anti-Hindutva forces are on the ascendant.

But in this hour of optimism for the Opposition forces, it is necessary to sound a strong note of caution. The fiasco and collapse of Janata rule led to the return to power of Indira Gandhi in 1980 and if the parties that are now trying to forge an alliance against the BJP do not do better, then Modi will have a good chance of returning to power promising stability and some reasonable degree of administrative coherence.

First, the parallels with the Emergency during a period characterise as an undeclared emergency. Modi has ruled virtually singlehandedly (Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley are surrogates in their own ways) as had done Indira Gandhi. Random arrests and incarceration are not the order of the day as they were during the Emergency but a sense of fear and intimidation rules. This is most visible in the case of the media which has mostly fallen in line with alacrity, reminiscent of LK Advani’s description of how it behaved during the Emergency: You (journalists) were asked to bend but you began to crawl.

Emergency parellel

The current situation on the economic front is also reminiscent of the Emergency when the economy was rather well managed.

Then, as is the case now, inflation was controlled. The disruption caused by demonetisation and introduction of GST threatened to derail growth but now the economy seems back on the rails.

As we look at the political scenario ahead in the run-up to the mid-2019 elections, the overriding mood in the Opposition is to forge a united front.

This was first manifest in the Gujarat Assembly elections during which there was a coming together of Patels, OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis. This alliance was subsumed under an overarching, anti-rulers stance of disaffected farmers, producing a great urban-rural divide in the results. Since then the most dramatic manifestation of anti-BJP line-up has been in the parliamentary byelections in UP and those in Bihar. In the former Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav managed to forge a winning alliance to score dramatic upsets in the BJP strongholds of Gorakhpur and Phulpur and in Bihar the incarceration of Lalu Prasad did not prevent the anti-BJP forces from holding onto to their own.

Charting a realistic path

The issue now is where does the country’s politics go from here. The hurriedly put together Janata Party experiment in the late seventies ended in fiasco.

The recent political adjustments show a degree of realism and circumspection. The two UP leaders of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party very carefully unveiled their arrangement (no more) just before polling and have till now preferred to talk very little. Opposition parties need to build on this by doing the following.

Foremost, there has to be a working arrangement among the leaders of the parties so that they can work together.

This will result over time in a hierarchy whereby they will know where they stand vis-à-vis each other. If this happens there will not be a repeat of the experience during the brief Janata Party rule when Charan Singh had difficulty acknowledging Morarji Desai as a leader and became Prime Minister for a few days. A beginning has been made in this regard with Telengana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao calling upon West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. This process has to go on with a bit of travelling up and down the pecking order until a realistic equation emerges between the leaders. Otherwise an unseemly bunch of egotistic, antagonistic leaders will lose popular support no sooner than gaining it.

Towards a grand alliance

The leaders also have to live down the impression that all that unites them is opposition to the BJP. For this they have to arrive at what is of utmost importance – a grand alliance of sections which make up India society and which must work together for the country to go forward. The coalition that emerged in Gujarat last year has to be broadened and made explicit. The minorities — Muslims and Christians —have to become a part of it. Today there is also a crying need for a leader like the late Govind Ballabh Pant who can bring within the Opposition fold caste Hindus.

Plus, the parties need an “ism”, an ideological position: What are they for and how is BJP rule hurting the country? The parties have to highlight an overarching irony: The Hindutva ethos, which is for nationhood, is grievously harming the future of the nation. It is tearing the country apart along sectional and religious lines. Muslims, Christians, Dalits and large sections of backwards feel alienated. The parties have to promise to make India one again.

Tagore’s vision

The spirit of One India is movingly captured in Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Bharat-Trirtha, written in 1910 when India was still under foreign rule. (Freely translated and paraphrased), it sees India as a place of pilgrimage. Here on its shores the Aryan and the non-Aryan, the Dravidian and the Chinese, the Hun, Pathan and Mughal will give and receive, become one and not go back.

All those who came crossing desert and mountain are all within me, my blood rings to their varied tunes. Come Aryan, come non-Aryan, Hindu, Musalman, come the British and the Christian. Come Brahmin, cleanse your mind, hold everybody’s hand.

The mangal ghat is not yet filled. It will be made sacred with the touch of everybody, on the shores of this great humanity.

This can power the imagination of a movement that seeks to unite and take forward the essential India.

The writer is a senior journalist