Opposition’s biggest weakness

The lack of an alternative economic vision

With the Congress faring poorly in elections in the north-eastern States, the idea of a ‘third front’ has once again reared its head. Mamata Banerjee, KC Chandrashekhara Rao and even diehard rivals, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, seem serious about coming together. To these, one can add the Aam Aadmi Party and perhaps the Janata Dal (Secular), if not the Telugu Desam Party. The point is not whether this is a motley bunch that lacks the glue to stick together. The real issue is what this ‘glue’ — or rather, the countervailing narrative to the BJP juggernaut — could be.

The regional parties — parties that foreground linguistic and ethnic identity, such as TMC and JD(S), and generally enjoy the support of backward castes and minorities in their States — do not have an alternative vision on economic and social development vis-à-vis what the BJP has to offer – namely, overarching majoritarianism, bijli, sadak, pani and a fuzzy prospect of upward mobility for those in the large grey zone between poverty and prosperity. A quarter of a decade after Mandal, their formula of reaching out to backwards and minorities is not really working. This is because the BJP has weaned away a section of the dalits and backwards, by shedding its upper caste party tag and sharing power with them. It has also capitalised on internal rifts (such as chamars versus others). This has hurt the BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh. Appeals to ethnic identity as an attempt to counter these rifts have their limits. A compelling critique of the development model — focusing on jobs, farmers, gross inequalities, the environment, displacement of farmers and tribals — is sorely missing. The Congress’ economic vision is similar to the BJP’s. The CPI(M) faces an existential crisis.

Above all, most opposition parties have serious organisational issues. The best campaign strategy is likely to fail in such a situation. In contrast, the BJP’s strength is its dynamism on the ground.

A Srinivas Senior Deputy Editor

Published on March 08, 2018
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