Before discussing the complex subject of opposition unity, it would be appropriate to look at some obvious facts. Firstly, there exists no opposition to the neo-liberal policies that has prevailed for the past three decades in the country – none at the level of mainstream political parties, none at the level of intellectuals and ‘thinking’ class. Therefore, the process of selling the country’s resources, labor and public sector enterprises/establishments to corporate houses and multinationals will continue in the same way unabated. There appears no possibility of a change in the condition of farmers, unorganized/organized sector workers, artisans, small entrepreneurs and the unemployed. The gap of economic disparity will keep rising at the same or higher speed. Consequently, social tensions, alienation, suicides, crimes, superstitions, falsehood, obscurantism and deceit will continue to be rooted in society. Secondly, despite the current government’s defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there will be no eradication of communal fanaticism. A point that needs to be noted in great seriousness is that the character of the current communal fanaticism is deeply and irrevocably related to the neo-liberal system. Opposition parties and secular intellectuals may cry themselves hoarse about the need to save secularism but they always brush this truth under the carpet. They are not even ready to understand that secularism and socialism are inter-related and secularism cannot be saved by abandoning socialism which is a fundamental value embedded in the Constitution. Rather it can be predicted that communal fanaticism will increase and its havoc will be unleashed faster over the society if this fact is ignored. Thirdly, the devaluation of the Constitution and the constitutional institutions will not cease because the fundamental spirit of the Constitution and the institutions based on it was not meant to ‘develop’ a neo-liberal India. The popular adage ‘Shining India’ and sometimes ‘New India’ given by the neo-liberal rulers under the umbrella of corporate colonialism or neo-imperialism is against this fundamental spirit of the Constitution. Fourthly, politics that has been fed upon a blend of negative tendencies such as individualism, family-rule, communalism, casteism, regionalism, money power and muscle power will continue to flourish in the country if the dinosaur of neo-liberalism is allowed to swallow the world. Fifth, politics will continue to retain its character as a game of money power in the circumstances because political parties/politicians will get to collect huge amounts in the name of legal and illegal funding, in the process of the sale of the country’s resources, and in the process of the disinvestment of public enterprises.
The hopeful and the forward-looking should not perceive this as a statement of pessimism; it is reality, a stark and plain reality. In the light of this reality, the unity of opposition parties for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections should mean ‘electoral’ unity but with a respect for democratic and constitutional values. This unity should be forged before the elections and should be done with a realistic approach, i.e. aiming at the electoral victory but without forgetting the essence of democratic values. The Modi-Shah partnership has transformed the democratic process into a hunger to win elections. Democratic proprieties do not matter to them. In the Modi-Shah partnership, the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 will be such an un-ethical fierce battle that democracy will have to run around seeking some refuge! The opposition should not fall a victim to the hunting-instinct of Modi-Shah in the election race.
It is true that elections are the most important aspect of democracy. But at the same time it is also true that elections are held only if there is democracy. If democracy continues, there will always be some possibility for a politics that would fight against the menace of neo-liberal-communal nexus. Dr. Lohia said that the task of politics is to fight evil. But in the present times India’s leaders and intellectuals do not seem to believe in that. Under the dictates of neo-liberal/neo-imperial wave, the current politics in India has become an evil process in itself, one that is unconcerned about the repercussions. Politics should not be allowed to turn into a permanent carrier of evil. For this it is necessary that there should be possibilities for governments to change in the elections. Therefore, the electoral unity of the opposition parties, which could change the present government and the power equation, will play an important role in the direction of making democracy more meaningful.
In the NDA along with the BJP, over 35 other parties, big and small, are included. Less than a year remains now for the Lok Sabha elections. Until the elections come, the possibility of breakdown in this coalition seems unlikely. The dissatisfaction shown by some of the parties like Lokjan Shakti Party, Apna Dal, Rashtriy Lok Samata Party is not about the government’s policies or the failures. It is a ploy to bargain for the larger number of seats in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Modi-Shah team understands this intention very well.
In the recent past a strategy of ad-hoc alliances of the opposition parties was able to defeat the BJP in some parliamentary and assembly seats. But this ad-hoc coalition strategy will not be effective in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The national level elections should be fought with a national level strategy. For this, a coalition at the national level based on national understanding, is a necessity. The contentious issue in this regard is whether the alliance of the remaining parties other than the NDA will be formed with or without the Congress? At both levels, that of ideas and efforts, plans are going on through the initiatives taken by leaders and the intellectuals. It is worth mentioning here that the Congress and the BJP both are in favor of two-party parliamentary democracy. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh and senior BJP leader LK Advani, during the UPA regime, have advocated for a two-party system in the country suggesting that the rest of the parties should merge with the BJP or the Congress. Further, the BJP has been in favour of the presidential system in India on the pattern of the US. In fact, that would make the most suitable condition for corporate politics to flourish if India has a two-party contest like America.
In such a situation, if the coalition is formed without the Congress, then the Constitutional system of multi-party parliamentary democracy will get validity and strength. The Constitution recommends the federal structure of the Indian state. But since Independence, centralistic tendencies have been getting encouragement and have reached the peak under the present government. The federal structure of the state is inseparable from the concept of decentralization of power, resources and governance. If a pre-election coalition is formed without the BJP and the Congress there will be some defense for the federal structure and the idea of decentralization. Whenever prime minister Narendra Modi speaks about a ‘Congress-free’ India, he considers the Congress as the main opposition party. It means that he intends to eliminate the non-Congress, non-BJP concept of the third force in Indian politics. Such a situation suits the Congress as well. The voter would elect the Congress with a majority of its own in 2024, if not in 2019. Then, there would not be any hindrance at all for Rahul Gandhi becoming the prime minister.
The Congress has not come out on the roads to support the demands of farmers, laborers and unemployed agitating all over the country against the government policies during the last four years. The largest minority of the country has been passing through a deep crisis under the present regime, but the Congress has not held protest in its support even once. The main reason for such behaviour of the Congress is its power-enjoying character. But there is also a strategy involved. And it is a serious one. The Congress probably wants that the Muslims, scared by the RSS/BJP and its affiliates, will blindly vote only for the Congress in future. After the politicization of dalits and backward communities, the Congress might see Muslims as a lump sum vote bank. It is pertinent to note here that after abandoning the Congress, the majority of the Muslim votes go to the parties called as the third force of Indian politics.
Modi’s falsehoods cannot always fool people. Nor can the ‘Chanakya-Neeti‘ of Amit Shah win the elections and form the governments at any cost for ever in the future. Modi has made the government a tool in the hands of the corporate houses to make indiscriminate profits. It has become a government which benefits the richest person first. Farmers-workers-artisans-entrepreneurs-unemployed, devastated by this oppressive government, will vote tomorrow, if not today, against the BJP. The money of the corporate houses and the bought-media would not be able to save its power. The Congress seems to be waiting for this very time. If the concept of the third force in the politics is eliminated at the national level, then the Congress will get that anti-incumbency vote. And after the rule of the Congress for five or even ten years, there will be the BJP turn. If a government of the third force is formed at the center with the Congress, it will not allow that government to complete its term. In the case of mid-term elections, again there will be a contest between the BJP and the Congress.
The formation of a front separate from the Congress does not mean that the Congress is opposed as a political party. The Congress is a capable party in its own. It has the party organization at the national level. In the last Lok Sabha elections, even after a bitter defeat, it had the second place in the Parliament. It is second in getting corporate funding after the BJP. In the states where Congress has a strong hold, it would contest elections with full force. In case the opposition without Congress does not get a full majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress can support the third force government from outside. However, in such a situation, some constituent parties of the NDA can also join that government.
The coalition of the third force can be named as the National Front for Social Justice. All the parties, including the Communist parties, can join this front. This will include those who do not want to contest the next Lok Sabha elections in conjunction with the BJP and the Congress. The process of formation of the National Front should be started without delay. In order to move forward in this direction, it will be appropriate to form a co-ordination committee with a convener. Sharad Yadav could be a name for the post of convener of co-ordination committee. There should be four or five spokespersons of the proposed front who would constantly explain the nature, policies and progress of the National Front directly or through media. A committee should be formed to prepare the election campaign strategy and election material.
The question of the role of small ideological parties in the National Front is also important. The mode of their co-operation should be drawn up. It would be better to keep off the parties and individuals who advocate politics/governance without ideology (including the ideology of the Constitution) from the National Front. They are a direct product of corporate capitalism, hence direct supporter of the neo-liberal ideology. Civil society organizations and individuals, who work with a political understanding should be linked to the National Front. These could be organizations and individuals associated with industries, mines, agriculture, education, services, commerce, trade, literature, arts, studies, sports and so on. Non-Resident Indians, who are politically conscious and concerned about the deteriorating conditions of the country, could also be linked to the National Front. These efforts should be made with utmost seriousness so that an atmosphere of broad consensus and faith could be created in favour of the National Front all over the country. With such an approach the prospects of playing an important role in the future politics of India by the National Front would be enhanced.
The possibility of the victory of the National Front would increase if the common minimum program would be prepared with the promise that the new government will review the neo-liberal economic policies in favor of farmers, workers, small-scale traders/entrepreneurs, students and unemployed. The BJP and the Congress cannot make this promise. Apart from this, the leadership of the National Front, due to its social base, would not be able to implement the policies propagated by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the World Economic Forum etc. as promptly as the Congress and the BJP do. As a result there will be a reduction in the loot of corporate houses and multinationals at least to some extent. Furthermore, with the victory of National Front, there could be once again a possibility of making the economic policies according the Directive Principles of the Constitution.
The decision of choosing the main leader of the National Front, who would also be the prime ministerial candidate, is a very complex task. But in order to put a strong and serious fight in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there is no choice before the opposition leaders but to make this decision honestly and wisely. I wrote an article titled ‘The Relevance of Third Front’ before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections which was published in several magazines and portals in Hindi and English. In the article, I argued in support of a pre-election coalition unity of political parties other than the Congress and the BJP. I also suggested the name of senior CPI leader AB Bardhan as the leader of the proposed third front. However, the main opposition leaders, who were urging for a post-election coalition, did not concede to my proposal.
The names of Mamta Banerjee and Mayawati are in discussion for the leadership of opposition’s alliance to be formed for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Mamta Banerjee comes from an ordinary background. She had found the basis of a ruling and resource-rich political party while was in the Congress. But after leaving the Congress, she worked hard in the process of forming and strengthening the Trinmool Congress (TMC). She has achieved her political status through a long struggle. As a result, she is the Chief Minister of West Bengal for the second consecutive term. Her government in the state is not dependent on any other party. The recent Panchayat election results in West Bengal show that she has a strong hold on the voters. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati comes from the dalit community. In today’s politics, she is the only self-made leader. The BSP has status of a national party. The party has its units and supporters in most of the states. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, her name was proposed for the prime ministerial candidate of the third front. Mayawati is opposed to capitalism at least verbally. Given her social base and verbal opposition to capitalism, her government’s political economy can be somewhat different from the prevailing neo-liberal economy. She is not currently an MLA or MP. Therefore, it is possible for her to give full time to the preparations of the National Front and for the elections.
The above mentioned two names are considered here because, apart from them, currently no other leader is in the serious discussion. Senior DMK leader M Karunanidhi is 95 years old. The age of Mulayam Singh is 78 years, but his health is not so good that he can be the prime ministerial candidate of the National Front. Of course, he can play a significant role as an advisor. If he takes the campaign outside Uttar Pradesh, then it will be a big achievement for the National Front. Nitish Kumar’s name used to go very well earlier, but he has gone along with the BJP after breaking the grand alliance in Bihar. Even if he returns, he will not be able to restore his goodwill. Chandrababu Naidu recently came out of the NDA. There is no surety that he will not return to the NDA fold again. Naveen Patnaik is the Chief Minister of Orissa for the fourth consecutive term. In 2009, he left the BJP-led NDA and formed an alliance with the Left parties. He is not a vocal leader and does not go much out of Orissa. He is not involved in the political hustle-bustle related to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He was not even present in the swearing-in program of the Janata Dal (S) government formed with the support of the Congress in Karnataka recently. So far, he is non-committal. Efforts should be made to bring him into the fold of the National Front.
Last but not least, the person that is agreed upon as the leader of the National Front will have to raise the level of her/his thinking. There is no substitute to sublimation in the times of deep crisis.
SP Shukla, former Secretary of Commerce and Finance, is a person who has been critical to the New Economic Policies from the very beginning. He seriously contemplated upon the anti-people consequences of the same and also put a sound ideological resistance to them in the initial round. Recently I had a discussion with him in Pune on the question of opposition unity in view of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. I shared my views and perception with him. He agreed to the idea and said if the next elections are fought under the leadership of Mamta or Mayawati, it will be a step forward – an entry of the gender aspect in the stream of the subaltern politics which started in 1989 with the implementation of the Mandal Commission report.
The intellectuals and activists of the country, who are worried about the basic values of the Constitution – socialism, secularism and democracy – and the erosion of constitutional institutions, should play a positive role in the formation and acceptance of the National Front. In India, leaders have often inspired intellectuals and artists. Now it is a turn of the intellectuals, artists and conscious representatives of the civil society to extend their guidance and co-operation to the leaders in the times of crisis.
(The author teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is president of Socialist Party (India))