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Opposition remains as toothless as before
Lalu, Mamata, Akhilesh no match for Modi-Shah
By Amulya Ganguli
None of the attempts by the BJP's opponents to pose a serious challenge to the ruling party at the Centre, including Lalu Prasad Yadav's "BhaJaPa bhagao, desh bachao" (oust BJP, save the country) rally in Patna, is likely to give the BJP sleepless nights.

It isn't only that the Opposition parties lack a leader with a pan-India appeal; one of their main disadvantages is that they are hobbled by the taint of corruption.

The Congress, for instance, is yet to get over the calumny of the scams which cut the ground from under its feet in 2014. And, now, the party finds itself in the company of Lalu Prasad, whose infamy over the fodder scam which led to his judicial conviction, has been compounded by the CBI's probe into the dubious transactions of his son, Tejashwi.

It was the charges against Tejashwi which made Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar part company with Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and bring down the anti-BJP mahagathbandhan of 2015.

Since then, the Opposition has been trying to replicate the Grand Alliance of two years ago, seeing it as the only way to corner the BJP. But so far it has made no headway.

Nor is there any sign that it will do so in the near future if only because as long as the RJD remains a key component of the proposed tie-up, parties and groups like the Left, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Aam Aadmi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will be wary of too close an association.

None of these parties and groups attended the Patna rally. Nor did Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Lalu Prasad did succeed in getting Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav on board.

But it has to be remembered that for all of Mamata Banerjee's ambitions to play a national role - she had earlier tried to team up with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Anna Hazare - the West Bengal chief minister's influence, as also that of Akhilesh Yadav, are limited to their respective states. Even in Tripura, some of Mamata Banerjee's party members have deserted her for the BJP.

Besides, she is not quite the pro-development role model which is Narendra Modi's forte. That is yet another of the opposition's disadvantages, for its economic direction is hazy.

While there are indications that even the Left is coming around to the view of the private sector playing a greater role in the economy - the change of focus from trade unions to corporate czars started in Buddhadev Bhattacharjee's time in West Bengal and is being followed to some extent in Kerala - many of the other parties, including the Congress, are still wedded to the concept of a controlled economy.

However, it is a line which is unlikely to enthuse the youth who are looking for employment and are not interested in a nanny state handing out doles. Modi's success in 2014 was based on the promise of employment-oriented growth. There is still the belief among sizeable sections of the population, as has been noted by Amartya Sen, that the reforms followed by him are the answer to the economic woes.

But Modi's current failures on this score, including the fall in the growth rate to 5.7 per cent, have made the BJP turn to fine-tuning its caste-based politics via the so-called sub-categorisation of the backward castes and expansion of the ambit of the "creamy layer", although the BJP is apparently still banking on Modi's energy and rhetoric and the general perception that he is the only one who can turn things around.

There is no possibility at the moment that the Opposition can engender such hopes. All it can do is to wait for anti-incumbency to undermine the BJP's position in the states where it has been in power for a longish period of time such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

But grievances against the ruling party can chip away at its majority, but may not be substantial enough to bring it down. For that to happen, the opposition needs a galvanizing figure. But there is no one in its ranks who can measure up to such expectations.

Yet, it is obvious that Modi is far more vulnerable today than in 2014. Apart from the slowing down of the economy, the modern-day phenomenon of jobless growth caused by the increasing recourse to automation in factories means that employment prospects will remain stagnant.

In addition, factors like farmers' distress have put the BJP on the back foot. Its administrative failures are also apparent from the recent lawlessness in Haryana and the deaths of children in U.P. Besides, the Muslims have never been as alienated as at present with the gau rakshaks running amok.

However, the opportunistic coming together of former adversaries like Mamata Banerjee and the Left, or Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, can only yield limited dividends. As the saying goes: The hour is here, but where is the man?

—(IPA Service)

News Updated at : Thursday, September 7, 2017
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