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INDIA Needs a Toolkit for Democratic Resistance in 2024

Only by acting in a joint and collective manner will the opposition parties be able to effectively demand that the Election Commission performs its job in a neutral and professional way. Far too much is at stake for anything else.
‘INDIA’, or the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Even before the Supreme Court’s ruling on electoral bonds, it was obvious to discerning observers that the prime minister and his merry band of faux-Chanakyas were a nervous lot – notwithstanding their “370 seats” bravado. The ruling carries with it an expectation that the institutional watch-dogs of fairness in our collective constitutional arrangements have not totally abandoned their responsibilities. The psychological context of the 2024 Lok Sabha battle is not all that disheartening.

Arguably, in its overweening confidence and arrogance the ruling party has already revealed its dark strategy: it has started constructing a structural misperception. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has used the Lok Sabha forum to begin this sleight of hand. A narrative is designed to hijack the electoral process to produce a winning figure close to the figure of 350 seats.

Though the Supreme Court’s ruling on electoral bonds does provide a shot in the arm to the Opposition parties, the need for the regrouping of democratic forces was never more urgent and obvious. The objective conditions for a democratic “resistance” are all too evident. All that is needed is for the non-BJP leaders across the country to understand the stakes involved and to revive in earnest the “opposition unity” project. 

The answer to the perennial question – “What is to be done?” –  that Lenin once posed is simple: devise a tool-kit. 

This is what a possible draft should look like.

Vision and Values

While recommitting ourselves to a strong, stable and powerful India, we place the highest premium on the preservation and strengthening  of provisions and principles of a democratic, plural, federal and socially harmonious political system, as enshrined in the Constitution of India. 

Mission Statement

To mobilise the masses in a mutually reinforcing and beneficial, coordinated approach so as to ensure that the next Lok Sabha verdict reflects the citizens’ sentiments and aspirations. 

Strategic Objective

To dislodge the BJP/ Sangh Parivar from its authoritarian perch and restore to governance a democratic and collaborative temper. 

Parameters and co-ordinates

  1. Not withstanding the self-serving claims of the Hindutva brigade, the BJP does not command a majority of Hindu votes;
  2. The BJP is not favoured by all minorities and other disadvantaged sections of the society;
  3. Outside the Hindi belt and the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, the BJP is distinctly vulnerable and its acceptance is extremely thin.
  4. Prime Minister Modi’s  popularity and acceptance is over-hyped, notwithstanding the “absence” of an all-India opposition figure.

Alliance Calculus

To ensure that the anti-BJP vote does get divided, as well as to see to it that the BJP does not garner all the anti-incumbency votes in states where non-BJP parties are in power; after all, the BJP is not the only party that has the experience of winning or losing elections. Political acumen and imagination are not the monopoly of the Modi-Shah jodi.

Therefore, it must follow, that an electoral alliance among all the INDIA bloc constituents is not an end itself; rather, the primary purpose of the alliance is to find the creativity and imagination at the local/constituency level to see to it that the BJP loses the maximum number of seats. In other words, as per the Deng Xiaoping axiom, it does not matter which party wins as long as the BJP does not get the seat.  There cannot be any doubt as to who is the principal “enemy” and his defeat has to be the one and only consideration.  A brutal clarity is needed.

What is to be done

To begin with, a joint statement of purpose, with a few specific promises, from all INDIA bloc parties and leaders, should kick-start the process. The idea should be to make it clear how the democratic forces differ from the Modi-led coalition of vested interests. 

For instance, here are a few suggestions:

  • Promise to respect the neutrality and professional ethos of the armed forces;
  • Undertake to restore constitutional institutions to their vital selves;
  • Declare that the prime minister will hold a press conference every six months; and that the prime minister will attend parliament regularly, and answer questions too.
  • State clearly that the media will not be subjected to arm-twisting;
  • The misuse of federal agencies for political purposes would be stopped.
  • Federal principles and practices will be followed in the spirit of cooperation and accommodation. 

The tool-kit and its contents

Bitterness and bad blood in the sharing of seats should be put behind; instead, national leaders should direct their district level party leaders/activists to organise sammelans, where there could be an exchange of ideas, experiences, resources and insights on how not to allow the BJP (with or without acts of omission or commission by the EC ) to manipulate the vote.

There would be need to hold join training and orientation camps, where the importance of the authenticity of the voters’ list is diligently examined; and, most importantly, it must be ensured that all genuine voters actually get to exercise their franchise. There have been disquieting reports of how in BJP-ruled states Muslim voters are impeded on voting day.

Above all, the alliance leaders would need to appreciate the indispensability of creating an image of a purposefully united democratic phalanx. While it is important that they hold joint rallies and press conferences, they must direct and inspire their district/constituency level cadres and activists to work together. An understanding among the top leaders does not necessarily and automatically produce synergy at the district level. This habit of pooling resources, energies and experiences at the local level needs to be assiduously attended to. 

Only by acting in a joint and collective manner will the opposition parties be able to effectively demand that the Election Commission performs its job in a neutral and professional manner, and that the higher judiciary does not abandon its role as the highest forum of appeal for a free and fair election. Far too much is at stake for anything else.

Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune.

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