Democracy is a political system that becomes dysfunctional without a credible opposition in place. The opposition works as a check-and-balance system for the government, which ensures the government of the day does not indulge in committing excesses by abusing its position of power.
Unfortunately, the opposition today is in a state of complete disarray because of which the government has behaved in a high-handed fashion when it comes to the passing of bills in parliament, and a lot of human rights violations have been committed.
Still, the perpetrators of the crime went scot-free as they enjoyed political patronage, and the opposition, instead of holding the government accountable and making it answerable for these violations, could do nothing except stand by as mute spectators.This effete behavior of the opposition has reduced the quality of democracy in India, and the international community has started referring to India as an elected autocracy. This sorry state of affairs needs deeper introspection and investigation.
We have had very popular leaders since independence, but unfortunately, none were challenged by a viable opposition. This has been a major lacuna of Indian democracy. When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India, there was no one of his stature in the opposition benches to challenge his decisions. This created a sense of invincibility and infallibility in him because of which he took many wrong decisions which cost us dearly as a country, but since there was no alternative to him, he escaped accountability.
Taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations was a foreign policy blunder as it internationalized the matter, which could have been resolved through dialogue between the two countries. The military debacle of 1962 is another example of his impatience with any opinion he did not endorse. Both these happened primarily because there was no opposition to defeat him in an election.
This situation continued with Indira Gandhi also as she too did not have to face strong opposition, and she went to the extent of imposing an Emergency in the country. Even though she was routed in the elections held after the Emergency withdrawal, the opposition could not put up a united face and disintegrated, as has become cliched to say, under the weight of its own contradictions, which brought Indira Gandhi back to power in 1980. Rajiv Gandhi, who followed her as Prime Minister, had an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha, and the opposition, as usual, was in tatters. His opponent came from within the party in the form of V P Singh.
After the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) emerged on the country’s political horizon as an alternative to INC. Still, its record in the opposition is equally abysmal and nothing much to write about.
The only party with a pan-India presence is the INC (Indian National Congress), but because of slack leadership at the helm and dilution in its ideology, it has lost its appeal among the electorate and finds it difficult to reach double digits as far seats in the parliament are concerned.
Various regional parties in the states have occupied the space vacated by the Congress, and so the overall opposition is very fractured both in terms of ideology and their perspective for the country. This has allowed the BJP under Mr. Modi a free rein to administer the country and the country has been paying a heavy price for this.
The people had to undergo financial hardship because of an ill-thought demonetization implemented by the Modi government and an equally ill-structured GST which hit the small and medium enterprises adversely. There has been a brazen display of crony capitalism by businessmen who are considered close to the government, resulting in huge economic inequality.
During the Corona pandemic, there was monumental mismanagement ranging from a shortage of oxygen cylinders to a lack of enough ICU beds in hospitals. There was colossal recklessness in ordering vaccines because so many lives were lost as the Corona infection got exacerbated due to people not being vaccinated. All this led to significant disenchantment with the government. Because the opposition is perceived as incapable and indolent, people feel there is no alternative to the present dispensation.
Another issue that further highlighted the need for a strong and credible opposition is the agitation by the farmers against the farm laws promulgated by the central government by enacting ordinances, bypassing any scrutiny by parliament, and infringing upon the rights of the state governments as agriculture is a state subject. There is huge unemployment in the country, which calls for inclusive and sustainable economic growth.Rahul Gandhi, the face of the Congress party, is seen to be incoherent in his articulation of issues and lacking attention and understanding of issues that concern the country. Of late, many new faces have emerged to fill this void, prominent among them being Mamata Banerjee who defeated the BJP handsomely in the recently-held assembly elections in West Bengal, but she is handicapped by the fact that she is a regional leader and her party; TMC, is limited to West Bengal only and hence is unable to challenge the hegemony of BJP in the rest of the country.
The political parties in the south of India also have limited influence restricted mainly within the boundaries of their respective state, which seems to have cleared the runway for another swift landing of the Modi government in the next elections scheduled to be held in 2024.
It does not matter who wins the elections; what matters is will 2024 throw up a viable alternative to the present political dispensation as a strong opposition is imperative for democracy to remain healthy and functional.We keep our fingers crossed and hope that the opposition will be able to iron out their differences in terms of seat sharing and ideological positions and agree to a common minimum program addressing all the issues.