An Opposition without conviction | analysis
The decision of the Narendra Modi government to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)’s special status, one of the three core political issues (Ram temple at Ayodhya and Uniform Civil Code being the other two) the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always championed, is a watershed event in our post-independence history. That the BJP has gone a step ahead, and stripped J&K of even its statehood, shows the political confidence with which the move has been made. The BJP does not have a majority of its own in the Rajya Sabha at the moment. The confidence is not a product of hubris. This is evident from the support the move got from non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) parties and the fissures it continues to create within their ranks.
What are the implications of this move? Apart from the hagiographic praise by the BJP’s fellow travellers, the reactions can be classified into two categories.
The first type sees it as a betrayal of India’s constitutional consensus. This view also believes that the move will ‘at best’ will trigger more unrest and alienation in the Kashmir valley; and ‘at worst’ open the floodgates for further centralisation of powers with the centre in contravention of extant constitutional provisions.
The second reaction is to not dismiss it in an outright manner, but maintain scepticism about whether the pros will justify the cons which follow this decision in J&K.
However, both these views are incomplete in their analysis. This is because they do not take into account the politics of this decision outside the state of J&K. They are political issues for the BJP after all. Let us ask ourselves two hypothetical questions to understand this.
Will the parties (outside J&K) which opposed the bill make it into a political issue in the elections? Would Muslims (because J&K is India’s only Muslim-majority state), and people and leaders from other states which enjoy special privileges in the constitution, and therefore should be scared about losing them by such legislations, express solidarity with the opposition which will emerge against this move in J&K?
The first is extremely unlikely. The second too, going by the recent history of Kashmir, will at best be temporary and without much conviction. What does this imply for those opposing this move then? They can either hope for a relief form the Supreme Court, which can (possibly) nullify this decision on grounds of procedure (the governor has acted on behalf of the assembly) or an attempt to tamper with the basic structure of the constitution. If this does not happen, they can choose to be an (increasingly vilified) minority and continue to speak against it without any electoral impact.
Both these options will not threaten the BJP at all. In fact, they will allow the BJP to keep portraying itself as the martyr for the cause of patriotism by raising the bogey of ‘anti-nationals’ opposing the move despite being the undisputed hegemon of Indian politics today. Simply speaking, it is futile to think of pushing back policies such as the Article 370 decision, without politically weakening the BJP.
It is difficult to believe that all parties which have supported this move are happy to see the BJP getting stronger by the day. However, their conduct also shows that they hope to prevent the BJP’s rise by shifting confrontation to mainly economic and local issues rather than issues of core Hindutva, lest it backfires against them.
They would do well to look at the BJP’s rise in Indian politics. The hegemony which the BJP enjoys today was not built in a day. It has been raising issues such as abrogation of Article 370 for decades now. It never stopped mobilising opinion for these issues, even though precipitation was tactically postponed. This was done primarily to avoid roadblocks in its objective of capturing state power through democratic means, which required allying with parties who were not on the same page with these demands.
The anti-BJP political spectrum, especially its rank and file, is ideologically completely disarmed on most such issues. To be fair to them, their leadership has not done enough to equip them on such issues. Even the anti-BJP leadership has displayed a split persona while dealing with such issues while in power and outside it. It is this ideological bankruptcy which is giving BJP the confidence to aggressively unleash its core agenda now.
So, what is to be done?
By way of an apology, it can be said that such politics now has large-scale democratic sanction in India. But if the anti-BJP parties have never even confronted such politics, how do we know whether this is indeed the case? While many see moves such as abrogation of Article 370 as a coup d’état against the Idea of India, it is actually a result of gradual retreat which has resulted in a near walkover in favour of the BJP by the political actors which claim to champion that very idea. Any criticism of the BJP without acknowledging this fact is an exercise in political dishonesty and self-delusion.
Aug 12, 2019 19:10 IST