It has been common for every generation of Indian society since independence to say that the country is in a terrible state, most of the time with much merit to their words. But today, we have a situation which is particularly precarious because although there is nothing so grotesque or terrible ongoing in the country that has not happened before, we are on the path towards a future that could be more catastrophic than any we’ve had before.
These problems are more glaring than most people think because they are not being dealt with or opposed in the right manner. In my opinion, a big folly on the part of all those who resent the status quo is that they blame it completely on the immorality and contemptuous working of the BJP and social organisations affiliated to it. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with doing this but it is probably disastrous to believe that any of it is effective.
The reason for this is that democracy is not dead in India; it is failing. And we don’t live under a dictatorship yet. This can be corroborated by the fact that a lot of dissent is still viable, the values and opinions of large swathes of the country are highly influential in political systems and there is considerable freedom for us to do what we want to economically or socially. The problem is that there isn’t enough freedom and that the voices and values of sections of society can be taken for granted. We shouldn’t view the country’s demotion from a “free” status to a “partly free” status to have happened because the BJP did this to India, we should see it as have happened because India allowed the BJP to do this to itself because there is no real check on an efficient political party that has managed to consolidate power almost over the whole country.
Politics in a democracy is like a free market where competition is everything; each political party strives to be the best and please the voters the most so that they get and don’t lose the governments. In a market, if one firm raises the price to make an excessive profit or behaves poorly with customers, they will shift to another one with fairer prices and better behaviour. To remain in business, the first firm will never do the above because it has to stay in business and be as large and profitable as it can be. Such a market fails when, for a multitude of reasons, one firm is able to capture greater presence and influence than the others and becomes a monopoly. As a monopolist, it is not a dictator and is still cautious but it can afford to raise prices, make its behaviour callous and even discriminate between customers.
The same happens in politics when one party becomes all-powerful which is what the BJP, arguably the largest and most efficient political entity the world has ever seen, has become. It has a dynamic, disciplined and aggressive work culture probably infused by Modi and Shah that makes it work tirelessly and remarkably on election campaigns and political game-play. Modi and Shah’s objective is often misconstrued as spiteful discrimination and Hindu radicalisation. It isn’t.
BJP does a good job of this by winning elections, not on a Hindutva narrative but on a development narrative. It is said that they won UP in 2017 by promising Ram Mandir but that was part of a package involving greater security from crime, improved infrastructure and a number of economic benefits, enough of which have been implemented to give the middle class a good opinion of the BJP, especially as an improvement on previous regimes.
Having BJP in power would have been ideal if only there were an efficient enough opposition to it. The opposition has two main jobs, the first is very obviously its role as a check on the government’s policies and work and the second, which is the foundation of the first; to be a good enough alternative for the people that the party in power cannot afford to abuse or mess up. And it is extremely important for the opposition to effectively communicate with the voters and form narratives that help them make conscious decisions on who to vote for. If the government messes up a policy, the Opposition needs to pitch the government’s failings and its own alternatives to the voter and the government needs to do the opposite. The beauty of this system lies in how the voter can make an informed choice just because politics enables it too. It is definitely not a perfect system because of biases and heuristics of the people but it is, to the best of my knowledge, the best system of governance we have. And it is a very good one at that.
This system fails when only one or few parties reach out to the voters who are too busy in their economic and social lives to research and figure out the viability of government policy on everything, including stuff that doesn’t affect them. And they are primarily concerned with how much better their lives are being made by the party who gets their vote. The BJP recognizes this and has garnered the approval of the family-based, working and socially active middle class which votes for it so much so that it can take chances with actions such as fuel price hikes that the middle class will resent.
Another very pertinent issue is that of capital; political parties need money to run campaigns and fulfil promises and lots of it. Congress has severely lacked good marketing resources for the better part of the last six years and what it didn’t do in countering the BJP narratives on social media had to be made up for by the Kunal Kamras and Varun Grovers, among others. Similarly, drawing back to UP in 2017, all INC did were a few main events before dying out while the BJP relentlessly carried out a humongous operation with 900 rallies, over 20 of which were addressed by Modi and with lakhs of volunteers working extensively in booths, on social media and however else they did it. Financial capital is definitely lacking, not just for the Congress but also the regional parties that can barely contest beyond their states. I personally feel the country would be in a near ideal situation if parties like the AAP had enough capital to operate on a national scale.
Moreover, structural flaws in these parties result in a severe lack of organisational efficiency and capital which is definitely a very pressing issue in the Congress; it can easily be said that it doesn’t matter who gets how many seats in an assembly election because Amit Shah will make MLAs defect and topple the government, if he doesn’t form alliances in hung assemblies first. This is possible because of both the resources and the resourcefulness of the BJP. Provisions in the constitution that allow for defections and change of governments are meant for healthy political set-ups wherein you are ensuring the presence of a stable government for five years which does not ignore legislators. But when you have power snatched from the parties who win the popular mandate, it can aptly be described as a murder of democracy as has been the case in state elections like Goa and Manipur where Congress got the highest number of seats but BJP was quicker in forming alliances, in Bihar where Nitish Kumar switched sides during elections and Jammu and Kashmir way back when BJP allied with the PDP, a party it and its voters opposed in the elections.
This is why it is imperative that we focus on reinstating an effective Opposition in the country and one that is an electoral participant. To me, the idea that students and activists are the Opposition to the BJP is more than flawed; it is delusional and dangerous. It keeps those who can resent the government from campuses, clubs , NGOs and social media unaware of how the BJP voter base, a not so large number of which is the radicalised, sword brandishing right wing bhakt, thinks. And it is likely, although I cannot test this hypothesis, that when the median age rises from 28 to 30 something towards the latter half of this decade and angry youth become family-people pursuing jobs and economic stability, the flames of anger shall die with them and crackdowns and police brutality like the ones right now will be more effective in silencing dissent and perhaps even eliminating it.
To save ourselves from the prospect of such a future, it is important for those who care about democracy and feel genuine anguish on things going wrong to recognize the needs of the vast majority of voters who are far from our university campuses, WhatsApp groups and twitter posts, acknowledge the strengths of the BJP when and where it has them and contribute to effective restoration of a strong opposition and healthy democracy.