In India, the opposition has only one job ó to oppose. It is one of the major flaws in the nationís culture of parliamentary democracy that very few parties in opposition conceive of their time in the house as anything but a period of blindly attacking the ruling party while waiting to fill its shoes. Serious criticism, alternative policies, proper debate are features that have disappeared from the political arena; the opposition spends its time thinking up schemes to wean away voters, to form more advantageous alliances and to suborn the weaker links in the ruling group. The fact that the Congress refused to project a shadow chief minister in the forthcoming polls in Karnataka is really a symptom of this weakness. Yet it might have been a good idea to do so even for immediate reasons: many have suggested that in Gujarat, one of the problems of the Congress was that it had no alternative face on display against Narendra Modiís. But the Congress has a different set of more pressing problems to handle. There are just too many big leaders, including former chief ministers and Central ministers, milling about in the state for the party high command to fix on any one of them at this stage. The fear is that the others will simply concentrate on defeating the chosen one.
That is a rather sorry state of affairs. Ideally, an opposition party or combination should have its own policies, arguments and positions hammered out in detail, with responsibilities understood and divided among its members before the elections. Not only does the electorate know what it is choosing or rejecting, the party or combination can function meaningfully in opposition should it lose the contest. Britainís shadow cabinet is one of the conventions that India does not seem to have taken to. Its political parties function in a region of opportunistic ad hocism, leaving decisions on posts and policies, and even alliances, till they come to know which side of the house they will sit on. Sometimes the side of the house is decided upon through last-minute negotiations. Such a culture cannot afford shadow chief ministers or cabinets. Rather, it encourages a quiet erosion of parliamentary principles, as, for example, by sometimes inducting leaders who have not fought the elections into the government through easy byelections after victory. This constant muddling along cannot always be glorified by the name of democracy.