“The good news for Narendra Modi just refuses to ebb, it oozes like the viscous sweetness of summer fruit. May 23 was breathtaking beyond expectation, a second-term endorsement that rendered the parliamentary polls almost presidential. What has followed that spectacular turn at the ballot is a high-calorie spectacle of sheer and unbelievable delight for the prime minister. It has come to be revealed that Modi had not merely won an election, he had also acquired a loyal and obliging Opposition, an Opposition keen to give the truth to his every prognosis and prophecy… Mahamilavat… ‘Thugbandhan’…”
The above is from these columns four summers past nearly to the date; it was part of an assessment of Narendra Modi’s triumphal return for a second term. It could be a fair description of the balance of power today in how presidential the Modi premiership has become and in how the Opposition to him continues to describe itself. It could well be a foretelling of what will come to transpire a little less than a year from now — another Modi romp on the debris of his disarrayed adversaries.
We are as close to being a cultist presidency under Modi as this republic has ever been. The manner in which he outflanked Rashtrapati Bhavan and grabbed primacy over the inauguration rites of the new-fangled Parliament House is but an illustration of a larger truth — that Modi is the transfigurement of the Hobbesian Leviathan, a man above all men, an institution hovering above the masonry of all other institutions, the embodiment of the merger of State and Church, at once raja and rishi, prime mahant and prime minister. Über alles.
For all his choreographed kissing, embracing and prostrating, Modi’s commitment to Parliament is slip-sheer. He arrives at the head of every session seeking the Opposition’s cooperation, but all he really does is steamroll the highest legislature with casual contempt. The dismembering and reduction of Jammu and Kashmir, probably the most fateful decision yet of Modi’s second term, arrived in Parliament already possessed of executive fiat. Budgets have been floated through on unintelligible decibels. The farm bills were pushed — then pulled back — with the barest courtesy to parliamentary procedure. The illicit trigger to Pegasus or the brassy impetus to buddy businesses has never been allowed on the discussion floor. The loss of territory, face and men to the marauding Chinese was addressed not in the highest forum of national debate but through a one-way monologue dressed out as a virtual all-party meeting during which Modi enacted a masterclass on how to economise on the truth. The prime minister operates almost free of parliamentary sanction, although heis a creature of it. It’s probably symbolic that the lodging of the sengol under the peacock dome of the would-be Lok Sabha was applauded by the Treasury alone; the Opposition, affronted by Modi’s single-minded effrontery to norm and custom, had decided to mark itself absent. The Modi Establishment would have scarcely minded a Parliamentbereft of adversaries and expunged of soul.
But none of that should serve to spare the Opposition’s rank and continual derelictions. The parties of the Opposition, the Congress in the main, are accurate in being at pains to point out that India, as it set out to be in 1950, is being hollowed out, its chief authors and architects sought to be gouged out of semblance by a toxic soldiery that’s deeply persuaded by fascist totems. They have been spectacularly effusive in enlisting the perils of the Modi magistracy — to secular democracy, to social accord, to plurality and multiculturalism, to the understanding of the history and the future of Indian nationhood, to the Constitution itself. They have been equally, if not more, spectacular in their failure to blueprint a credible route out, an achievable alternative.
Yes, there’s Karnataka. Yes, there could be Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh down the road. There was, famously, Bengal just a couple of years ago. There was, even more famously, the Bihar of 2015. There was, lest we forget, an earlier round of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh that rippled the eve of 2019 with the expectation of change. We know what happened. We should know that one of the ways in which Modi is presidential is the ease with which he is able to relegate setbacks in the provinces and secure victory atop Raisina.
What’s to be made of the buzz, premature yet, over a ‘united fight’ against Modi? It could probably come up to being a tactic. It doesn’t measure up to being a strategy, it is much less a plan that merits being put on the market. ‘Modi-hatao’ is a fair slogan, it’s what an Opposition will call for. But what thereafter? ‘Modi-hatao’ rings empty in the absence of who is posited as a replacement.
The so-called one-to-one fight to the finish, should it even come close to being real, is a non-starter. Too many competing egos, personal and political, too many criss-crossed alliances, much mutual suspicion, not insignificant naysayers. But above and besides all of that, the fatal, and rather irrefutable, flaws of the one-to-one line have been diagnosed by Praveen Chakravarty, a top-ranked number-cruncher-strategist of the Congress itself. In a recent analysis for The Hindu, Chakravarty wrote: “The foundational premise for the ‘Opposition unity’ strategy is that the BJP won on 37 percent of the votes in the 2019 election and that 63 percent of Indians voted against the party. The argument goes that if the 63 percent of voters can be united, then it ensures an automatic opposition victory. This is a fallacy. The BJP only contested 80 percent of the seats in 2019, leaving the rest to alliance partners. In the seats that the BJP won, it secured well more than half of the votes, implying that no amount of ‘opposition unity’ could have prevented its victory…”
Does that also reflect how the Congress may be reading the way ahead? We do not know. What we do know is that the party isn’t terribly excited about the one-to-one plan. Just as this is getting written, news arrives that the big Opposition tent meant to have been pitched in Patna next week will, for lack of apex-level representation by the Congress, remain folded in the corner for the time being… the good news for Narendra Modi just refuses to ebb.