The editorial response of the mainstream media to the wreckage of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance falls far short of the point the likes of not only Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati but also Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Pinarayi Vijayan, N Chandrababu Naidu et al ought to learn to give Indian democracy a real, strong opposition. Whether caste is past its sell-by-date is not the point. In its primary folly, the entire opposition since 2014 has raised an issue that nobody beyond the Lutyens’ zone and some predictable communities found credible: that society had suddenly turned intolerant. Secondarily — this is a marketing point — they all spoke in one voice, thus dividing the votes of those who disagreed with the Narendra Modi-led BJP government’s style of functioning. There were problems galore in that methodology: keeping taxpayers burdened with the liability of sick PSUs, not going after those who stashed Indian black money in tax havens abroad, irrefutable unemployment, a large, unwieldy bureaucracy that is a parallel government unto itself, investors’ disinterest, etc. While the Congress did raise the issue of unemployment, its idea of fighting it was an uninspiring filling up of vacancies in the Union and State government offices. This problem with the otherwise steadily growing economy crossed the minds of the Congress’s thinking heads in only in the final year of the previous NDA government. No other predicament was either rightly identified or accompanied with a solution that Modi did not try out. What they asked the prime minister to do instead was something he was doing already: turning more leftist than the left!
No doubt, Modi’s welfare schemes have been different from his predecessors’. The DBT approach plugged the transmission leaks even as collectors, block development officers, tehsildars with ill-gotten money got arrested by the dozens — optics that the have-nots relished as much as seeing the filthy rich suffer in the immediate aftermath of demonetisation. If the November 2016 decision followed by the July 2017 introduction of the GST almost cost the BJP the Gujarat election (while Uttar Pradesh had thought notebandi was fun), the ruling party promptly began pushing the council for the new tax regime for constant downward revisions. GST ceases to be an issue anymore despite the existence of the 18% and 28% slabs, as very few commodities remain in these upper brackets. The opposition missed the bus, with the Congress first demanding an unthinkable law to cement the tax slabs and then Gandhi proposing asinine dumping of all goods and services in one slab. On GST, the Modi dispensation had been so responsive to public concerns that even the unofficial opposition — the NGO brigade, feminists, socialites, etc — could not raise hell over the cost of sanitary pads as the GST Council defied economics to make the product tax-free, even though no answer could be found as to what would happen to the value-added taxes levied on the ingredients that together made a napkin.
On the social front, even as the Congress president funnily embarked on a temple run, he did not have the foggiest idea what the Hindu community was aggrieved about. The poor show of any opposition party in the Lok Sabha election notwithstanding, the Congress had indeed come up with a manifesto better, albeit marginally, than that of the BJP. It offered a greater degree of economic freedom to the citizens, thanks to the last-minute inputs from economists like Raghuram Rajan, Thomas Piketty, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Abhijit Banerjee. But even they did not realise that the largest community in the country needed freedom from the state too. Hindus, as a collective, almost rebelled against Modi rule on the question of violation of the sectoral traditions of Shani Shingnapur and Sabarimala. The community was as angry when its festivals were singled out by the judiciary and the National Green Tribunal for harsh treatment. Sensing that Lord Ayyappa could upturn the fortune of the ruling party, Sabarimala was the only issue where the RSS-BJP revised its position. But so did Kerala Congress, reaping electoral benefits in the State. When Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis celebrated the end of a tradition in Shingnapur, the opposition had an opportunity to rake up the caste angle as the deity in question is largely guarded by lower-caste priests. When the ilk of Trupti Desai barged into the sanctum, it occurred to no opposition party that this could be a bid to alienate the lower strata from the larger Hindu family. The silence of the lambs when the Supreme Court and NGT frowned at crackers proved that the BJP’s rivals lacked both the ingenuity that makes one stand out and the political intelligence that urges one to grab an opportunity. With parties that impress on neither economic nor social front, Modi-led BJP is set to rule the country unchallenged as long as, figuratively speaking, Bhishma willed to stay the guardian of Hastinapura. And that is bad news for Indian democracy.