The recent Assembly election results in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress has been virtually decimated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has people worried with the idea of a spineless Opposition.
In the recently-declared results of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results, Congress managed to win seven seats, which is even lower than BJP ally Apna Dal’s tally of wins in 9 constituencies. It takes no genius to realise that the results have dealt a body blow to the Congress which seems to be shrinking in influence with each passing day.
But then, the gradual decimation of the Congress from Indian polity should also come as bad news for India and the idea of Indian democracy.
A strong and active opposition is an indication of any healthy democracy. The Congress, being the biggest party in Opposition, is the sole party behind which other parties rally to demand answers from the ruling NDA dispensation.
However, by the looks of it, the Congress hasn’t just lost the numbers in the elections, but also the will to fight for people. The scenario that unfolded in Goa and Manipur is a clear indication of how the Congress could not even capitalise on the mandate that was given to it by the people. BJP moved quickly and efficiently to form government in both states because it had the will and the passion to rule.
Moreover, it seems to have learnt no lessons after a similar drubbing in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Instead of moving ahead and reinventing to establish itself as a voice of the people, the party went into sulking and doesn’t appear to have recovered yet.
Protests and demonstrations are a big part of a democracy and form the cornerstone of highlighting the people’s anguish and sufferings. However, the Congress which fought tooth and nail for the Leader of Opposition seat, has not bothered to hold any large-scale demonstration for causes that actually affect the people in over two years now. The last big protest that the Congress orchestrated was against the NDA government’s Land Acquisition Amendment Bill where it managed to bring the entire opposition, and even some NDA allies, together.
Since then, demonstrations and protests by the Congress both inside the Parliament and outside, have largely been political. Even repeated disruptions in Parliament proceedings have come to define the party lately have mostly been triggered by “disrespect” to its leaders and rarely because of the issues concerning people.
On the other hand, even Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP in Maharashtra and the Centre, has been fiercer in its criticism of the government than the Congress.
In the current political scenario in the country, the Congress is the only opposition party with a pan-India reach. Though there are many strong regional parties with strong bases, their popularity ends with the boundaries of their respective states and their impact, nationally, has been insignificant. Though fiercely opposed to the ruling dispensation at the Centre, parties like the JD(U), Samajwadi Party, BSP and the TMC have stopped short of coming together at the national level to put up a strong opposition to the BJP. All these regional parties need a nucleus around which they can come together to challenge the BJP and there is no denying that the centre could only be the Congress.
Samajwadi Party and BSP in UP, RJD-JD(U) in Bihar, Left and TMC in West Bengal, BJD in Odisha, DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu would need to rally around the Congress in Delhi to challenge the ruling NDA. However, most of these parties restrict themselves to extending issue-based support or refrain from doing so altogether. What the Congress needs is to convince them to support its cause and it can only do so when it is stronger.
The BJP has absolute majority in the Lok Sabha and the support of its NDA allies make the ruling coalition only stronger. The opposition is growing thinner than it has ever been in the last two decades.
However, it is a different story altogether in the Rajya Sabha where NDA does not have enough numbers. Though the Congress has not used its numbers in the Rajya Sabha efficiently and has only disrupted the House over superficial issues, it could be a key to keeping the BJP government in check.
A strong opposition in the Parliament will only work in the favour of democracy, no matter how inconvenient it might be for the ruling dispensation.
However, all these talks of strong opposition will only be futile if the Congress does not get its own house in order.
Several senior leaders from the Congress have asked for changes in the party for it to regain strength. The chorus for a "grand alliance" to take on the mighty BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also gotten stronger.
But the Congress and others must understand that Congress cannot become the glue to hold together an alliance that big if it does not get stronger itself. And for that, it must heed the advice of its senior leaders for "structural, organisational changes," and a "major surgery," and for that it needs to shed the sycophancy rampant in the party.
It is indeed essential for the Congress to get stronger if it wants democracy to thrive in India.