The Growing Irrelevance of the Opposition

One of the instructions that senior Congress leader and former Defence Minister AK Antony reportedly made to a junior colleague at an informal ‘core group’ meeting of the party in the national capital on June 12th was to enquire how a move to form a new decision-making panel to work in tandem with the party president’s office got leaked to the media.

“This is no time to discuss such trivial matters, but to formulate strategies and correct mistakes of the past,” a Congress leader tells Open, noting that he doesn’t want to comment on the “tragedy of errors” committed by the party leadership ahead of the 2019 polls in which it suffered a resounding defeat.

He also says that in the current scenario, there is no scope for the worry that PV Narasimha Rao had in the 1990s when he resisted the creation of a Congress Parliamentary Board that would have become an alternative power centre to the PMO. “We are not in power anyway and therefore our focus should be on how to win back people’s confidence and come back to power,” he notes.

Antony, incidentally, was the leader in charge of forging pre-poll alliances and his inability to rise to the occasion has attracted widespread criticism in his home state of Kerala, where he is targeted on social media and offline for the pathetic show of the Congress in the national election.

“Leaders without any understanding of the national scheme of things were entrusted with the task of taking crucial decisions in this matter,” another Congress leader tells Open, reiterating an accusation that Antony faces in Kerala, where, ironically, the Congress- led alliance did well, winning 19 of 20 Lok Sabha seats from the southern state.

“As has been said, ‘victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan’; everyone would want to place the blame on someone or the other,” says a Congress leader from Karnataka where the alliance of Congress and Janata Dal (S) managed to win only two Lok Sabha seats compared with the BJP’s 25 out of a total of 28. The last seat was won by an independent candidate with BJP’s support.

The Karnataka leader admits that crucial mistakes were committed by the party leadership, resulting in the humiliating setback exactly a year after JDS’ H D Kumaraswamy took oath as the 24th Chief Minister of Karnataka thanks to a post-poll alliance with the Congress in May 2018.

THE HIGH-LEVEL huddle by Congress leaders in New Delhi “under the guidance” of Antony and attended by the likes of Ahmed Patel, P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh, KC Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala discussed plans for state polls in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir, according to Surjewala, who also said that Rahul Gandhi will continue to be the president of the party, a post from which he insisted on stepping down owning moral responsibility for the setback.

Rahul, who has so far refused to yield to pressures within to continue as party chief, is currently away from the country while his mother Sonia Gandhi couldn’t make it to the meet because she was away in her constituency, Rae Bareli, the only seat that the Congress won from Uttar Pradesh, a state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.

“Congress meetings these days appear like a theatre of the absurd when compared with the ruthless electoral machine of the ruling BJP,” says the first Congress leader, referring to the June 12th meeting chaired by Antony even as the state unit of the Congress in Kerala appointed parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor to head a panel to probe into social media attacks on Antony. The panel is to find out whether or not any party men were behind the relentless online campaign against the 79-year-old leader and trusted lieutenant of the Gandhis.

NDA got single digit votes in 3 states and UPA in 6 states. In 17 states and UTs UPA couldn’t open its account; NDA faced a similar plight in 7

In fact, the propensity to blame an indecisive Antony, whose familiarity with the dynamics of north Indian politics is known to be skewed, is either an outcome of regional rivalry or a frustration stemming from him being in a position disproportionate to his political skills.

But what gets swept under the carpet is the failure of the party high command led by the trio of Rahul, his mother Sonia and sister Priyanka, now general secretary in- charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh where she was expected to revive the sagging fortunes of her party.

Antony is just the symptom of the malaise that has infected the 134-year-old Congress party, but the rot starts at the top, a leader of the Muslim League, a Congress ally, tells Open. He points fingers at the “clueless” leader from the Nehru-Gandhi family, Rahul Gandhi.

“Antony just looks like the typical scapegoat that the Congress has traditionally and very famously used to deflect attention away from the real spoiler, the top leadership. In 1962, after the debacle in the war with China, VK Krishna Menon was made a scapegoat. Mostly, south Indians bear the brunt to save the top leader from any embarrassment,” he says matter-of-factly, adding that north Indian leaders, too, have been victims of such machinations within the Congress.

Many such allies and Congress leaders met by Open state in confidentiality that the Congress president grossly underestimated the Narendra Modi-led electoral armada that had been employing various tricks of the game for a prolonged period to connect with the masses and score an edge over most of the BJP’s rivals.

Even in the months before the polls, Rahul refused to meet people of consequence either in the industry or elsewhere to be of use to his cause: to take on the might of the BJP, which had relied on consistent inorganic growth and booth- level micromanaging to stay ahead of the race.

Congress spokesperson Sushmita Dev tells Open in an interview that her party had to work towards a far greater level of micromanagement at the grassroots as part of its efforts to regain lost glory.

The Congress under Rahul, having faced numerous odds that they expected to overcome, was still hoping defeats would pave the way for a strategic victory later. They seemed to have viewed the 2014 defeat as a historical loss, perhaps comparable to the one in the ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae against Persia which, however, set the stage for a grand victory later in Plataea against Xerxes’ army.

However, contrary to hopes, it didn’t happen that way. Instead, it resulted in another remarkable battering for the Congress party, which had been the default ruling entity in the early decades of India’s freedom.

Over time, as the party sacrificed regional strongmen to preserve the supremacy of the high command in Delhi, its organisation weakened and so did the mobilisational skills of its non-Nehru-Gandhi leaders.

It is no surprise that anyone who posed a threat to the leadership of the First Family—the Nehru-Gandhi clan—was eased out to make way for quieter leaders of Antony vintage. The Congress toed the predictable line when it won Assembly election in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan last year by not rewarding younger leaders and anointing older family loyalists in key posts. That no leader should be groomed who could challenge the authority of the family has become non-negotiable.

The propensity to blame other partymen has long been a Congress trend. What gets swept under the carpet is the failure of its top leaders such as Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi, now general secretary in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh where she was expected to revive the sagging fortunes of her party

University of Virginia Professor John Echeverri- Gent has studied the sway of money in Indian politics for years. In a paper titled ‘The Economy, Business, and India’s 2014 Parliamentary Elections’, he argued that the Nehru-Gandhi clan has managed to retain its hold over the Congress primarily because of its sole access to campaign funds, especially during the polls.

“Why has the Nehru-Gandhi family been so influential? Inflow of campaign finance allows the family to centralise control. They [the family] tend to have more access and control over this funding. Centralised campaign funding is a key feature of any dynastic political party,” he says.

Such associations with wealthy businesses, Echeverri-Gent noted, have over the decades helped the central leadership of the Congress eliminate the role of affiliated mass organisations such as Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and even regional satraps, especially in the time of polls.

“Because the family has access to these funds, it reduces the party’s incentive to build organisations or affiliates that connect with segments of civil society,” he adds. In a sense, the Congress has been engaged for decades in a dynasty-building exercise which worked towards keeping the party cohesive.

But good times don’t often last. Histories of dynasties prove that the lack of popularity of a dynast can result in far-reaching consequences. Histories of the world, too, have proved what had been asserted with gusto by the great 14th century intellectual Ibn Khaldun—that each dynasty has within itself the seeds of its own downfall.

Only 2 states gave UPA more than 50 per cent votes, while the NDA got more than 50 per cent votes in 17 states and UTs

IN THE JUST-concluded polls, like the Congress, most anti-BJP parties had to contend with multiple challenges: leadership, welfare politics, national security, nationalism and propaganda. And in the game of comparison, the opposition, with the exception of a few, was humbled by the upper-hand that the BJP enjoyed.

In terms of the leadership question, in an election that resembled a presidential model of campaign, Rahul and various other contenders to power at the Centre—be it Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, Samajwadi Party head Akhilesh Yadav or others who hoped to play the role of a kingmakers, such as Sharad Pawar of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), N Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Lalu Prasad- led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)—paled in comparison to the popularity that the BJP’s campaign spearhead Modi enjoyed.

The towering presence of Modi in the just-concluded election was a huge advantage for the BJP, which worked very hard to cash in on the image of its leader, in association with its parent Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), which has a large network of volunteers in, literally, every nook and corner of the country.

A section of the Congress, after the results came out on May 23rd, tried hard to peddle the ‘mandate was stolen’ argument, suggesting that it was an EVM fraud that led to the BJP’s stunning victory—303 seats compared with Congress’ 52.

Realising that this wouldn’t click, Congress then attributed the BJP victory to its strategy of polarising the electorate along religious lines. Various statements by BJP leaders were proof of their consistent use of rising Islamophobia in India to their advantage, coupled with the ‘only non-Hindus are appeased’ slogan that struck a chord for right or wrong reasons.

The portrayal of the hapless Hindu who had to suffer invasions for ages finally getting a voice thanks to Modi became an emotive element of the BJP blitz. It seems to have worked well.

Perhaps, where Antony deserves blame is for encouraging Rahul to contest from Wayanad, a constituency in Kerala that has a high density of Muslims. This candidature was immediately lapped up by topmost leaders of the BJP to allege that Rahul had fled ‘Hindu-dominated’ seats to take sanctuary in a seat where he would win by pulling in the Muslim vote.

At a time when speaking ill of Muslims has gone mainstream, especially during the election season, the impact of Rahul’s Wayanad foray created ripples. The campaign that the Congress party has ‘betrayed’ the Hindus for long and no longer has the moral courage to trust them was the gist of the anti-Rahul campaign.

Not to have anticipated this was a huge mistake, says a Congress leader from the south who adds that Rahul could have contested from a Hindu-dominated seat from the south and taken on the BJP without attracting allegations of being a ‘Muslim-appeaser’, considered a sin in this decade’s highly polarised environment.

As a strategist and cold warrior, Dr Edward Luttwak, author of stellar works on military history and political strategy, including The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire and The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, says that “Congress has to re-base itself on the Hindu majority. Message: we are Hindus as much as BJP and much more modern.”

In fact, Congress’ bid to hardsell itself as a pro-Hindu entity started off much earlier, but unsuccessfully. For a party that has relied for long on Muslims as a vote bank at a time when Hindu votes were split among multiple other parties, it wasn’t easy to shake off the image of being pro-Muslim.

Though the Muslims hardly gained anything from this association with the Congress, as the Rajinder Sachar Commission report on the social and economic status of the Muslims proves, the fear of the BJP still made sure that most Muslims voted, until recently, tactically, for parties that could defeat the Hindu nationalist party.

And, in the recent election, the Congress’ outreach to Hindus appeared rather contrived as it also involved keeping Muslim leaders away from campaigns and temple-hopping exercises by leaders such as Rahul and Priyanka.

Akhilesh Yadav initially overruled his father Mulayam Singh Yadav to seal a pre-poll pact with the BSP. But the alliance managed only 15 seats despite tall claims that caste arithmetic will favour them against the BJP

What dashed Congress’ hopes of appealing to Hindus was a no-holds-barred BJP campaign that used the martyrdom of members of the CRPF in Pulwama to the hilt. The Valentine’s Day attack by a vehicle-borne terrorist that killed 40 CRPF men completely altered the poll scenario in favour of the BJP, and after the February 26th aerial assaults by Indian forces on Pakistani territory, Modi acquired a halo as the only leader capable of a tit-for-tat response to enemy attacks.

Anti-Pakistan references stretched all the way to calling Wayanad a mini-Pakistan, apparently turning the tide against the Congress which refused to sense the ground beneath its feet slipping away.

THE BJP, WHICH, of course, stooped to new lows in its campaign where personal attacks, peppered with an overt majoritarian tone, were par for the course throughout the election season, claimed, once the results came out, that its success was largely thanks to the success of its welfare schemes. BJP leaders, post poll, contended that nationalism was only a “value- add” to their campaign; it was the hard work of the Government that clicked for them.

According to a report, the Modi Government, which claims to have performed well in target-distribution of subsidies to plug loopholes in the system that benefitted middlemen, saved Rs 51,664 crore in the 2019 fiscal through direct benefit transfer of subsidies to genuine beneficiaries.

According to this report, the overall savings since 2013 is pegged at Rs 1.41 trillion. As many as 439 subsidies have been credited by the Government directly to the bank accounts of beneficiaries of schemes that include MGNREGA, Ayushman Bharat, Ujjwala and so on. The BJP states that this better targeting of beneficiaries enabled it to connect with 22 crore people and to canvass their votes.

THE BINARY DISTINCTION between the victor and the loser was so stark in this election that it is a case study for an election that saw the decimation of one side by the other, in contrast with poll battles that result in costs to both sides.

The enormity of the victory for Modi and his party is comparable only to that of Pandit Nehru’s consecutive wins in his prime ministerial years when a party with an absolute majority that completed a full term in office returned to power in two straight terms. In 1971, when Indira Gandhi returned to power for the second consecutive time, she did so after calling for an election at a suitable time, dissolving the fourth Lok sabha, elected in 1967, in its fourth year.

Out of 36 states and UTs, NDA increased its vote share in 31. The UPA gained vote share in 21 and lost in 15

The extent of damage for opposition parties including the Congress can only be measured by the margin of defeat and the loss of veteran leaders who had hardly lost elections in their decades-long political career.

As Open reported earlier, while Rahul who lost in Amethi will make it to the Lok Sabha only because he also contested polls from Wayanad in Kerala, Mallikarjun Kharge, often referred to as ‘solillada saradara’ (a leader without defeat) in Kannada, suffered his first defeat in this election.

Others who lost include Sheila Dikshit, the longest- serving Delhi chief minister; Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former Haryana chief minister; Harish Rawat, former Uttarakhand chief minister; Ashok Chavan, former Maharashtra chief minister; Sushilkumar Shinde, former Union Minister; Veerappa Moily, former Union Minister; Nabam Tuki, former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister; Mukul Sangma, former chief minister of Meghalaya; and Digvijaya Singh, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Besides, among the 11 Congress dynasts who fought the election, including Rahul Gandhi, only two bucked the trend.

Jyotiraditya Scindia, Congress leader and scion of the Scindia royal family, Jitin Prasad, Milind Deora, Lalitesh Tripathi, Vaibhav Gehlot, Sushmita Dev, Bhavya Bishnoi, Priya Dutt and Deepender Hooda, all lost. Those who managed to win are Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s son Nakul Nath and former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s son Gaurav Gogoi.

As of now, the Congress has a flicker of hope only in three states: Punjab, Kerala and in Tamil Nadu, where it is reliant on its formidable regional ally, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led by MK Stalin.

From other opposition parties, notables who bit the dust include HD Deve Gowda from Tumkur, Mehbooba Mufti from Anantnag, Kanhaiya Kumar from Begusarai, Dimple Yadav from Kannauj, Misa Bharti from Patliputra and Sharad Yadav from Madhepura.

Now, as India witnesses the opposition unravel so spectacularly, there seems to be no surprise as to why people seem to have voted for a strong leader in Modi who can offer a stable rule. The SP and BSP combine, which together managed only 15 seats despite tall claims that caste arithmetic will decisively favour them against the BJP in the most crucial and populous state of Uttar Pradesh, have parted ways.

Mayawati has said that BSP will fight polls on its own from now on. For his part, Akhilesh Yadav had fought tooth and nail with the ageing patriarch and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav to seal a pre- poll pact with the BSP.

Unlike Yadav, a demigod among the Yadav community which he had zealously brought out of political oblivion in the 1990s, son Akhilesh has not been able to steer his party to any major victory after the 2012 Assembly election when his father was the national president. Under Akhilesh, the party did badly in 2014, 2017 and in this year’s polls, signaling the likely end of Yadav-dominated politics in the state.

“He has so far managed to keep the party together and override the old guard, but if you ask me whether he has managed to reach out to the masses and the millennials and women as well as he should have, my answer is no,” an SP leader tells Open, indicating his displeasure at what he called the “lack of imagination” of the top SP leadership.

Mayawati, too, confronts new realities of political decay as she ceases to enjoy the trust of a large section of Dalit groups.

Yadavs have lost their credibility among other OBCs communities to seek votes for the entire group since they have not shared the fruits of power that followed the rise of ‘Mandalisation of Indian politics’ that catapulted them to power with others.

Other OBCs, who are dissatisfied with the Yadav domination, have veered towards the BJP, as did non-Jatav Scheduled Castes who felt wronged by Mayawati’s preference for people of her own community over other SC groups.

In Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav has earned the wrath of a section in RJD over his failure to steer the party, in the absence of his father who is in jail, to a decent tally. The party, which has 80 seats in the Assembly, drew a blank

It is a similar case for the RJD in Bihar where the challenges that Lalu Prasad’s son and RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav faces are daunting. After a colourful entry into politics some six years ago and emboldened by the emphatic Bihar poll triumph of 2015, Tejashwi has now earned the wrath of his party colleagues over his failure to steer the party, in the absence of his father who is in jail, to even a decent win.

While the JDU-BJP-led alliance won 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state, Congress won one seat and the RJD, which has 80-odd seats in the state Assembly, drew a blank. Sister Misa Bharti and brother Tej Pratap are expected to disapprove of Tejashwi’s leadership as the state heads to Assembly polls next year.

As opposed to those of rivals, who were adept in maintaining a huge lead thanks to innovative slogans, Tejashwi stuck to the age-old pro-OBC narrative and also spoke out against quota for the poor, endangering the chances of many of his upper-caste candidates. Clearly, dissent is steadily rising against him from within.

In Andhra Pradesh, Naidu, who lost massively in the simultaneously held state and Lok Sabha polls, had been at the forefront of an initiative to cobble up an anti-BJP formation, hoping that he could play a major role in creating a new Government at the Centre if the BJP didn’t do as well as it did.

Out of his dreams came despair after the BJP cruised to a comfortable lead within hours after the counting of votes began on May 23rd. In Delhi’s political circles, there was a joke that his work was similar to that of an LIC agent, who was out to insure the political careers of non-BJP parties.

For a man who has weathered many a storm, it looks like his stature as a leader of national importance has diminished following the 2019 election.

In constituencies with over 40 per cent Muslim voters, BJP won 7, UPA 11 and others 17. There is a shift of trust from Congress to regional players

In Telangana, which is one of the new turfs that BJP President Amit Shah has been trying hard to make deep inroads into, the party, though it had lost four sitting seats in last year’s Assembly polls, secured four of 17 Lok Sabha seats this time. BJP leaders see this as a ray of hope in the state where it has accused the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) of K Chandrasekar Rao of a pro-Muslim slant.

In fact, the BJP’s vote share rose significantly from 7 per cent in the 2018 poll to nearly 20 per cent this time. The BJP, as of now, hopes to replace the Congress as the principal opposition in the state. BJP also hopes to have a major presence in south India where it has so far made significant electoral gains only in Karnataka, a state where caste realignments go against HD Deve Gowda-led JDS and Congress. Much to his embarrassment, Gowda, the 86-year-old former Prime Minister, himself lost polls this time.

In Maharashtra, where the Congress expected to improve its position in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar thanks to a raft of favourable factors that included farmer unrest and reported internecine wranglings within the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won only five seats, with the Congress winning only from a single seat.

The Chandrapur win of the Congress is attributed largely to the influence of its candidate who was formerly with the Shiv Sena. Thanks to this debacle, Pawar’s dreams of making a comeback to the centerstage of Indian politics one last time has gone sour. Mounting charges of corruption against his former party colleagues are expected to haunt him further, probably leaving him to grapple with personal battles.

Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal appeared invincible when she led her party to election victory in 2016. Less than three years later and eight years after her resounding victory over a Left alliance that once seemed unshakeable, Banerjee looked vulnerable and agitated as she faced the Lok Sabha polls of 2019.

BJP President Shah visited the eastern state 84 times in the past three years, strategising his party’s ascent to power. While her main rival CPM was wiped out in this election, the Congress managed to win only two seats.

Five years ago, the Trinamool Congress of Banerjee won 34 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state while BJP and CPM won two seats each. This time, much to Banerjee’s anguish, BJP made inroads into north Bengal and the state’s tribal belt, winning 18 seats while the TMC secured 22, a dozen less than last time. The BJP won more than 40 per cent of the votes polled.

Open reported, as early as March, of a Hindutva wave sweeping across West Bengal where the Hindus have historically suffered from an anxiety, manufactured or otherwise, of Muslims outnumbering them.

With the BJP playing the Hindu victimhood card—arguing that no state government since freedom has done anything to ensure the welfare of Hindus while they were busy ‘appeasing’ Muslims—a section of voters from several parts of the state considered their Hindu religious identity a decisive ‘variable’ in the Lok Sabha polls.

Historically, Bengal is one region in India where the roots of Hindutva politics run deep thanks to a raft of reasons. The state is home to various revivalist movements that overlapped with reformist ones more than a century ago.

The long-term influences of the 1905 partition of the province largely along communal lines cannot be ruled out. Add to that hostilities triggered by bloody communal riots that crippled Bengal in the run-up to the second partition of the province when the country became independent in 1947 and east Bengal became part of Pakistan.

Clearly, old wounds festered through word of mouth and propaganda (‘Will its Hindu revivalist past haunt West Bengal’s future?’, April 8th, 2019).

In Andhra Pradesh, N Chandrababu Naidu, who had been at the forefront of an initiative with Congress and DMK’s MK Stalin to cobble up an anti-BJP formation, lost massively in the simultaneously held state and Lok Sabha polls

The CPM-led Left is a political entity that has been steadily declining as an electoral force in India. In 2011, it was routed in the state polls in West Bengal where it had been in power for 34 straight years, and now the party is in a comatose state.

The CPM, which was in power in Tripura, often referred to as another ‘red holdout’, lost polls last year to the BJP after more than two decades of being in power. In Kerala, in 2019, the CPM won only a single seat though it is in power in the state.

As a result, Sitaram Yechury, CPM general secretary, faces his biggest challenge yet, that of survival in Indian politics. He had famously advocated a pro-Congress stance and even encouraged its state unit in West Bengal to align with the Congress to fight the TMC in 2016, in what turned out to be a misadventure.

The Kerala unit of his party had consistently opposed him over warming up to the Congress which is its main rival in the southern state. Many leaders from the state point out that his policy only allowed the Congress to cannibalise into CPM vote banks in Kerala because the central leadership of the party appeared to favour a Congress rule in New Delhi.

“Such a naked display of pro-Congressism is not good for the party in the state, which is the only one where the CPM is in power. The experiments in Bengal have proved to be a disaster. And the general secretary should have focused more on Kerala’s interests, which he didn’t do. Instead, he himself joined a section of the media in projecting that the Congress was coming to power at the Centre. Therefore, the people of the state voted against the BJP, but for the Congress,” says a CPM leader from Kerala.

In 1996, CPM’s Jyoti Basu was nominated by the non-BJP, non-Congress opposition for the post of prime minister, but his party rejected it. Basu later called the party’s decision a “historical blunder”.

In 2004, with 43 seats in the Lok Sabha, CPM’s Harkishan Surjeet played the kingmaker in helping the Congress return to power. On both occasions, the party offered only outside support to the Government in power.

Yechury and his predecessor Prakash Karat were at the forefront of rigid posturing that included rejection of the prime minister’s post for Basu and the refusal to join the first UPA Government.

The CPM withdrew its support for the Congress in 2008 when the country signed the India-US nuclear deal and since then the party’s electoral strength in the Lok Sabha has plummeted. Currently, it has only three seats in the Lok Sabha.

Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Admi Party (AAP) is another leader who has lost his political capital despite a major victory in the 2015 Delhi state election in which it won 67 of 70 seats. The only two major opposition leaders who have weathered the storm are DMK’s Stalin and Biju Janata Dal leader and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who had his ear to the ground.

SUSHMITA DEV OF Congress, meanwhile, says defeats and victories are two sides of the same coin, and yet she insists that the Congress party ought to examine the large margin of victory that the BJP has scored over its candidates.

She feels that the Congress leadership will probe the matter diligently. She also refuses to concede that the Congress is in a state of decline. Many other leaders that Open spoke to from opposition parties argue that 2019 can be largely attributed to the Modi factor—people voted in large numbers in each constituency for BJP irrespective of who the local candidate was. If this is true, the fortunes of the BJP are hinged on Modi, and as his charisma fades over time, the BJP can no longer hope to retain its hold over people.

Whatever they may say, certain arguments that are pro-Hindutva are now mainstream and people are not hesitant to express Hindutva sentiments in public. Yet, BJP leaders claim that it doesn’t mean there is any ill will towards non-Hindus as is made to appear by certain liberals who end up amplifying exceptions as rules.

BJP has long maintained that it was only against Muslims being given privileges that are not accorded to Hindus. While a section of pundits highlight rise in religious hate crime to attack the Modi Government, a study released on June 11th by the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS)—which was conducted to measure the impact of social media on voters—says that 75 per cent of Hindus feel that India belongs to all religions equally.

For this report, CSDS did surveys in 211 Lok Sabha constituencies and among 24,236 voters in 26 states between April and May. Anecdotal evidence suggested a high rate of use of social media and messaging apps at local levels to promote hate crime.

Whatever be the trend of the time, it is imperative that a pluralistic country has a robust opposition to ensure that the wheels of democracy turn forward, not backwards. In that sense, an opposition losing its sting is a matter of grave concern.

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