Is the Mahagathbandhan losing its ground?by Opinion Express March 6, 2019 0 comments
The mahagathbandhan is floundering in mounting a counter-attack as the BJP runs away with nationalist agenda
There is no doubt a nationalist narrative and sentiment that the polity is awash with post Pulwama and the second wave of surgical airstrikes targetting terror will impact the General Elections. And if what George Orwell said was true, that nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception, then it will be used by all parties concerned and the poll parameters might just be reduced to a simple test of who is the better or more loyal Indian. With such a complex voter profile as we have in India, the overt simplification may not work alright but definitely gives a pivot to spin a tale. Clearly, by virtue of being an incumbent, the BJP-led government is going to town with its muscular approach to the terror factory bred in Pakistan and prioritising national security. Even though it dodges questions on specifics of the strike, there is no doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has forever changed the rules of engagement with our recalcitrant neighbour, showing how counter-terrorism could be efficacious while staying way below the escalatory pyramid, calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff and turning the tide of world opinion. But, of course, he would talk big on this achievement in his campaign speeches; anybody in that position would. Particularly when it drowns out the discomfort of explaining what went wrong with the economy, joblessness and farmers and dilutes the cogent challenge posed by the Opposition mahagathbandhan on these issues.
But if Modi has a booster shot, the Opposition, for all its initial josh, is fumbling and floundering over a counter-strategy. Rather than engaging in a slanging match of barbs, knowing that questioning national security measures, especially regarding Pakistan, could be counter-productive now, it could focus on intelligence lapses that led to a Pulwama in the first place and the drift in Kashmir that has seen a spike in terror attacks over the Modi years. And if it has to ask questions, then all its leaders should do so unitedly and pointedly, rather than shooting their mouths off in isolation and on social media. That would at least be an aggressive platform approach and deny Modi the space to go solo. Or it could very well set off a counter-narrative, remembering that past governments, be it of the Congress post 1971 or the BJP’s post Kargil, did not get sweeping mandates. Or that the Congress won despite a 26/11. So if the Opposition posits real livelihood issues that play on the voters’ mind, saying they matter more in strengthening a nation’s identity than hiding behind an airstrike, they could stabilise the see-saw yet. But it seems the airstrikes have paralysed them, too. And they seem a jumble of confused priorities. First, there are no signs of the common minimum programme that mahagathbandhan leaders like TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu had decided to fork out. Second, the Congress continues to be intransigent on seat-sharing — its talks with AAP have broken down despite reconciliatory efforts — and one wonders how a triangular fight can ever jolt an emboldened NDA. Even the Congress-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka, that was a winning proposition some time ago, is under severe stress as seat-sharing talks aren’t going the way they should have. The grand old party may have its own imperatives, not risk a decimation of its own votebase while adjusting seats for others and choose to consolidate its roots — now that both Gandhi scions are on the ground — but then 2019 doesn’t seem to be its goalpost. Perhaps, the Congress is in a dilemma, whether to be a B-team of the federal front or take the lead on its own. Besides, its soft Hindutva, stand on cow politics and failure to build a strong post-Pulwama narrative have cost it the perception game. The most important question is why it is not unleashing its charismatic general secretary Priyanka Gandhi in word games. If the Congress and the federal front do not rewire their alliance strategy, then they could lose what would perhaps be an opportune moment to wrest the narrative. They may never get that again soon.