British statesman and novelist Benjamin Disraeli once said, “No government can be long secure without a formidable opposition”.
It is true. A constructive opposition gives options and choices to evaluate the performance of the government. Though a government is for the people, of the people and by the people, the success is measured by a powerful leadership, constructive opposition, and an alert common man. The seamless communication between the ruling party and the opposition keeps the functioning of the government on its toes.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is always a chance of a government becoming very authoritative in the absence of a thoughtful and proactive opposition.
Very interesting point to note, when there is a difference of opinion within a party, it will be addressed through compromise or suspension. No party is willing to fight with its own people. But the difference of opinion between parties is being addressed through conflict. Political disagreements are escalating into fierce movements without restraints. An example here is the current agitation on Farm Bills. These parties spent their major time during election campaigns focusing on farm reforms. They thought that these campaigns motivate their supporters to turn against their opponents. The positive side of this kind of campaigning is important issues get highlighted and sometimes get resolved. The downside is this difference of opinion gets deeper and deeper concluding into animosity between ruling and opposition.
74 years passed since India became independent. Indian democracy has witnessed 17 Lok Sabha Elections with Cong, BJP and other allied parties and formed 17 successive governments to keep India moving forward. Opposition too played a major role with the ruling party, time and again constructively endorsed and dissected the policy making process of the government.
The function of opposition party in a parliament is that of a watchdog. It should see that government does not pass bills arbitrarily and establish autocracy. It should question the government during the process of law making and stand against the government when the route of ordinance is used by government. The opposition should take part actively in debate, discussion, arguments during sessions of parliament and try to arrive at consensus in the process of resolution of issues of conflict instead of running to the well of the house, boycotting the session and also participating in dharnas outside the parliament. Then they can make the government to course correct their actions for the welfare of the people.
Indian democracy has seen wonderful opposition leaders and outstanding parliamentarians from opposition in addition to the head of the governments. AB Vajapayee, LK Avani, Somnath Chatterjee, Pranab Mukherjee, Indrajit Gupta, Sushma Swaraj, PV Narasimha Rao, Arun Jaitly, to name a few. Opposition leaders should lead their respective parties to play a significant role and raise relevant objectionable points in proposed policies and debates initiated by the government. The job of leader of the opposition is very huge and he becomes the face of aspirations of the people of the country. British model of Parliamentary Democracy was adopted by India but the efficiency and workability of this process is at cross roads today with the lack and slack in persona of constructive opposition leader.
2014, 2019 Lok Sabha elections gave clear mandate to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and these elections also reflected increasing lack of vision and discipline in Indian National Congress (INC) party. BJP and INC are the most popular national key players in the democratic process of India. These two parties have seen power and are in opposition, and know both sides of the government. The INC won elections 11 times and formed governments at centre and speaking experience wise, they have a better experience of ruling the country in number of years. Hence, INC is not a productive and constructive opposition in the parliament specially in recent times. The current opposition is struggling to identify and play with core issues to transform itself into an effective one. The BJP formed governments four times since Independence. BJP is running through a golden era of politics with two successive stand alone wins.
BJP as Opposition
Many people misunderstand that the role of opposition is opposing all proposals of the government. This view is very myopic. India is the biggest democracy of the world. The opposition can play a role in framing the policies of health, education, economy and fighting corruption. Nothing stopped BJP in working in the area of good governance. When BJP was in opposition, the work started right after the general election. It is not sitting in parliament and going home, it started networking with common man, established contacts, and started dialogue again. It tried its best to connect with the voices of the marginalized and also tried to create awareness that electing leaders is not the expected outcome of a democracy. So, its leaders always tried to create a bond between the ruler and common man.
BJP acted as a very disciplined, diligent and active opposition party since it started winning elections. The way the BJP questioned the government and participated in debates with full force was laudable. It proved itself that it is an efficient and smart opposition. As they are in government for second term, they have aced the art of governing too. 2019, the BJP came to power with 303 seats. The huge win of the BJP weakened the INC which limited itself to 52 seats. Weakening of opposition party started in 2014, then it attained peak level during 2019 and it resulted in absence of a strong opposition leader. Rahul Gandhi, of the INC resigned as the president of the party after losing 2019 election leading to morale weakening of the party to stand as tall opposition to the government led by the BJP.
The aimless and directionless opposition has failed to discharge its duties on the floor of the parliament. It failed to question the government on amending the constitution for the passage of various bills. The BJP government has taken several landmark decisions during the current session and the opposition offered no resistance through quality arguments.
The revocation and abrogation of Article 370, giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir was passed without much resistance from the opposition party as it failed to offer notable arguments. Sedition Law was amended to book any citizen involving in any anti-national activity without a piece of evidence is primarily liable. The opposition allowed the bill to pass as it is tight lipped to pass any valid comment and stop the enforcement of the bill. The Goods ad Services Tax Bill was conceived by Atal Bihari Vajapayee in 1999 but was proposed by Dr.Manmohan Singh in 2006, then the BJP as opposition had shown tremendous resistance to the passing of the GST Bill, and the bill was not passed. 2017, the GST Bill got finally passed during Narendra Modi’s first term as the amendment of Article 368. Again, the opposition has shown its routine non performing nature to counter the government with logic and argument.
The list is endless. It may be handling of Covid, PM Cares Fund, the Farm Bills, handling of Defence matters, the opposition kept silent on all matters without doing the needed homework. Welfare of the citizen is not on their agenda. The opposition is at operation with self-growth goals. Opposition in small number is another issue. Hence many small parties are coming together to project a bigger opposition alliance, however personal interests of the party are served in general rather than focusing on the interest of the common man.
Though elections are very important in a democracy, they are not the end goal to the functioning of a democracy. Indian democracy should have a strong opposition acting as a check on corrupt political leaders, civil and religious unrest. Unfortunately, opposition is becoming a tool to create the unrest.
The problem of opposition as for everyone else, is not whether India will judge them wise or foolish regarding the war on government; it is, the way that past 6 years have broken them away from other Indians. This alienation comes with a heavy price: in today’s selfish environment, opposition is more cynical, opportunistic, short-sighted and parasitic than anyone else, and their understanding of Indians is as bad as they understood themselves. When opposition took streets, they assume that people of India know nothing or the victims of government policies. They are defying the norms and they have to be played on their own terms and becoming the reason of unrest. Very difficult for a democracy to succeed without a strong, dynamic and proactive opposition and the founding fathers of our constitution always wanted it.
A strong opposition with a strong leader is the need of the hour to make the actions of the government more accountable and responsible. The current political situation is not promising the desired outcome of Indian democracy enjoying a strong, dynamic, and action-oriented opposition. India is at cross-roads in the absence of a strong influential opposition leader nullifying the choices of the common man. Let’s hope for the best in 2021 and the better sense prevails now. If not now, it will be never.
“If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower