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An ordinary opposition response to an extraordinary political situation

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is currently facing one of its biggest diplomatic crises following an international outcry over remarks against the Prophet by two official spokespersons for the ruling Bharatiya Janata party.

The pressure on the Union government was such that the BJP – which has made anti-Muslim rhetoric its main political pillar – was forced not only to remove the two spokespersons from their official positions, but also to provide multiple clarifications on the matter.

For a government that has mastered the skill of scoring political points even from its supposed failures, the situation it finds itself in right now is extraordinary.

But what should have been an opportune moment for the opposition to push the Modi government harder has been lost. Instead, the country has seen lukewarm – if not ordinary – responses that have failed to bring the BJP and its affiliates to the table.

The justification that opposition parties and sections of civil society have found in the controversy is perhaps natural, given how they have been outclassed by the BJP in terms of political tactics and strategy over the past few years. years. Yet the fact that their criticisms of the government have stuck to the same old rhetoric reflects both a lack of imagination and leadership within the ranks of the opposition.

Immediately after the Modi government’s diplomatic defense of blaming hate speech by prominent BJP leaders Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal on “fringe” elements, opposition forces were quick to lay the most obvious question: how can official spokespersons of a ruling party be dismissed as “marginal”.

But having struck at that very loophole, they seem to have missed what could have been a great political opportunity to effectively confront the saffron party in domestic politics.

While emphasizing that BJP spokespersons were not “marginal”, Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders, as well as those from the Trinamool Congress, leftist parties and United Progressive Alliance voters ( UPA) denounced the Saffron Festival for inciting bigotry which has caused India’s isolation in the international arena.

“international pressure”.

Similarly, the critical section of civil society mostly mocked the Modi government and the BJP for bringing India into disrepute.

Indian minorities, who have been the biggest victims of the BJP’s exclusionary policy, have limited themselves to pushing the government harder to take legal action against Sharma and Jindal, despite the fact that their protests and demands have been mostly belied by the BJP’s use of state violence. -Governed States.

This cocktail of lethargy and longing in the opposition ranks stood in stark contrast to the clever doublespeak of the BJP and the Sangh parivar’s own “opposition” to the Modi government. Although caught off guard this time around, the BJP and Sangh reacted to the situation in a more concrete way.

As the Modi government touted the values ​​of plurality and diversity of the Indian republic in its official statements to deal with the international backlash, the BJP quickly reached out to him in make statements in the media claiming that all of its official spokespersons have been “warned” against criticism of any religion, its symbols or religious figures. The BJP top brass also said that “for no provocation (in TV debates or elsewhere) they cannot violate the party’s ideals.”

At the same time, the Sangh parivar unleashed an army of social media users to ridicule the Modi government, in what appeared to be an organized attempt to politically contain any opposition within the spectrum of the political right. The Hindutva foot soldiers have taken over social media platforms with a multi-layered campaign against the Modi government that to a large extent has diverted attention from any genuine criticism of the opposition.

Some said it was ‘cowardly’ of the BJP to have sacked its own spokespersons, others said it was ‘shameful’ that the Modi government bowed to pressure from ‘Islamic’ countries. “, while some have called for a boycott of Arab countries.

The biggest advantage of such a campaign is twofold.

The binary on the basis of religious affiliations that the BJP successfully created remains the most important knot in Indian politics. The “enemy” is always the Muslim. By emphasizing the backlash from Muslim-majority countries, Hindutva activists have once again advanced the misleading perception that any political assertion by Hindus in Hindu-majority India will only be countered by “Islamism”, of which every Muslim, regardless of nationality, is a follower.

Nuances like rivalries and conflicts within Arab countries or even Saudi Arabia and Iran – BJP bigotry has managed to put Riyadh and Tehran on the same page – get lost in the middle of a such cacophony.

By highlighting the diversity of viewpoints within its ranks and promoting its majority ideology even in the midst of a government crisis, the Sangh parivar has effectively kept its majority support intact. In fact, the narrative that the “Hindu assertion” that Modi initiated under his leadership in 2014 faces the greatest threat from Islamists – both inside and outside the country – has not only to harden among Hindutva supporters in the face of continued backlash from Islam. world.

The Sangh’s intransigent campaign parivar and the BJP’s soft and calculated moves have both positioned the Saffron Party as the most dominant political force, if all aspects of electoral choice are taken into account.

The opposition’s business as usual approach has only helped the BJP consolidate its political dominance despite the massive damage it has done to India’s democratic credentials internationally. This could have become an occasion where opposition parties and civil society could have offered an alternative constitutional and secular nationalism to the people of India by opposing it to the nationalism of the BJP. The occasion could also have been a good time to strike a chord with people.

The opposition never tires of talking about constitutional nationalism, but may have missed one of the most significant moments to drive home the point. Just last month, the Congress, in its vaunted Chintan Shivir, spoke of its intention to reach the people with its own brand of nationalism and contrast it with the “exclusive and divisive” nationalism of the BJP. But he was lazy enough to let a pivotal moment like this pass – when India is cornered globally by the sectarian politics of the BJP.

Over the past few years, we have seen strong advocacy for constitutional nationalism during the Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests and year-long farmers’ unrest.

But the same civil society groups that waved the flag of constitutional nationalism high during these protests resorted to informal or faith-based responses at a time when their vision of nationalism needed to be effectively communicated.

Only one opposition voice, that of Telangana Rashtra Samithi scion KTRama Rao, stood out in a series of uninspiring opposition responses.

The son of Telangana’s Chief Minister, K. Chandrashekar Rao – ‘KTR’ as he is popularly known – laid out his nationalist credentials in no uncertain terms by asking the Prime Minister a pointed question: why should India kneel before the international community for the sins of the BJP? spokesperson?

With the exception of KTR, no opposition leader attempted to construct a political narrative that could have challenged the exclusionary nationalism of the BJP. Rather than just rejoicing in what is indeed a rare “I told you so” moment, it was also an opportunity for the opposition to speak with a united voice and present an alternative cultural and political persuasive to the BJP.

If an opposition unit is to inspire Indians ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it can only be assembled at times like these, not when the elections are approaching.

To date, most opposition forces have realized that only by advancing an alternative vision of nationalism – a vision that the founders espoused after independence but which was never truly respected as a that old free India – that BJP’s brand may be diminished. But more often than not, they are ashamed of the political vigilance of the BJP.

The story tells how Mahatma Gandhi turned moments of crisis for the British government into opportunities to override social contradictions such as religion, caste and regional origin that could have derailed the struggle for freedom. Based on pure political savvy, he successfully mounted a self-respecting, non-violent pan-Indian nationalist movement. Opposition leaders today never fail to invoke him in their speeches, but none have shown the slightest sign of emulating his political model to confront the Modi-led BJP, which has made its exclusive references its greatest strength.