The Spectre of Opposition Unity

They have all had a hand in weakening the foundations of democracy and paving the way for the present dreadful strength of the despotic forces


How, or indeed why, should parties that are bitterly opposed to each other (who come election time jump at each other’s throat) are toying with the idea of coming together, is a much-discussed topic in the press today. 

First thing to say is, of course, that we live in very very different times. We are enjoined by circumstances to unite in order to defend something more fundamental and valuable than our specific party agendas. That is, the idea of and scope for a free society where political power is used to liberate individuals from inherited social and economic constraints, not only to realise their general creative potential, but also to enrich and improve the social order for betterment of life for the people.         

Parties in question are agreed on this, but apparently without clarity on the main issues. For instance, regional parties have arisen out of conviction that national parties have pursued the above-mentioned aims in ways that have imperilled regional identities. And there are parties seeking social justice that fear that particular sections of society have been left in the lurch by a kind of national development that has furthered the interests of the socially privileged. In their view, those are the immediate and vital issues. Left parties focus more on the needs and claims of the oppressed classes and believe the big national parties have turned their backs on them and worked mainly for the bourgeoisie and the feudal elements. So on and so forth.           

But the very logic and dynamic of events that have thrown them apart are now forcing on their recognition the fact that the very political order framing their differing aims is now in grave jeopardy. Recent developments in the country portend a new order that simply refuses to acknowledge their concerns. It embodies a new and radically different idea of India and threatens to bury for good the constitution that has sheltered them so far. And the added danger is that like the freedom movement of yore that brought into being the constitution, this new political vision(some might say mare)also seems to have its own  legions of soldiers ready to lay down their lives. More, they seem ready to sacrifice any number of lives other than their own.         

This recognition is not all that luminous in the minds of all. Some are so mired in their old rhetoric and passions, so entrenched in interests they have created through their chequered careers, that they are ready to split at a moment’s notice at the first suspicion of threat to those interests and passions. It will require immense patience, tenacity, and negotiating skill to bring and hold together this motley crowd.           

Well-meaning people acclaim and earnestly desire it. But the parties themselves are not so willing to shoulder the yoke. Will sheer electoral calculus deliver the results? But unless cemented by clarity of perception and firmness of purpose, the unity will remain fragile and may splinter later even after initial success, in the end, enhancing the strength of the common enemy. It has many times more resources than all opposition garnered through questionable use of state power. It has sponsored an organisation to proliferate and spread to the grassroots to support it, which works in the shades beyond the scan of the Media content to focus on political parties that by no means match its reach and ubiquity. Opposition unity is the only rational response to such a pervasive danger.         

That then is the need of the hour and not a common leader so repeatedly harped on by popular publicists.A common platform adopted together will help much more at the moment than an elusive common indisputable leader. 

And that platform has to be based on acceptance of and adherence to certain principles above the gains and losses of short-time politics. And those principles must be deeply rooted in the interests of the great and broad democratic masses who have borne the brunt of the economic and social turbulence of recent decades. Without that mooring the ‘idea of India’ is an arid and sterile concept. And this vision  is also akin to the spirit of the phrase ‘We the People’ in the Preamble to the Constitution.           

That means a reckoning with the towering presence of things that have emerged in these decades to dominate the geographic and political horizons in the country. First, the corporates which seem to be dictating many startling new policies like wholesale auction of national assets including forests and water resources. 

Second, blitzkrieg-like strikes at lingering bargaining strength of primary producers like farmers and organized labour. Third, the growth of the government like a behemoth of brute power against all conceivable freedoms of citizens. At exactly what moment did security of the nation get narrowed down to security of the government in power? And when did police start degenerating into a rag- tag band of enforcers of the will of those who wield power? And when and how did a menacing security-and-surveillance state loom into view?       

The reckoning will require honest, searching self-examination, among the entities groping for unity, on their own role through greed for heedless power and blank opportunism for the same end. They have all had a hand in weakening the foundations of democracy and paving the way for the present dreadful strength of the despotic forces.         

Had they been more circumspect in happier times, more respectful to rule of law, and more concerned with the BASIC needs of the people, things would not have come to this pass.  

The example of West Bengal may have given rise to the myth of some electoral calculus bringing about the desired result. But it is not regionalism by itself that has won this spectacular victory. Mamata Banerjee, whatever her antecedents, has rightly embraced a much larger vision than dominance in West Bengal. During the phases of the election, she had rung out an impassioned appeal for broader goals like secularism, social justice and the preservation of the constitution and multitudes of non-Bengalis had voted for her. Now, it will be difficult for her to backtrack and confine herself to pottering with the ricketty resources and the meaner trickles of power that had been her lot so far. One hopes she too will engage in that self-searching and corresponding changes in her political project.

The outcome of this national exercise for democratic forces will be portentous, as not only normal politics, but even such elementary human virtues as decency and sanity are in grave peril.

*The author is a highly respected Assamese intellectual, a literary critic and social-scientist from Assam. Views expressed are the author’s own. 

Other pieces by Dr. Hiren Gohain:  

The UAPA noose 

The riddle of ‘Elected Autocracy’ 

Riddle of Assam elections 



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