Manohar Seetharam
Is there an opposition Dharma ?
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Dharma, is a concept and a thought that is of central importance in the Indian philosophy. It can refer to various things and be interpreted in many ways. In the case of an individual it deals with his responsibilities, personal obligations, calling and duties. Dharma, does not prescribe any one chosen set of actions for an individual and bar the others. Many situational realities, consequences of actions and the time of action all significantly bear upon what would pass as Dharma. This concept was put to use by Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee during the 6 year NDA rule at the center, when he coined the phrase coalition dharma. This cemented the working relationship between the various coalition partners by reassuring the numerically less significant partners of the BJP’s commitment to the agenda of the coalition. Recently this same phrase was used by the present ruling coalition, UPA, to defend the acts of graft by their members holding high political and administrative positions. In this post I would like to discuss what might constitute as opposition dharma in the prevailing national situation.

Principles at stake :

The message one hears loud and clear from the ruling elite of the country is that, we have figured out how to win elections. The scale of the corruption unravelled in the recent times is only matched by the brazenness with which the accused politicians were prepared to, rough-it-out. It saddens me immensely to say that principles today have been reduced to the state of proverbs, they are to be deployed to make an argument, but rarely practiced. This great erosion of principles from politics cannot be undone in one stroke, and certainly not by the pygmies occupying the leadership positions in Delhi. It will be a long battle and I sincerely wish to see those fighting for this cause, like Shri.Govindacharya, achieve their goals. The immediate concern however, is to ensure that the belief of the public in these principles is not decisively and irreversibly damaged. In the event of this ruling coalition getting re-elected, I fear, that is exactly what will happen. Many behavioural economists today believe that a principled, ethics based society is essential to maintain and sustain an investment friendly, high-growth economy. A nation devoid of principles, would in my opinion, not be very far from a moral collapse. Hence it is imperative that the present Government be replaced at the earliest available opportunity to safeguard that inner core of our society.

Instititions at stake :

Any democratic polity is only as strong as it’s institutions. Institutions like the Parliament, independent judiciary and media are some of the essentials for a democracy to function effectively. In the Indian context I would even say that the Prime-minister and the cabinet are also institutions. This government began it’s term with an assault on the institution of Prime-minister by nominating an individual who was openly subservient to an outside authority. This was followed up by draining crucial decision making powers from the cabinet and Parliament into the NAC (National Advisory Council), which has today transformed into a virus trying to infect not just our institutions but also our constitution. Our institutions have come under sustained attack under the last 7 years of UPA mis-rule. It would take nothing short of focused reforms to bring these institutions back on their feet. Every concerned citizen must worry about the health of our institutions and ask him-selves the question if our institutions are in a position to face 7 more years of such a sustained attack ?

Opposition-dharma :

In this prevailing situation, which as I have argued above, pose a threat to our institutions, society and our larger interests, what are the duties and responsibilities of the political opposition of our country ? The primary duty and obligation of the opposition party today is exactly similar to what it would have been under normal circumstances, which are to function as a watchdog of democracy and to emerge as a better alternative. The only difference under these extra-ordinary circumstances is that now, the cost of opposition failing to fulfil it’s duties will be too steep, not just for the party but for the entire nation. There has been some misguided criticism against the BJP for not articulating it’s positions on many fundamental issues, which are of interest to the intellectual class, in clear terms, and foisting this as a reason for the unenviable position they find themselves in. This criticism is in my opinion misplaced, the focus of the criticism must be on their electoral strategy. It is an accepted fact that the Indian voters almost never vote on the basis of ideology, they are guided by other factors.This not withstanding, the party has taken a principled position on many issues like federalism and economy. However, it is important to realise that these moves will not enable the opposition to fulfil it’s dharma, which is to dethrone the present ruling coalition.

There is no accountability like political accountability and in our country it is exercised through elections. Let us assume for a moment that the BJP had emerged as the principal opposition party in Assam and opened it’s accounts in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala in the recently concluded assembly elections. Now ask yourselves, wouldn’t that have had an impact on the conduct of the Union Government ? I think that would have forced even the free-thinking intellectuals and many commentators to review the dismissive tone they have currently reserved for the party. Even as a citizen I cannot explain how helpless I would feel if the present party were to emerge victorious one more time. The country desperately needs an alternative and not necessarily a Gandhi. The people of Tamil Nadu were fortunate that they had a party which they could back to unseat the manifestly corrupt government, if the chosen party causes more grief they can always bring the other party back the next time.

The Congress party very reluctantly and under compulsion began the reform process in the ninties. It blamed the Left parties for stalling all reform measures during the UPA-1. But now it is very clear that the reforms are not a priority to the party. We are at the threshold of crossing into an era of shortages where there will be a shortage of everything from food grains to affordable housing and from electricity to school / college seats. Do you still trust this Governement and this party to act on these issues ? The era of shortages is imminent unless an era of reforms is unleashed with immediate effect.  Where it failed to deliver on reforms the Government partially succeeded in confusing and compromising the very meaning of reforms. Today there is a real threat of various policy and governance issues, like say corruption, getting addressed as if they were some kind of social-reform issues. Along with the era of reforms, what we also need is an era of challenge, where every givens of every isms must be openly challenged and debated. What are the chances of that happening under a Congress led regime ?

In conclusion I would like to state again that, opposition-dharma, in my understanding demands that the opposition get it’s act together to fulfil it’s obligations, especially now when it is needed the most. I also propose that this will not be possible by singularly focusing on electorally irrelevant principles. For example, a sharp criticism of something like the NREGA while satisifying a minority of the voters might have an overall negative electoral impact. Hence it’s high time that BJP regain and demonstrate what many call, political expediency. Timely and skillful maneouvering might swing the political momentum completely in their favour. The question I would like to ask those seeking an alternative to the present governement is, Is it not the time for you to do your bit ? What does your Dharma or sense of duty say ?