Though almost all the opposition parties in India are opposing the BJP, they have been unable or unwilling to form a joint platform
Ever since the Modi government passed the Citizen (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests have been staged all over the country. But, in a recent development, three opposition parties refused to attend a meeting called by the Indian National Congress to develop a joint strategy against the CAA.
Former UP chief minister Mayawati has accused the Congress of luring some members of her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Rajasthan assembly to defect. The literal meaning of Bahujan is the people of majority or the majority group. The BSP claims to represent the most backward castes and classes of India. This party was established in 1984 by Kanshi Ram who claimed that nearly 85 per cent of the population in India was divided among 6,000 castes.
Now, the BSP is the second largest party in the UP Assembly having garnered nearly 20 percent of the popular votes in the 2019 elections. Three years before his death in 2006, Kanshi Ram had nominated Mayawati as his successor. She remained chief minister of UP for five years from 2007 to 2012. Prior to that she was chief minister for three months in 1995 and then for six months in 1997. In 1995 the UP Assembly was dissolved and presidential rule was imposed, and in 1997 the BJP toppled Mayawati and Kalyan Singh of the BJP became chief minister.
Now the Congress has been contacting almost all opposition parties to be active together, but Mayawati has declined the offer. West Bengal’s Trinamol Congress and Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party have also refused to attend the meeting. The Congress is opposing not only the CAA but also the National Register (NR) scheme of the BJP that aims to deprive mainly Muslims of their Indian citizenship. The NR requires the production of old documents to prove Indian citizenship, failing which people will lose their rights as citizens.
Then they will either be thrown out of India or will be forced to live as second-grade citizens in detention camps that are already under construction, especially in the northeastern state of Assam. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena has declined the Congress offer. Mayawati’s primary objection was that in the past the Congress Party in Rajasthan on two occasions enticed the BSP legislators to defect, even though the BSP was supporting the Congress government from outside. It is noteworthy that currently Congress is ruling Rajasthan where it had formed the state government after snatching power from the BJP after a five years period.
Though almost all the opposition parties in India are opposing the BJP, they have been unable or unwilling to form a joint platform. For example, Shiv Sena, which literally means the army of Shiv, is a local Hindu nationalist party of Maharashtra, established in 1966 by Bal Thakarey. Initially, it had demanded that the local people of Marattha origin be preferred in jobs over immigrants from other states. Nowadays the leader of Shiv Sina is Udhav Thakarey who supported the CAA in Lok Sabha but abstained in the Rajya Sabha count.
The BJP, perhaps, miscalculated the reaction following the Kashmir legislation. Since there was no major protest in support of Kashmir in India and no strong international opposition, the BJP probably thought the CAA too would not elicit much condemnation.
So the Congress did not get major party support in the meeting held on January 13, 2020. A major reason for that was the chief minister of West Bengal, Mumta Bannerji, who once belonged to the Congress but now leads her own party and refuses to accept the Congress leadership. She was perhaps the first chief minister who led huge processions in her state against the CAA. Perhaps, that’s why she thinks that the leadership of any movement against the BJP must fall to herself and not the Congress.
If we look at the tally in the Lok Sabha, the BJP occupies 303 seats whereas the Congress has 52 and Mumta Banerjee’s Trinamol Congress 22 seats. The DMK party of south India has 24 seats in Lok Sabha. Looking at the upper house, Rajya-Sabha, we see that the BJP has 83 seats as opposed to 46 occupied by the Congress. So the expectation of Mumta Banerjee that the opposition leadership should be in her hands appears to be unreasonable, since she is a local leader.
She cannot claim to challenge the federal status of the Congress party. This has divided the opposition parties in India into many groups and the BJP is taking full advantage of this rift. The BJP demonstrated its power when its chief minister in UP, Yogi Adityanath, introduced a new police commissioner system in two major cities of the state. It is noteworthy that in UP the BJP formed its government in 2017 after a gap of 15 years.
Earlier, the BJP had ruled in the UP from 1997 to 2002 and even in those five years it had changed three chief ministers. They were Kalyan Singh, Ram Prakash Gupta and Raj Nath Singh. Then from 2002 to 2017, the UP was ruled alternatively by the BSP and the Samajwadi Party (SP). Interestingly, for the past 30 years, the Congress has not been able to form a single government in UP. Its last government ended in 1989 when ND Tiwari was its chief minister. Now the UP chief minister has given the police extraordinary powers to deal with the protesters, which threatens to increase the potential for state terrorism. On the southern side in Maharashtra, after a lapse of five years the Congress is part of a coalition government led by Shiv Sena.
The chief minister of Maharashtra is the leader of Shiv Sena, Udhav Thakarey. The Congress has ten ministries in the state government. On January 13, its education minister, Varsha Gaikwad, who is also a Congress leader, objected to an order by the BJP government that the CAA be introduced in educational institutions. She imposed a ban on CAA introduction in educational institutions across Maharashtra. That’s how the CAA has become a major issue in the Indian politics which the BJP is trying to tackle with force.
The BJP, perhaps, miscalculated the reaction following the Kashmir legislation. Since there was no major protest in support of Kashmir in India and no strong international opposition, the BJP probably thought the CAA too would not elicit much condemnation. But it appears that the BJP has not only jeopardized its government but also thrown India into a major crisis.
The writer has been associated with the education sector since 1990