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Being in the Opposition

Updated: Dec 17, 2013, 23:50 PM IST

With the stupendous performance of the BJP in the recent state assembly elections, it is becoming clearer that the party, as expected by many, is likely to come out as the winner at the national level as well. How must the Congress be feeling right now? Is it still living in its ivory tower and cannot see the writing on the wall? Or can it actually see it but refuses to acknowledge it publicly?

How would the Congress feel about being in the opposition after a decade, if it were to not form the government at the centre? In my opinion, the Congress should welcome this, especially given the chaos it is currently in. This suggestion may sound blasphemous to many politicians, who can think of nothing but being in power, as if that is the only way to be in politics. Here is why being in the opposition would not be that bad an option for the Congress.

Every party, or politician, or organisation, or individual needs time to reflect. Given the fast paced nature of our politics that has multiple strings pulling every party in all directions, the ruling party does not get enough time to breathe, leave alone reflect. If and when the Congress is not in power, it should welcome this break and utilize it to reflect on its performance during the UPA-II tenure. It can also utilize this time to develop its leaders and not again be seen as being dependent on the Gandhi name; a strategy that is clearly giving diminishing returns.

The Congress party has time and again been accused of a disease called ‘hubris’ though many in the party deny it. Even if this may not be entirely true, it is not unnatural either. A party that returns to power with a clear mandate in its favour can sometimes take power for granted. Not much has changed in the Congress functioning over the years, and somehow every win serves to reinforce its belief in its jaded strategies. A few years out of power may help shrug the party out of its comfort zone; a therapy sometimes necessary to restore a patient back to normal health.

If and when the BJP is in power, the Congress should lap up the opportunity to observe its every move. Only two scenarios are possible. First, the BJP does well; a scenario that would weaken the Congress’ hold, but here again, the latter can learn some lessons and understand how to do the right things. The second scenario that is more likely over the long run is that as things change, they remain the same. This means that the BJP ultimately turns out to be not very different from the Congress, on the ground. It is then that the Congress can vociferously claim that the BJP has made no real difference and could not keep up its promises.

The Congress can also use the opportunity to give the BJP a taste of its own medicine. It is very easy to sit, oppose and point out problems that the BJP has been doing for almost a decade now. The real challenge lies in coming up with solutions, which sadly in our country, the opposition is not expected to do. The Congress can oppose bills, or ordinances, or proposals in the name of public good even though they may be the best available logical and viable options. Since the majority of the public does not understand or bother to go into the details, the Congress can cry hoarse and take credit for stalling moves against the so-called public good. This would help it win brownie points that it could not win with its pro-people steps like the Food Security Bill, the Right to Education, NREGA, etc.

The Congress party can start its election campaign for the 2019 general elections from as early as 2017 by doing some good work on the ground. This would help it score much higher points in the public eye than it could possibly have scored if it comes to power. Firstly, nobody expects anything from the opposition, so anything that it does would be over and above the expectations. Secondly, it can show the people that it means business this time and if given a chance, this is what it would continue. Thirdly, it can prove to the people that it is more adept at doing what is expected of the ruling party. Lastly, it can prove to the people that if the opposition wants, it too can bring about a change, which the BJP failed to do while it was in the opposition. A great plan, however, it is quite prone to failure because it requires constructive action, hard work and sincerity by the political class; something akin to expecting a child to not eat candies when there is a jar full of them and nobody to stop him/her.

Sometimes not being in power can be good, or at times may wield more power. Sonia Gandhi is a befitting example of this dichotomy. By giving up the post of the Prime Minister in 2004, she actually won herself more power than she gave up. And, it is precisely this strategy that the Congress party has to employ sitting in the opposition’s chair. However, the attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful. Sadly, politics epitomizes this truth very well.

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)