By Deepak Gopalakrishnan Dec. 17, 2019
India’s students are leading a movement against the discriminatory Citizenship Act. Right now we need a powerful leader from the Opposition who can back our angry youth and lead the way. But yet again, our Opposition fails us – and abandons its role as a watchdog of our democracy.
I was at the Mumbai University protest against the Citizenship Act on Monday. It was a heartening gathering of a few hundred, raucous people who came in the middle of a workday to a slightly inconvenient part of the city. Banners were flown, chants were chanted, and everything was quite peaceful. Some protestors got hold of a megaphone and there were passionate speeches, greeted with applause all-round. And then someone with a suspiciously familiar tricolour shawl came and started speaking with a bent that was distinctly different from his predecessors. Within seconds, everyone realised what was happening: This was a Congress stooge, trying to politicise the issue. He was swiftly shooed away amid impatient cries of “No politics!”
To me, nothing summed up the Congress’ stint in opposition more than that moment. Largely silent, clumsy, opportunistic, leaving others to do the brunt of the work, and always coming in unfashionably late.
Take a depressing rewind of all the controversial policies and laws passed by the establishment over the past few months and where our Opposition was. The abrogation of Section 370? Silence. Data Privacy Bill? Enh, whatevs. Lynchings, rapes, internet shutdowns, and all the things that have become as routine as a morning shit? Zilch. Don’t get me wrong – they did put out some very clever tweets, very funny. But in terms of actually being part of public discourse? In terms of being a check on the ruling party? In terms of putting their neck on the line instead of perfunctory marches? In terms of being a functional, effective Opposition? Nothing. Shamefully, woefully, nothing.
I’ll give this to the BJP – they are an electoral machine. They know how to win elections. They know PR. They know how to mobilise a base. And they speak in the same voice. Agree with them or not, you know where they stand on certain issues. The Congress on the other hand? Missing in Action.
Priyanka Gandhi, to her credit, did hold a march, but by then it seemed too little, too late – universities and well-meaning citizens all over the county had already mobilised thousands. Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images
Priyanka Gandhi, to her credit, did hold a march, but by then it seemed too little, too late – universities and well-meaning citizens all over the county had already mobilised thousands.
Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images
When was the last time you heard of Rahul Gandhi? When he was off vacationing? Oh, yes, he did make a “Rape in India” comment and defended it by saying that his name is “Rahul Gandhi, not Rahul Savarkar”, infuriating their new alliance partner in Mahrashtra, the Shiv Sena. But apart from a few tweets, he’s still been pretty much out of action in the current crisis. Reportedly, he is part of a parliamentary delegation and is away. But is that more important than backing one of the largest students’ protests in recent times? Where are your priorities, Mr Gandhi?
Stepping in once again in an attempt to save face were other Congress leaders. The wokest of woke Shashi Tharoor was busy tweeting on Monday with relevant hashtags – #BJPBurningBharat – and whatnot. But social media activism is not going to save the day, is it? Watching Sonia Gandhi read out a speech at a rally opposing CAB was painful (again, look at how the BJP leaders give speeches). Priyanka Gandhi, to her credit, did hold a march, but by then it seemed too little, too late – universities and well-meaning citizens all over the county had already mobilised thousands. This is a protest spearheaded by India’s youth and yet young faces of the Congress – Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia – were conspicuous by their absence. Instead, joining Priyanka Gandhi was Jagish Tytler, a 1984-riots accused.
(In B-School, we would call this playing for class participation points.)
Journalist Rana Ayyub puts it succinctly in a tweet, “At this point India is desperately missing leaders who can lead the students, who can speak for them, who can resist and oppose this fascism, who can channelise this rage into a constructive opposition.”
This is such a travesty. While the United States in its current avatar should not be a political beacon of anything, I can’t help envying the opposition they have in the House. The Democrats seem passionate and inventive. Be it young turks like Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez, or the veterans like Nancy Pelosi, all of them look like they have the stomach for a fight and genuinely mean what they’re fighting for. It’s only their spunk and grit that’s pushing Trump to impeachment and hopefully, away from a second term.
While the United States in its current avatar should not be a political beacon of anything, I can’t help envying the opposition they have in the House.
Where’s that sort of grit here? Do we even know who the leader of the Congress is? The one ready to take on the powerful BJP? Surely by now, a party that has been dominating politics for the better part of our independent era should be smart enough to realise that we are living in an age of icons – of which Modi is the biggest – and they will need someone to at least try to build up a credible opposing stature that people can rally around? This is a party in such disarray that the only time they’ve made the news recently is when the Shiv Sena decided to end its uncomfortable bromance with the BJP in Maharashtra and latched on to whoever it could find (it rebounded to the NCP, and got the Congress as a Buy 1 Get 1 Free).
Alright, I’ll grant I might be cherry-picking situations, maybe the Congress leaders did go and organise marches and make speeches. But what beyond just saying, “BJP is a sux”? What solutions have they offered? Do non-aligned Indians even know how the Congress stands on critical issues such as the flailing economy? They’re supposed to be a freakin’ opposition party, not an internet troll. Just saying “India faces a dark future because of <insert BJP policy here>” is just not enough. What are its solutions?
What’s more depressing is that things don’t look like they’re going to change. The Congress has both a rudderless leadership and a vacant next-generation. I’m struggling to think of even one new Congressperson, while I can think of at least three potential candidates for premiership once Modi decides to call it a day. Where are the attempts by the Opposition at connecting with the youth or support of journalists doing good work and criticising the government (on the other hand, look at how BJP supports its mouthpieces and trolls)?
Even more disheartening is that another viable alternative doesn’t seem to present itself. While the Mamta Banerjee-led march has become the enduring image of Bengal’s protests, it’s worth remembering that she stormed out of Parliament in 2005, demanding a version of NRC. It’s worth being healthily skeptical about anything any politician says these days – even if one seems to be offering the polar opposite of the BJP’s blatant bigotry.
It must be quite clear by now that I’m not a supporter of the ruling party, but it’s not like I have tattoos of the bumbling fools in Opposition either. And I am not quite sure who poses the bigger threat right now.
All I can tell you is, class participation points alone were not enough to help get a passing grade.
Deepak 'Chuck' Gopalakrishnan is a freelance writer and marketing guy who lives in Mumbai. He runs two podcasts (Simblified, The Origin Of Things) and a satire newsletter (The Third Slip). He used to work in advertising until his soul couldn't take it anymore, and now spends all his time annoying his cats, listening to prog-metal, cycling and writing bios of himself in third person. He has an irrational love for cold water and Tabasco.