Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and PM Modi are at their absolute best when it comes to inventing slogans or as their political opponents say, “Jumlas”. Be it “Abki Baar Modi Sarkaar” or “Chalo Paltai” (Lets change; used in Tripura elections recently), the BJP and Modi has truly championed the art of political sloganeering. However, one very widely used but controversial slogan, is “Congress-Mukt Bharat” i.e. India without congress. Propounded and propagated during the election campaign of 2014 General Elections, this slogan has indeed become an integral part of BJP’s strategy as well as its stated agenda or objective.
While it was initially believed that the utility of this slogan, for BJP, will cease to exist post 2014 elections, in reality it did not happen. On the contrary, the BJP has deployed this slogan in every state election wherever it had Congress as its principal opponent in the last few years. While initially some conceived of it as a metaphor used for “dynastic and corrupt” rule of Congress, soon it became clear that the BJP meant it literally – that it complete political annihilation of the Indian National Congress (INC).
Now, coming to the other side of the coin, if one is asked to pick what has been the strongest assertion made by the BJP since 2014, one will be compelled to say that it is the issue of nationalism and portraying itself as the biggest votary of nationalism (or perhaps the ‘only one’, which BJP has strongly articulated). The whole debate around national, or anti-national, is indeed a progeny of BJP. With its own brand and ideology of cultural nationalism, the party has tried to maneuver all debate and discussion around the binary of national and anti-national, which worked wonders for the party. And in this debate, it had time and again vouched for itself as being the ‘true’ representative and carrier of Indian nationalism. Whether it was the decision to demonitize 500 and 1000 denomination currency in November 2016 or the issue of surgical strikes, all the major and controversial decisions have been legitimised on the pretext of them being in the “interest of the country.” For that matter, no other government in the centre has before laid so much emphasis on them being working in the interest of the nation, in as much as the BJP has done. Yet, when the BJP says time and again “Congress Mukt Bharat”, it might contract itself, atleast in theory, and invoke regional sentiments in the next General Elections.
Two-party system with support from regional parties
Party system in India has evolved from one party dominant system, often referred to as ” the congress system” in the first four decades after independence, to a multiparty coalition system during the 1990s. Election of 1989 is generally regarded as a landmark event as it heralded not only the end of the dominance of INC at the centre but also the rise of regional parties and coalition politics in India. Since the 1990s, two major coalition alliances have emerged – the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) headed by the Congress, which remained in power from 2004-14 and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by the BJP, which held power during 1998-2004 and has been ruling again since 2014. It must also be noted that even during 1991-96, when INC was in power, it was informally supported by certain factions of regional parties, which eventually got merged into INC. Thus, for the last three decades, we have seen more or less a two-party system with regional parties supporting either BJP or INC in some capacity. Such two-party system, at least in theory, has worked very well for country’s economy, stability, and resulted in a significant increase in standard of living.
While one may argue that India has a multiparty system, in effect, only BJP and INC have the capability and the nation-wide agenda to take forward developmental policies and provide a stable governance. INC may have become electorally weak or has a count of MPs almost equivalent to that of regional parties like AIADMK or TMC, but a strong coalition against the BJP at the national level can only be made with it INC being a part of such an alliance. The regional parties may come together to contest the election and may also win the elections, however, they will not be able to provide a ‘stable’ governance without a party with presence at the national level. The instances of 1989 and 1996 when the regional parties came together but weren’t able to provide stable governance, is something all regional parties must be aware of when advocating the a third front. More importantly, even the BJP should not advocate too much on Congress Mukt Bharat, as it would only give the rise to the regional sentiments, which might work against the its (BJP) own agenda of ‘nationalism’.
A ‘constructive opposition’ at the national level
Thus, today if the BJP says that it is a true nationalistic party and at the same time seeks to make India Congress-mukt, it might be sowing the seeds of strong regional sentiments. In the past few days, after the declaration of results in North-eastern states, some parties have already started talking about a third front against the BJP and INC. Whether it is a populist gimmick or not by these regional parties, such ‘front’ might work against both BJP and INC, which will eventually bring instability at the centre.
In any robust democracy, it is an accepted fact that there must be the presence of a strong and meaningful opposition. While the INC may not have provided strong opposition in the last few years due to its numbers in the parliament, it still has the capability to revive and provide constructive criticism to Modi government’s policies. Without a strong opposition, it is only a matter of time before the BJP turns complacent and stagnates, and gives to another round of regional sentiments. Therefore, it is time the BJP realise this paradox, for it cannot aggressively pursue ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’, which would go act against its nationalist agenda.
– Contributed by Suryansh