The reason democracy is such an effective system is because it presents several checks and balances to the government. Among the key parts of this machine is the Opposition.
In India’s parliamentary system, the Opposition has the opportunity to counter the government and present its viewpoint to the people of India. In fact, doing so is critical, given that it keeps the government on its toes.
Yet, one of the reasons Indian democracy finds itself in a crisis right now is the complete disarray in the ranks of its largest opposition party, the Congress.
Far from opposing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress seems to be spending much of its time opposing itself. Just over the past week, as many as three public spats between major Congress leaders have reared their heads.
On Monday, senior Congress leaders were found trolling each other on social media website, Twitter. A comment by Mumbai Congressman Milind Deora praising the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi elicited a sharp reaction from Delhi leader Ajay Maken. “Brother, you want to leave the Congress. Please do,” he tweeted. Party media head Randeep Surjewala acerbically advised Deora to “look inward and see what contributions you have made”.
On Friday, Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia threatened to join a public agitation against his own party’s government in Madhya Pradesh. The threat is seen to be an outcome of a personal rivalry between Scindia and the state’s chief minister Kamal Nath. A day before this, on Thursday, Arjun Modhwadia, former president of Gujarat Congress, sharply criticised the party’s Delhi leadership for being “rarely available to senior state leaders”.
Dissension is not limited to personal rivalries. The Congress is speaking in many tongues on the critical issue of citizenship. Even as the party has opposed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, senior leader Shashi Tharoor dismissed opposition from states as a “political gesture”. Another senior Congressman, Jairam Ramesh then went on to criticise the protest at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh – even though the Congress itself has voiced the same demand as the protestors: that the National Register of Citizens be scrapped.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of a complete vacuum at the top. Given the party’s complete dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Rahul Gandhi’s continued failures and subsequent resignation has placed the Congress in a quandry.
To add to this, the party has no ideology to fall back upon. Unlike the BJP or various regional parties, the Congress has no core set of beliefs or identity group to appeal to. The party’s main appeal has always been power. But this is in short supply given it now sits in the Opposition at the national level.
Yet, even at this nadir, the Congress cannot be dismissed. In the 2019 Lok Saha election, one out of every five votes cast went to the party. Currently the Congress has five chief ministers. This is why the party’s comatose state must be addressed even more urgently.
This Congress stasis could not have happened at a worse time. The current BJP government has squeezed Indian democracy to a point where very serious fears of authoritarian rule are being expressed. In this time of crisis, the fact that country’s largest opposition party is imploding will have unfortunate effects on India’s democratic ethos.