Rahul Gandhi's efforts at uniting the opposition post-demonetisation fail
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's efforts at knitting the opposition together against the Narendra Modi government on the controversial demonetisation issue failed to set the Yamuna on fire. It lacked the political management of the grand old party which was in the vanguard of the freedom struggle.
It became apparent more meetings and discussions were required to narrow down the differences among the non-BJP parties for greater participation. Most political parties feel strongly about the demonetisation lacking proper planning causing immense hardship to the people at large adversely affecting farmers, daily wage earners, the unorganised sector and the teeming poor.
Rahul squandered away a great opportunity to push PM Modi on the back foot. The Congress should have liaised more closely with the other parties which share its ideology. Clearly, the requisite backroom work required was missing.
In October-November last year, the assembly elections in Bihar were held in five phases after forming a Mahagatbandhan or grand alliance with Nitish Kumar as its chief ministerial candidate. The idea clicked and the Mahagatbandhan won delivering a serious blow to the Lotus party. The Congress played a key part in encouraging the grand alliance. The unambiguous message is that the Old Lady of Bori Bunder needs to reach out to others rather than expect others to just fall in line.
Like the Congress there are others keen to occupy the opposition space. These parties are opposed to the BJP's Hindutva agenda set by its mentor, the RSS. Last Tuesday's high decibel verbal duel between the Rahul-Mamata combine and the loner Modi saw the latter having a definite advantage.
The splintered opposition with Rahul and Mamata in the vanguard failed to create any impact. Even as Rahul focussed on the bribery charges, Mamata bayed for Modi's head over the notes in the wake of the surprise and shocking demonetisation on the eighth of November.
The 50-day period sought by the Prime Minister to sort out problems aimed at easing the pain of the masses ended barely 24 hours back on Thursday. There is no denying that compared to the pain of withdrawing one's own money by standing in serpertine queues evidenced for more than five weeks got compounded by the empty ATMs failing to deliver cash.
Things have improved marginally on the ground and bankers assert that things continue to be bad. At the same time some glitches remain particularly in the country's outback which the Reserve Bank of India and economists of Niti Ayog claim will be sorted out in another week or ten days time into the new year.
The opposition conclave in the national capital on December 27 became a lack lustre Rahul-Mamata show with the latter recalling ""the Prime Minister said he could be punished if the situation did not improve in 50 days which ended on December 29. If the cash withdrawals are not lifted after December 30, Modi should take responsibility and resign. The government's promise should have some sanctity,"" asserted the TMC chief.
Despite the Congress initiative, several parties including the Left Front, Janata Dal (United), Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj party and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress party gave it a miss. Without being remorseful Rahul acknowledged that the parties which gave the meeting the miss had their own compulsions. It brought to the fore the serious differences of opinion particularly between Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's JD (U) and Lalu's RJD.
Rahul stressed ""Modi's words should carry weight. The shock he gave the nation was at his own initiative. This was the biggest arbitrary financial experiment ever made in the world and Modi will have to explain the objective.""
An unfazed and authoritative Modi stepped up the anti-graft rhetoric at a public rally in Dehra Dun earlier this week taking upon himself the role of a ""chowkidar (guard)"" as desired by the people. He emphasised that demonetisation was a ""cleansing drive"" and those who thought they could make their black money white through back door means were being caught now.
The demonetisation issue did far more than divide the opposition. They were confused on the approach against the Narendra Modi government. The could not fault the stated aims of demonetisation to curb black money, tackle counterfeit notes and curb terror funding. They could not attack the move in principle without being seen as backing the corrupt. Surprisingly, demonetisation seems to have driven apart parties that were in alliance.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)"