New Delhi: The decline of the opposition in several states, an emerging trend in Indian politics, was highlighted by the Congress party again in the recent assembly elections.
The Congress and its allies retained power in Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and Haryana in October, with divided oppositions unable to dent their prospects.
A range of issues, from more pronounced internal feuds and a preoccupation with managing allies, have made state opposition parties unproductive, precluding them from their function as a check on governments, say analysts.
Smooth run: The opposition in Tamil Nadu had been almost non-existent in the past six months with AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa only recently resurfacing from her self-imposed exile. R. Senthil Kumar / PTI
“The opposition in most states is in complete disarray,” said Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor of political science at Delhi University. “The idea that the opposition will play an effective role in controlling the government has disappeared, both at the Centre and in states.”
In several states, the opposition is preoccupied with internal feuds. In Madhya Pradesh, which elected a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for a second consecutive term last December, the opposition Congress is bogged in factional infighting.
“Like in any other state, the Congress is a divided house here and has completely failed as an opposition,” said Suresh Mehrotra, a Bhopal-based political analyst. “The party, which has too many important leaders, has not been able to take on the government on issues such as corruption or even more people-related issues like drinking water scarcity and the power crisis... In fact, no opposition exists in this state.”
The BJP has 143 seats in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh assembly; the Congress has 71.
In Rajasthan, which went to polls in December, the roles of the two parties are reversed. The functioning of the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in the state is virtually unchecked with the main opposition, BJP, reeling under the burden of its factional feud. And with Vasundhara Raje, the former chief minister and head of the party in the state, being forced to quit as leader of the opposition in the assembly, the party has been thrown into further chaos.
The Congress has 101 seats in the 200-member House and the BJP, 78.
“It is true for both the Congress and the BJP that once ousted from power and when forced to sit in the opposition, the parties fail to deal with the organizational anarchy which sets in due to loss of regime,” said BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “Ultimately, the working of the opposition suffers.”
Another reason for weak oppositions, experts say, is that political parties are too focused on electoral tactics to concentrate on their legislative and parliamentary roles.
“In Tamil Nadu, there is absolutely no opposition in policy issues. Even the customary noise the opposition used to make in some matters is not to be seen anywhere now. Everybody is busy managing elections and alliances,” said V. Krishna Ananth, a Chennai-based columnist and political analyst.
The opposition in Tamil Nadu had been almost non-existent the past six months with Jayalalithaa, chief of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), only recently resurfacing from her self-imposed exile, resulting in a smooth run for the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam -Congress combine.
Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, both with single-party governments of the BJP and the Congress, respectively, have hardly been engaged by the opposition parties in the state. While the Congress in Karnataka is fraught with domestic disputes, the other opposition party, former prime minister Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), has not been particularly active either.
Experts say both the opposition parties failed to question the government on issues such as the rising communal tensions in the state or the lacklustre response of the government to the floods.
“In both these crucial issues, the government could have been hauled up for its ineffectiveness but both the Congress and the JD(S) failed to capitalize on the limitations of the BJP government,” said Sandeep Shastri, a Bangalore-based political analyst.
In Andhra, analysts say the main opposition Telugu Desam Party should have taken up the issue of the “government practically being on a holiday” more seriously. “After chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death, the opposition should have questioned the government on this circus of leadership tussle but it failed to do so,” said Shastri.
Some states such as the Left Front-ruled West Bengal and the Bahujan Samaj Party-ruled Uttar Pradesh are at the other end of the spectrum, with immensely active but confrontationalist oppositions in Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party and Congress, respectively, at times even stalling development activities.
Mint had reported on 19 October how the bitter political rivalry between the state government and the Trinamool Congress’ confrontationalist approach is retarding development in West Bengal.
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), according to experts, stands out as a fine example of an opposition’s desired role, largely because of the relatively new emergence of a significant opposition.
“Since coalition politics emerged in J&K in 2002, the opposition there has been very effective. The opposition, especially the PDP (Mehbooba Mufti-led People’s Democratic Party), has contributed significantly to both mainstream and separatist politics by bringing discourse from the latter into the mainstream agenda,” said Rekha Chowdhary, professor of political science at the University of Jammu. “The best way to see the opposition’s effectiveness is to see how many times the ruling National Conference changed its discourse after the PDP or Hurriyat raised issues, for instance, in the recent Shopian rape and murder case.”
Liz Mathew contributed to this story.