The paradox of countering hegemony
The Congress in its present condition with its leadership in the current format is no threat to the BJP or the powerful combination of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
In the recent past, the Bharatiya Janata Party has lost three of its stalwart leaders due to their sad demise. Manohar Parrikar, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj had their own base of supporters and well-wishers inside the party and amongst the people. Yet, the BJP is not experiencing a vacuum of leadership in the absence of three of its most charismatic and charming leaders. The living legends of the party such as Lal Krishna Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi and Jaswant Singh have met their political end under Modi’s charisma. Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shouri, the two trusted colonels of late Atal Bihari Vajpeyee, have become the rebels. However, it has not affected the party or its government in the centre adversely. In fact, neither the party nor the government is missing their services or their counsel.
Since 2014, it has been a single man show in the BJP and its government at the centre. The only exception is, of course, the meteoric rise of Amit Shah, who has emerged as an inseparable shadow of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Amit Shah is a symbol of stability and represents the continuance of the Modi phenomenon in Indian politics. The Modi-Shah complementarity has created BJP’s strong political hegemony, and this hegemony has given birth to two counter-strategies amongst the people who want to smash the Modi-Shah dominance. Ironically, both the counter-strategies are resulting in the further strengthening of BJP’s hegemony under the Modi-Shah leadership.
The first strategy is developing a grand electoral mobilization against the BJP under the umbrella of the Congress party. Obviously, the Congress leaders are most enthusiastic about this. The intellectuals supporting the Congress are desperate for it. Both the leaders and intellectuals want the mobilization to take place against Modi-Shah’s aggressive Hindutva and against their ultra-pseudo nationalism. However, they have missed the tectonic political shift that has taken place in Indian politics since 2014. The masses have, indeed, no objection to the BJP’s aggressive and ultra-pseudo policies. The masses may not fully support the BJP-RSS’ Hindutva nationalistic agenda, but they have no confidence in the opposition that wants to counter the rightist hegemony. Unless and until the valid reasons for the loss of confidence in the opposition are determined and subsequently rectified, the Modi-Shah duo will continue to have a field day in national politics.
However, it is the BJP’s hegemonic idea of complete loyalty with no questions asked that has crept into the minds of anti-rightist leaders and intellectuals. This hegemonic dominance has hindered the process of introspection within, and without this process it is not possible to make rectifications or progress. Thus, the fizzling out of grand electoral mobilization under the Congress umbrella in 2019 was but a natural outcome. Since the last Lok Sabha election, there have not been any changes in the expectation of unqualified mobilization with regards to the Congress platform. Obviously, there are no changes in the result either. Despite losses in state assemblies, the BJP is no less confident of another emphatic victory in 2024 under Modi and Shah. And, despite unexpected wins in state assemblies over the past year, there is no confidence amongst the opposition camp to dislodge Narendra Modi from his seat of power.
The second strategy, which has been considered complementary to the first strategy, is that of consolidating the centrality of the Gandhi family in the Congress party. Particularly, Rahul Gandhi is posed as a model of opposition to Narendra Modi. The Congress party, the anti-fascist intellectuals and none other than Rahul himself are relentlessly creating a chimera of either Modi or Gandhi. To counter Modi’s hegemony, attempts have been undertaken to cast Rahul Gandhi in the role of the only eligible leader within the Congress and in the opposition. Even after the defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, this strategy has not changed. Rather, it reached its zenith when incisive thinkers like Arundhati Roy praised Rahul Gandhi for his political attacks on Modi. A radical critic of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru for different reasons, Arundhati Roy couldn’t seem to help praising Rahul Gandhi. Either Rahul Gandhi has established political standards like never before, or Arundhati Roy has also begun to believe in the Gandhi family narrative that they are the only ones who can possibly counter Modi.
The political hegemony has perverted people’s minds to such an extent that nobody seems to realize that the projection of Rahul Gandhi is nothing else but the creation of a mirror-image of Modi. If the BJP has Modi, the opposition has Rahul! If Modi has a vast following on Twitter, Rahul’s presence on social media is a lot more succinct! If Modi galvanizes NRIs, Rahul is not far behind! If Modi dominates the small screen with his political performances, Rahul has entered the arena with his weapons of interviewing the most eminent experts! If Modi handles the party and government single-handedly, Rahul can resurrect the opposition on his own! If Modi doesn’t depend on anyone in the party, Rahul also doesn’t need anyone! The hegemony of Modi has completely consumed his opposition and, more importantly, become indomitable influence over their protagonist in the scheme, i.e. Rahul Gandhi. After the defeat in the last Lok Sabha elections, Rahul has become completely careless about Congress organization and its election campaigns. He is neither interested in protecting the state governments that Congress formed under his own leadership prior to 2019 nor is he showing any interest in retaining the team he crafted for himself and for the future of the Congress party. If Modi can do it without Advani, Joshi, Parrikar, Jaitley, Sushma and Jaswant, Rahul also wants to prove that he can do it without Scindia, Hemanta Biswas Sharma, Pilot, Tanwar, Sanjay Jha or anyone else! Thus, the strategy has turned into political ego and ego is doing what it does to anyone, which is self-destruction. What should have been the battle of ideas and policies has turned into the personalized image-making and make-over campaigns of Rahul Gandhi.
The two strategies outlined above have proved to be counter-productive. They have resulted in stabilizing and further strengthening the political hegemony of the BJP. On the other hand, the hegemony itself is preventing the opposition from devising effective counter-strategies. Under such a concrete political condition, the opposition requires a two-pronged strategy. One, they must orchestrate calibrated and continuous political attacks against the BJP and the powerful combination of Modi-Shah. Two, they must reinvent the opposition against the BJP out of the best possible political option, i.e. the Congress. In contemporary times, there is no alternative to the Congress as the best possible option against the BJP at the national level. However, the Congress in the present condition and its leadership in the current format is no threat to Modi’s BJP. As long as this paradox exists, BJP’s hegemony will continue to persist. Talking against BJP’s hegemony without attempting to resolve this paradox is the highest form of political compromise.