Aftershocks in Goa: on Congress's slide

By aiding defections, the BJP is shrinking opposition space in an unseemly fashion

Updated - July 13, 2019 10:52 am IST

Published - July 13, 2019 12:02 am IST

The near liquidation of the Congress legislature party in Goa , close on the heels of a rebellion of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) legislators in neighbouring Karnataka, is the latest aftershock of the national election results in May, but it is unlikely to be the last. The BJP’s victory in the 17th general election was not unexpected, but its scale and depth appear to have thrown opposition politics into a tailspin. The Assembly election in 2017 had returned a hung Assembly in Goa, with the Congress as the single largest party at 17 of 40 seats. The BJP had only 13, but was quick to cobble together a coalition and form a government. As things stand, the BJP has 27 MLAs and the Congress only five, with the defectors set to escape disqualification under the anti-defection law since they constitute two-thirds of the strength of the legislature party — turning the verdict on its head. This split in the Congress was in the making since May 23 when the party lost three of the four by-elections that were held along with the Lok Sabha polls. Any hope of a bid for power in the State was dashed, and with the party’s national standing continuing on a descending slope, the lawmakers did what opportunism impels. Any party is well within its rights to lure members of other parties, and after all, that is how political realignments take place. But by encouraging and welcoming defectors who had won the election on a platform that was its polar opposite, the BJP has further lowered the bar for legitimate democratic processes and expansion of the party.

Apparently learning from the cost of its indecision in Goa in 2017, the Congress had moved swiftly to offer the post of chief ministership to the JD(S) that had won 37 seats out of 224 in Karnataka in 2018. Initially hailed by many as a potential model to build an anti-Hindutva coalition nationally, the JD(S)-Congress coalition has exposed its inherent contradictions. There is little that the current spectrum of Opposition parties have to offer to build a better politics other than their tired dynasties. Opportunistic alliances, devoid of any fresh ideas or inspiration, could only augment the BJP’s plank that its opponents have a dark history and a bleak future. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s abrupt renunciation of the post has forced a churn in the party, perhaps as was intended. It is, however, difficult to predict whether the party will emerge stronger from the churn: the withdrawal of Mr. Gandhi from the leadership is an opportunity for the Congress to rid itself of the dynasty tag, but equally it could be left rudderless for long in the absence of an obvious successor. If the party is looking for a youthful leader, there is none outside of the scions of other political dynasties. The Goa debacle is as much a harbinger of a further shrinking of the opposition space as it is of the continuing advance of the BJP into more regions and social groups. Grace in defeat is difficult to achieve; the BJP’s behaviour perhaps shows that even in triumph it is not easy.

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