There is an opposition vacuum in national politics. The Congress Party had given Narendra Modi almost a walk-over in the last two national elections. Modi has been winning elections while running a ruinous government in terms of policy and the economy. A close examination will show that his success lies more in the weakness of the opposition than in his own strength.
If the Covid-19 crisis is a political opportunity for Narendra Modi, it is an even greater opportunity for the opposition. To begin with, the crisis has turned the page on Hindutva, at least for now. The opposition no longer has the excuse that it is unable to appeal to a majority of voters just because they are being given a regular dose of intoxicating Hindutva.
The Congress party’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has come across as mature, its opposition constructive. It is criticising the Modi government’s follies and yet not appearing to be Pavlovian in its criticism. It is coming across as trying to solve a grave problem rather than score political brownie points and bring down Narendra Modi.
Arvind Kejriwal and company had a chance to occupy the opposition space but their internal battles and Kejriwal’s resignation in 2014 ensured that they got confined to the city state of Delhi, leaving vast swathes of the country to be ruled by Modi.
The new opposition may again come from outside mainstream politics. Who, we do not know. There are various environmental groups across the country. If they can show creativity and be nimble-footed, then, who knows, public life in this country may no longer remain starved for some decent and imaginative work. The latest deadly wave, and before that the migrant crisis, job losses and the unprecedented crash of the economy, makes it difficult for Modi to control the narrative. The public will now test Narendra Modi on three counts: response to the pandemic, the health infrastructure at large, and the state of the Indian economy. On all three fronts, the opposition has a big window of opportunity, which will last at least a few weeks if not a few months.