Right foot forward Congress is beyond redemption; The opposition will have to reinvent itself to take on the BJP.

After the election of Draupadi Murmu as the 15th President of the Republic, there is a virtual meltdown in the world of anti-BJP and Narendra Modi opinion polls and influencers. Not that anyone expected Yashwant Sinha to win. But what has left the pundits reeling is the revelation of the opposition alliance’s pre-election chagrin.

The wound about Margaret Alva’s candidature was to be cemented even before she started campaigning – with Mamata Banerjee announcing that the Trinamool Congress was going to abstain from voting as she was not part of the consultation process. Although there is some serious effort to make Murmu’s victory appear, as he is said to have received fewer votes than many of his predecessors, the sense of disappointment is palpable.

After each defeat, Congress well-wishers (surprisingly, there are still many) in the media and public intellectuals rush to offer advice on how to revive India’s grand old party. But even at this point they seem at a loss for suggestions. Hence, an elaborate recipe for “reinventing” the party. Even they know that a radical surgery under the leadership of the Gandhi family is not possible. The solution, if there is one, has to put the Gandhians at the center.

The role of an effective opposition is too serious to be left to a party that is mired in existentialism. The leadership vacuum and strategic vacuum give free rein to the ruling party, which is happy to shrug off distractions and carry on with business as usual. By adopting confrontational tactics at every step, the opposition is directly caught in the trap laid by the ruling party. While they may relish the time before TV cameras and prime-time debates on news channels, a chronically dysfunctional parliament has short-changed the nation. So, instead of the Congress which seems to be in a terminal state, it is the other opposition parties that need to reinvent themselves.

It has been said many times that he has to move beyond the single point agenda of removing Narendra Modi. Bashing Modi may be earning him brownie points from his elite home circles and the vigilante media in the West – but he’s also bolstering Narendra Modi’s image among the BJP’s core supporters.

The opposition needs to be realistic in looking for an alternative ‘face’ to take on Narendra Modi. Modi has developed a larger-than-life persona that none of them have been able to match, at least not yet — even if they enjoy levels of popularity in their respective fields. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat possessed more national character than any set of current regional leaders.

Then, regional leaders must overcome their partisan image and demonstrate the vision and ability to lead the nation. Even as Chief Minister, Narendra Modi offered alternative views with every criticism of the UPA government. Just running a negative campaign, rejecting everything the government does or proposes will not get them any further. Protests and walkouts serve a limited purpose. Accusing the government of “running away” without a counter argument on the table will give the government every match. Simply trying to block or thwart every act of government is tantamount to one self-goal after another. The opposition should understand that the judiciary cannot be a substitute for the floor of the House.

There are two other errors that affect the opposition. First, they believe that much of Modi’s popularity comes from smart public relations. This has led to competitive saturation of the media through advertising subsidies by state governments. In doing so they tend to undercut each other. Rahul Gandhi has proven time and again that re-launching defective products with new packaging does not fool consumers. Also marketing cannot be outsourced to consultants like Prashant Kishor unless the owners invest in the brand.

Second, there is the quagmire of the BJP using investigative agencies to keep opposition parties on the backfoot. Even if the argument has some merit, crying wolf and playing the “victim card” will do no good. It is clear that the Narendra Modi government does not believe in the old “glass house” ideology of not throwing stones at the opposition. It is willing to take calculated risks. Opposition parties will have to deal with raids and investigations on their own steam.

In order to move forward, leaders must temporarily abandon their egos and national ambitions and be seen to genuinely put the nation before themselves. Faking it won’t work because cracks become evident over minor tensions, as we saw during the presidential election. There must be an honest intention, not lip service, to allow a natural leader to emerge during this process for greater purpose. Nominating a leader (as Jaiprakash Narayan did for Morarji Desai) or finding a compromise candidate like HD Deve Gowda would be a recipe for another failed experiment.

Ultimately, this is neither a math game nor a chemistry game. It should be physics where the sum should be greater than the parts. It requires a big heart and a high mind which is not available off the shelf.

The author is a current affairs commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. Expressions are personal

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