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Modi ki Paathshala: Five lessons the opposition can learn from PM Narendra Modi

After suffering a humiliating defeat, they can sure learn a few important lessons from Modi—for their own good if not in the interest of democracy.

, ET Online|
Mar 13, 2017, 04.06 PM IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has captured both the right and the left spaces of Indian politics.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has captured both the right and the left spaces of Indian politics.
NEW DELHI: After the shocking victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India's Hindi heartland, the country is staring at a fraught moment for democracy—a complete decimation of opposition in the next general elections. And the opposition parties cannot blame it on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who led the BJP to unprecedented victory in the largest state, Uttar Pradesh, and is now perceived to be invincible.

The blame goes to the brash confidence of the opposition parties, big and small, in their ideological, strategic and tactical superiority. After suffering a humiliating defeat, they can sure learn a few important lessons from the winner Modi—for their own good if not in the interest of democracy.

1. Take your space back
Of late, most opposition parties started yielding their space to side with extremist groups such as the radical-left Azadi brigade. With this maneuver, they only painted themselves into a corner. PM Modi, meanwhile, captured the space vacated by the opposition parties. The leader of a traditionally middle-class, right-wing party also became a messiah of the poor because the left-leaning opposition had vacated this space by latching on to causes which suit only fringe groups.

2. Understand new India
With both his rhetoric and policy, PM Modi has identified himself with the new India which is aspirational, tech savvy and connected to global trends. However, the opposition parties have carried on with their patronising approach from old times when the middle-class was small and silent while the lower class was largely illiterate. Only a suicidal opposition party would criticise PM Modi's push towards a digital economy when most of India is enamoured of smartphones. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav had said in one of his speeches that phones were meant to enjoy music and videos and not to work as banks. No one would believe Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi if he shows people in his rally that he wears a torn kurta. India has moved on; the opposition parties too ought to.

3. Tell a new story
The opposition parties need to rewrite the story they tell the voters. Their narratives of secularism and social justice have been reduced to rank opportunism. The rise of the social media has started a radical questioning of political rhetoric unlike in the old times when all of India was not even connected by roads. The BJP has adopted Dalit icon Dr BR Ambedkar when it realised it could no longer aspire to be the most powerful national party without a Dalit base. Ideological orthodoxy may suit the radical left but is a handicap in electoral politics.

4. Don't become a mob
After India's bad experience with several third-front governments at the centre, people tend to doubt grand alliances. If the BJP can be defeated by a mahagathbandhan in Bihar Assembly elections, that cannot become a general truth. PM Modi has been able to soften his image as well as his stance. His opponents cannot sound credible if they claim to come together against the BJP to fight the "communal forces". The SP-Congress alliance in the Uttar Pradesh elections looked opportunistic. Just days before coming together, they were abusing each other in rallies. The opposition parties' proposition that the biggest issue before the country is to stop PM Modi and everyone should join hands for that purpose has lost credibility.

5. Don't believe the media
The media can end up creating impressions that lull the opposition into complacency—or self-righteous superiority. Even the so-called ground reports from the Uttar Pradesh elections failed to see what turned out to be the biggest wave in recent history. Psephologists were completely discredited. Ground reporting often sounded as shilling for a candidate or a party. The Modi wave exposed election reporting as lurid biases packed in local colour and voices. The opposition parties were assured of PM Modi taking a hit due to demonetisation just because the media kept saying the poor had been badly affected by it.

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