By Santosh Bhartiya
At least on two occasions, two powerful leaders of the country expressed their views on the despondent and almost dead opposition. The first one was Indira Gandhi. She had once said: “the media is playing the role of the opposition, because there is no existence of opposition in the country; and rather than taking up the opposition’s job, media should concentrate on its own work.” The opposition was down and out at that time, and lacked vigor to give any kind of fight Indira Gandhi. Immediately the media took on the mantle of the opposition and raised all people-related questions that would have ideally been raised by the opposition. Although today’s ubiquitous TV channels were missing, newspapers became the flag bearers of media, and they picked up questions related to the public with candor and sincerity, which forced Indira Gandhi to say that “the media is playing the role of opposition”.
The opposition was once again grounded, when Rajiv Gandhi was elected prime minister for the second time. Under Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership the Congress had won more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The impact of opposition’s rout was so much so that it was unable to make out how to fight Rajiv Gandhi. Then almost out of blue emerged Newsline, a news and current affairs program on Doordarshan. The Newsline, produced by Ananda Bazar Patrika, has distinction of being India’s first news and current affairs program ever aired on television. Its editor-in-chief and director was none other than M.J. Akbar. The imprint of M.J. Akbar was quite conspicuous. The Newsline was fearless, straightforward, and subject-specific program. Many people associated with it, for example like Vinod Dua and Raghav Behl, are the big shots of today’s media. I was also associated with the program as special correspondent. The half-an-hour weekly program Newsline had grabbed so much attention and disturbed so many feathers in the government that Rajiv Gandhi’s Secretary Gopi Arora had to advise Rajiv Gandhi that if “you want to continue the Newsline, there is no need of an opponent?” After 13 episodes, Rajiv Gandhi gave instructions to the Information and Broadcasting Minister to stop the program or not to extend the permission.
During Indira Gandhi’s rule, there were big names like Raj Narayan, Bhupesh Gupta, Jyoti Basu, Madhu Limaye and Nath Pai in the ranks of the opposition. When circumstances compelled them to become silent, the press rose to the occasion and took up people’s cause. Similarly, during the Rajiv Gandhi reign, leaders like Chandrashekhar, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, Karpuri Thakur were in the opposition, but they were so awestruck by the victory of Rajiv Gandhi that they almost sat silently. However, when we look at the today’s opposition, it seems that such helpless opposition has never been in the political history of India. Today, the condition is such that there is no opposition leader in the country who gets a positive response to his phone call to another opposition leader. Some of the leaders are themselves to blame for such a slide. A meaningful attempt was made, and supported by all the major opposition leaders in the country, to form a party under the leadership of Mulayam Singh. But, despite publicly owning the party, pledging to assume leadership and accepting garland in a press conference Mulayam Singh for whatsoever reasons had derailed the campaign.
After that no effort was made by any leader to unite the opposition. The family feud in Uttar Pradesh ended the prospect of Mulayam Singh, and Akhilesh Yadav is so exhausted that he has no ambition to tour the country and bring all opposition together. Mamta Banerjee, due to her language constraint, has never been able to play important roles in uniting opposition. Lalu Yadav, due to the court proceedings and his conviction in some cases, cannot contest elections. Nitesh Kumar had grabbed people’s attention that perhaps he would fulfill this important task, but the contradiction between Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar forced him to join the BJP’s coalition and put a full stop to this possibility once and for all. There is no leader in the country at this time, whom we can call the biggest leader of the opposition or who has the capacity to bring everyone on one platform.
Consequently, the people’s misery and suffering are being left untouched. There is no taker of their grievances. Rahul Gandhi has become the new president of the Congress. He is the leader of the opposition but, till today, he hasn’t taken any initiative to invite opposition leaders for discussion. The news that emanated from Rahul Gandhi suggests that he is not an advocate of Opposition unity. He believes that the Congress party is the only opposition and only they have to fight with the BJP. When the BJP was in the opposition and Atalji and Advaniji were its leaders, they always kept the communication with the opposition open, even though in those days the BJP was a political pariah for entire opposition. Maybe it was because of no one would have thought the party will ever be able to grab power. Anyway this lack of communication is adding to the woes of more than 70 percent of the country’s population. The weakness of the opposition gives the impression as if problems related to economy, industrial development jobs, black money, education, health and inflation ceased to exist. In democracy there is a definite way for the government to function. If there is some anomaly in following that way, then the opposition has to oppose and point out those anomalies. There is no opposition in the country today.
Yet Akhilesh Yadav has potential to unite the opposition. If he were able to fix his house a bit, he can assume this responsibility. He is young and knows all the opposition leaders from very young age and has capability to bring them together. But he has not shown any such intent as yet. Why it so is beyond one’s comprehension. Some people believe that the neo-liberal market system has transformed and paralyzed every institution in the country; it has also cast its spell on the opposition leaders. The problem of the Left leaders is that they failed to win the trust of the people in north India the way they did in West Bengal and Kerala. So it is futile to think that the Left leaders will assume this responsibility.
At a time when the opposition is in disarray, the fourth pillar of democracy is also not fulfilling its responsibility. Currently, the media is in full-throttled indulgence in singing praise to the power. All news channels are ignoring those questions, which need their immediate attention. In this backdrop journalists and reporters are fast becoming a rare tribe; no television channel runs their reports. It can be said that TV channels have overshadowed the newspapers. This forced them to adopt similar kind of strategy as adopted by TV channels to people’s opinions. Television channels are praising the government and ignoring the people. Priorities are set in the news room as to which bite need to be aired and which one should be curtailed. Their correspondents are briefed to report in praise of the work done by the government.
Second, the debates that inundate television channels from 5 pm to 10 mp are debates about intangible topics aimed at entertaining the viewers not to get people’s problems addressed. In their 5 to 10 pm debate, every television channel is in the rat race of showering praise to the government. Some anchors are working as spokespersons of the BJP, while others are toeing the lines of the Congress. There are no takers of people’s grievances. This situation is detrimental to the democracy. Independent and strong media is quintessential for democracy to function well. Weakening of opposition is not as much of a concern as the obsequiousness of media is. Indeed the ruling party is quite happy with the situation and the opposition is in slumber. We don’t know which direction we are heading in. Perhaps the government too has no answer to it. The colonial mindset has overcome all of us to the hilt. Perhaps we will be able to see the good or bad results of this in a year or so.