Lok Sabha Election Results: There's not much a deflated Opposition can do but regroup, reassess faults and rethink political routine
How can the Opposition pick itself up from this shattering defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? The rest of us who are not in politics will likely never fully understand the meaning of a loss of this magnitude.
The defeated leaders will not be short of advice, particularly from the media, on what went wrong and what they should do now
It would bring the defeated Opposition together in spirit if they confront the reality of what they were defeated by and where they stand now
A missed tie-up or a wrong candidate are not reasons why this election ended the way it did, there is something deeper that needs to be addressed
The problems of defeat start with the personal. The loss of confidence in oneself and the shame of the knowledge that others are looking at you differently are not things that most of us face on this scale. Our defeats and losses at work are mostly personal, and if others know, it is because we told them. For India's Opposition leaders, however, it is in the most public sphere.
There is also the matter of having to face the adversary who has trounced you. In war, there is death or surrender for the defeated. In politics, the defeat is already in the past. It is over and done with. It is the present that must be engaged with, and you have to work with the person and people who till yesterday you were abusing and being abused by. But the argument has ended and you have been humiliated. Where to from here?
The defeated leaders will not be short of advice, particularly from the media, on what went wrong and what they should do now. Some of this will be useful, but most will not.
The fact is that 30 or 40 years of experience in writing is not a substitute for 35 minutes spent addressing a rally and the signals a crowd sends out. Nobody understands the deep causes of defeat and victory better than the defeated. The defeated have been to all the battlefields. They have looked into the eyes of their soldiers and those of their opponents'. They have knowledge that is based on reality and lived experience.
So with that understanding, and without wanting to give advice, let us see what the Opposition could do in terms of steps.
In the 1950s, when Pakistani general Ayub Khan made himself the president of the country, he had said he had first written an Appreciation, apparently a military term that figures out the position one is in. That would be a good first step, in my opinion.
It is fun to assess victories (students of military history spend hours studying maps of Julius Caesar at Pharsalus or Alexander at the Jhelum). It is probably excruciating to assess a defeated position, yet it must be done. State by state, candidate by candidate, there should be an assessment (not judgement) of the present and where things stand. There should be, in this Appreciation, an honest and unemotional estimation of the opponent.
Perhaps the sharpest tool that a leader and a manager has is transparency. The saying goes that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Openness would be encouraging to troops and supporters totally demoralised by the gloating of the victorious. It would bring the defeated together in spirit if they confront the reality of what they were defeated by and where they stand now.
Then there is the issue of accountability (not blame). I think it would be easy for a leader to step down and go away. Perhaps that may be the right thing to do, but it should be part of a sequence in which there is transparency first. Stepping down without the critical steps required to start bringing the shattered side back together would be akin to throwing a tantrum and an act of ego. This moment requires selflessness.
There is not much else the Opposition could have done in this election. A missed tie-up here or there and a wrong candidate in some or other constituency are not reasons why this election ended the way it did. A hammering of this magnitude cannot be avoided through tactics or even strategy. There is something deeper that needs to be addressed. Everything that the Opposition was faulted for — for instance, not being aggressive, taking it easy, going on vacations, not seeking alliances — all of this was addressed. They were still defeated not for want of awareness or effort. Higher forces were at play.
Another measure that must be taken is gathering allies and friends. The Opposition has sympathy from civil society, which means groups such as NGOs that fight some of the same issues that are in the domain of politics. Many of these are grassroots organisations that have been struggling for decades for their cause. They will be of some value in both the assessment and in the rebuild of the Opposition.
Defeated parties, particularly the older ones, should go back to their founding principles and examine how far or close the party is currently to them. There was something within that made the party attractive to Indians at one point. How can that or a version of that be reintroduced into India's politics? It is a good question that will require some reflection and wisdom.
The Opposition must also keep up the spirit. Civil society groups and NGOs, which in our part of the world have tasted defeat far more than success, do this through song. Volunteerism comes from a sense of purpose, but work should be fun and energising.
The last thing in this piece of non-advice is to begin a routine. A routine is a wonderful thing. Just getting up and getting to work at a particular time and organising oneself can work small miracles. A routine lays out the small steps that we must take, and it gives us the confidence that we are moving forward.
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