When defeat is inevitable, step back and avoid it.
The Opposition must understand the inevitability of Ram Nath Kovind becoming the next President of India and withdraw from a fight it has no chance of winning. In doing so, it would not only avoid political defeat but also retain a semblance of unity. And, more importantly, appear dignified and graceful.
The presidential election was lost by the Opposition the day BJP swept the polls in Uttar Pradesh and the AIADMK self-destructed in Tamil Nadu. Until then, the numbers were delicately poised to promise a contest that could have embarrassed the BJP. But, since these events reshaped the balance, the presidential election has turned into a mere formality.
Also, the BJP has played its game smartly. By naming Kovind, it has tried to use the election to pit itself as a champion of Dalits, a ploy summed up by Ram Vilas Paswan's statement that whoever opposes the NDA nominee would be seen as anti-Dalit.
This is a specious argument primarily because in a democracy, except for N Sanjeeva Reddy, nominees of the ruling party have always faced a challenge from the Opposition. Contesting against KR Narayanan did not make the Opposition anti-South India or anti-Dalit. Pitting Bhairon Singh Shekhawat against Pratibha Patil did not make the BJP anti-women. (Incidentally, Paswan himself has had a history of contesting against both women and Dalit candidates.) So, the Opposition has every right to put up its candidate and expose Paswan's double-standards.
Yet, the Opposition is in a tight spot for two reasons. One, it is now caught in a situation where the presidential election is not about the right candidate. It has, like any other election, morphed into a battle of symbolism and caste politics. Any debate, thus, on the merits of the candidate is meaningless.
Two, the BJP has found its very own Mulayam Singh Yadav in this battle. Just like Yadav broke the Opposition ranks in the previous presidential polls, even after singing songs of unity with Mamata Banerjee, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar appears ready to do the same this time.
Just after Kovind's name was revealed by the BJP, Kumar went to meet him at the Raj Bhawan and dropped enough hints to show he would back the BJP candidate. Kumar may have his own political calculations to run with the BJP and hunt with the Opposition, but his stance leaves the Opposition with absolutely no option but to either avoid a contest or see its own rank and file support Kovind.
In hindsight, Kumar's stand on the election has always been shrouded in mystery. Though he was the first to talk of Opposition unity, Kumar later skipped a meeting of the Opposition parties to discuss their strategy and candidate. Could he have been tipped off by the BJP about its decision to name the Bihar governor as its nominee?
With Kumar gone, Mayawati confused – she is 'positive' on Kovind unless the Opposition comes up with another Dalit candidate – the fight is as good as won for BJP.
In fact, with the deep schisms within its ranks, the Opposition parties would only embarrass themselves by exposing their confusion and divides.
There is, of course, the argument that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. But, in Kovind's case, it would be opposition just for the sake of hubris. The fight would have weak moral, political and ideological edifices.
Though Kovind is from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he is not known to be a hardliner. His public utterances and conduct have been balanced and mature. Unlike some of the Sangh superstars, Kovind has not displayed a bias against minorities or made egregious statements about women – like asking them to produce more kids for the sake of Hindutva.
His tenure as governor of Bihar suggests Kovind does not create unnecessary roadblocks to serve his political alma mater. He adheres to the spirit of the Constitution and avoids controversies and spotlight. The Opposition scores no ideological or moral points by putting up a fight it would lose.
Several years ago, when the Congress under Indira Gandhi realised it had no chance of stopping Reddy's march to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, it gracefully stepped back.
Sonia Gandhi could learn from the history of her party and the legacy of her mother-in-law. Instead of fighting for her own nominee as the next president of India, it would be better if she addressed the question of the next president of the Congress party.
In the long run, choosing her successor wisely would help the Congress more than getting battered in the contest for Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Updated Date: Jun 20, 2017 19:25 PM