Why Modi should welcome a united opposition in Varanasi

Should there be united opposition to Narendra Modi in Varanasi? Writing in the Hindustan Times, former governor and diplomat Gopalkrishna Gandhi argued that all secular forces, especially the Congress, need to back a single candidate against the BJP.

" ...Varanasi in 2014 is going to be about much more than a particular seat. It is going to be about the future of India,” Gandhi wrote.

 Why Modi should welcome a united opposition in Varanasi

Narendra Modi.. AP

While the suggestion is likely to draw the ire of Modi’s supporters and their usual cries of ‘sickular’, Gandhi’s core argument has many merits.

As Firstpost editor-in-chief R Jagannathan pointed out in an earlier piece, this election has turned into a referendum on just one man. Everything else has been discarded in pursuit of one agenda: Is Modi the right man for the PM’s job?

If that be the central theme of the election, what better way to put it to test in Varanasi by putting up a united opposition? Let not the flawed first-past-the-post system stand in the way of a clear, decisive referendum on Modi. Let the majority — as against a 30 percent vote in a quadrangular contest — decide the outcome.

Modi himself should welcome the idea. A decisive verdict in a direct contest between those opposed to the idea of Modi — yes, he is much more than just an ordinary candidate — and those in favour would give greater legitimacy to his victory. If he wins, it would silence most of his critics for a long time.

Lest the supporters of the BJP start screaming, before they start crying ‘sickular conspiracy’, let us all remember that there have been several precedents of the opposition uniting against a common threat.

In 1989, for instance, the opposition, including the BJP, had supported Rajmohan Gandhi against  then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Just a few months before that, VP Singh was the united opposition’s face against the Congress in Allahabad, after a bye-election was called following Amitabh Bachchan’s resignation. There is, obviously, no shame in coming together to challenge an idea that has the potential to decide to impact the future of India.

So, who should be the best man to oppose Modi? Gandhi argues that Kejriwal’s presence would lead to a riveting contest. ‘The person opposing Narendra Modi in Varanasi, whoever he or she is, will need to be an outsider if he or she is to raise that contest to the level of a national contestation,” he writes.

The fear that a local candidate’s presence would dilute the gravity of the contest is justified. One, the election would degenerate into a hollow ‘local vs outsider’ contest, which in a way would be an insult to the larger questions at stake in 2014.

Even the presence of a local heavyweight like Mukhtar Anasri, who lost by a narrow margin in 2009, would lead to digression from the real agenda of 2014. First, it will polarise the election on communal lines, an outcome the BJP won’t mind. And second, many voters would tilt in Modi’s favour because of Ansari’s criminal past. In short, Anasri would simply ensure a cake-walk for Modi.

The candidate who takes on Modi, ideally, has to be one with proven secular leanings, a national image and a history of having taken on Modi without fear or moral trepidation. He should, like Modi, have come up on his own life, without the props of dynasty or sycophancy.

Modi’s opponent should represent a diverse agenda. His ambition should not be limited to petty objectives like the pursuit of a caste or community’s vote or to divert the attention of people from the failures of the UPA government. Opposition to Modi should come from an idea that is completely different from the BJP leader’s idea of politics, economics and priniciples.

Will Mayawati, Mulayam and Rahul step aside for this duel, please?

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Updated Date: Mar 19, 2014 16:58:33 IST