Opinion: Congress’s Stand On Delhi Ordinance Holds Back Opposition Unity

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Any project of unity requires shared values and goals, as well as giving up smaller interests for the greater good. From the Panchatantra to Aesop’s Fables, countless tales from around the world have impressed the message of unity on generations of children for centuries. One would assume that mature, rational, and sensible adults would carry forward in their lives the commitment to unity against injustice and authoritarianism. Unfortunately, one of India’s oldest parties, the Congress, is finding it hard to follow the sage advice on fighting a common battle together with others.

The Congress’s approach to the issue of Delhi’s Services Ordinance is betraying its non-seriousness towards opposition unity. The ordinance is so starkly in violation of the Constitution, federalism, and popular democracy that it should ideally have garnered stringent criticism from the Grand Old Party. However, its leaders have maintained a stoic silence on the issue.

Ever since the ordinance was issued, AAP’s National Convener, Arvind Kejriwal, has reached out to political parties across the country, including JD(U), Trinamool, DMK, NCP, Samajwadi Party, and so on, who have assured their support to the Delhi Government against this unconstitutional law. But despite repeated requests from AAP and other senior opposition leaders, the Congress has refused to meet with Arvind Kejriwal and has even refused to make any public statement about the ordinance.

On several occasions, the Congress has called for the opposition to come together to protect the Constitution. It even took out the Bharat Jodo Yatra to deliver this message. But it has refused to denounce the Central government’s unconstitutional Delhi ordinance that takes away all powers of the democratically elected government and which all other opposition parties have opposed. Even after repeated attempts by AAP, if the Congress leadership refuses to meet Kejriwal even for tea, it is a reflection of sheer arrogance and lack of ideology and long-term vision in the party.

It is difficult to characterise the Congress’s attitude to the ordinance. But be it stubbornness, indecision, or mere selective adherence to constitutional values, whatever is driving the party’s thought process is effectively echoing its emergency-era credentials. It also casts doubt on the Congress leadership’s commitment to fight against the BJP behemoth.

What the Congress leaders have failed to understand is that this silence of the party on the Delhi ordinance is going to prove detrimental to the grand project of opposition unity. The coming together of opposition parties is not just a front to defeat an authoritarian, incompetent, and ostentatious leader. More importantly, it is a struggle to protect the ideals that have kept the country united for more than seven decades and have ensured that the most downtrodden and disadvantaged can survive and thrive. All parties come with a reasonable expectation of understanding and cooperation from other parties.

But if the Congress remains silent on the ordinance, it appears there can be no common denominator for the opposition. On the other hand, if Congress does come out against the ordinance and pledges to defeat it in the Parliament, it will send a message to all parties and the people that the bedrock of opposition unity is constitutional principles, on which all opposition parties agree. Eventually, it will be a reminder to all of these like-minded parties that the Constitution, equitable development, and social and economic justice are the bigger goals that this Opposition must strive towards.

To agree on the fundamental values of the Grand Opposition and to support another opposition party when a state government’s power is being taken away is the easiest task ahead of Congress. But if it is failing even at this, it is natural for other parties to be suspicious. For one, how will Congress ever be able to negotiate the distribution of seats for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024? And two, if it ever comes to power, will it also abide by the same dictatorial and unconstitutional tactics as are currently being deployed by the BJP? It will be a Herculean task for the Congress to deny these doubts against its competence and intentions.

After the meeting of the Opposition parties at Patna in June, it is clear that Congress must accept other parties as equals in the fight against the BJP and not behave like ‘the big boss’. It needs to bring together the causes of all these parties as a strong patchwork tied by the fundamental principles of the Constitution.

If there is to be a united front to tackle the dictatorial and regressive rule of the BJP, the Congress must reject the Ordinance. It must show that this grand opposition has a shared belief in the Constitution and its ideals of democracy and federalism. When the Aam Aadmi Party is doing everything possible to forge opposition unity, the Congress must not let its arrogance become an obstruction to that unity.

(Reena Gupta is an advocate and national spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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