The King with none to censure him, bereft of the safeguards all, though none his ruin work, shall surely ruined fall

- Thiruvalluvar in couplet 448 of Thirukkural

While being described as the government of the people, by the people and for the people, is democracy in current scenario actually fulfilling these expectations? Democracy stands out to be the best form of government with its principle of rule of law which is ensured by the system of checks and balances. It is indeed these checks and balances in the rule of the majority that provide for an opportunity for the people to control their leaders and to dethrone them without the need for any revolution.[1] This is where the need arises for a strong opposition to keep the government on its toes and ensure smooth governance. The need of an effective opposition is to ensure that government placed in power should not rise above its people.

The role of a strong opposition to bring out the shortcomings of the government and to present an alternative ideological vision and a political programme. It is in this context that the immortal words of Otto Von Bismarck are relevant, who said that , politics may be “the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best”, and in today’s media-centric view of politics, politics is nothing but the art of the most pithy comeback.[2] In the background of historical evidence that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the opposition is indispensable to pre-empt any attempts of the ruling party to act against the will and interests of the people.

Let us consider the current electoral scenario in India. As the opposition parties have faced their worst defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, they are beleaguered with no signs of am easy recovery. The massive majority attained by the BJP government in the Lok Sabha elections has jolted the stability of opposition. The need for a united, meaningful, committed, credible and responsible opposition lacked in the parliament. A strong and effective opposition is the need of the hour to ensure that the elected government at the Centre would perform “with minimum government and maximum governance”, be transparent, responsive and accountable and does not assume arbitrariness in its actions neglecting the interests of the nation. [3] This helps ensure that the ruling party adheres to the promises it had put up in the election manifesto. The promises put forward by the NDA government to build a “New India” by resolving the issues of poverty, housing, health, education, infrastructure, electricity, water, social security, farmer income needs an effective implementation with the constant remainder of these by the opposition on behalf of the people.

Even the need of a strong opposition in India was pointed out by the Union Minister Rajnath Singh that “Opposition is important for a healthy democracy. Democracy cannot survive without the opposition”. A divided and weak opposition is more dangerous than the muscular ruling party to Indian democracy.[4]

What the society expects from those in the opposition are that they should be able to hold up a mirror to what the government is doing and to ask the voter two questions: whether the government is performing well and whether the opposition can perform better. This is done through parliamentary debates, questions and protests as well as debates, questions and protests outside parliament.[5] The effectiveness of an opposition lies in raising the right questions on the right matter at the right time.

However, our society has not fully grown into that stage that people do not know what the issues with the current dispensation are which are to be put as questions before the ruling party. This is where an opposition should come into its role of raising these questions on behalf of the voters and keeping them reminded about the promises and expectations that they had about the ruling party while choosing them as the majority.

An indispensable part of a strong opposition is a strong leadership. This is what currently the opposition forces of India primarily lack. Now what might be the causes hindering the path of the opposition parties in India? By its basic design, the parliamentary system in India makes the opposition toothless. It can make speeches, ask questions in Parliament, or walk out. But it cannot pass legislation, affect government programmes, or influence executive officials.[6] This is a limitation for the opposition parties to have an effective check on the governmental actions.

Another limitation of the members of opposition is that, our system grants power to parties, not to individual MPs. This causes a fragmentation of the Opposition. This calls for a need on ambitious opposition leaders who must form their own outfits to bargain with the ruling party and come to power. Small local and regional parties proliferate.

Further, the opposition parties in India lack and agenda to perform as they are not given a platform to implement them. Unlike the UK, India’s Opposition is not offered a shadow Cabinet, or opportunities to pass private member bills.[7]

Now what are the changes that are demanded from the current opposition of India to have a successful comeback into the power, be overcoming its major setbacks? The primary ned is to have a centrist ideology that appeals to the majority of the people. The new opposition must believe in true secularism, rooted in uniform laws and separation of religion and state. The opposition should be able to act as a watchdog and ensure that the government is exercising its power with care and respecting minorities and promoting communal harmony[8]. It must be supported by a rank-and-file organisation, with a decentralised structure. It must practice internal democracy to bring up good leaders. The opposition should carry a practical agenda, with good slogans. Above all, there should be unity and collectively among the members of the opposition.

In every situation a country is facing the consequences of majoritarian actions of a government, a strong opposition can act as a check on the government to take decisions in the interests of every sections of the society. The founding fathers of our constitution have always wanted a strong opposition in order to ensure that the government doesn’t act based on its whims and fancies by disregarding the rights of its citizens. A recovery for our opposition from its current weaker position is not unattainable, such a fundamental change requires consensus, and hard work over a long stretch of time.

As mentioned earlier, the system of checks and balances in a democracy is well implemented by the presence of a strong opposition. They perform this duty on behalf of the voters who had elected them. This ensures that an inclination towards a fascist mode of governance is prevented from spreading its venom over the society. The opposition should ensure that the government is accountable for all of its actions should always keep it at the tip of its toes to perform the promises kept forward through its election manifesto. This should not be merely a game of politics wherein the ruling parties are opposed for each and every actions they take as a part of their governance. Reasonable criticisms should be raised instead of mere political blaming.

On concluding, it is imperative to have a strong opposition in order to have an efficient system of democracy. The functions and importance of an opposition is correlative and coexistent with that of ruling party, and together these elements form the pillars of an effective people based government, named democracy.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

The author of this post is Bhadra M (a student at School of Legal Studies, CUSAT, Kalamassery)

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the JEC Blog. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below.

#democracy #government

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