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Supporters of India’s main opposition party protest in New Delhi in 2019 Supporters of India’s main opposition party protest Narendra Modi’s government in front of huge cut-outs of their leaders, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, in New Delhi, Dec. 14, 2019 (AP photo by Manish Swarup).

India’s Vanishing Political Opposition

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

For more than four months, tens of thousands of Indian farmers have gathered on the outskirts of New Delhi to protest a slate of new agricultural laws passed in September. Farmers say the new measures, which remove price guarantees for certain crops, will leave them at the mercy of large corporations, while at the same time removing paths for legal redress for land disputes. The protests are some of the largest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, have faced since winning their parliamentary majority in 2014. What’s more, the protesters come from a demographic that was once one of Modi’s largest support bases: rural workers from India’s north and west.

But what is perhaps most noteworthy is that, today, these protesters and their supporters are the closest thing India has to a political opposition that can rival Modi. In a country where politicians are usually ready to surf any wave of dissent to score points against their rivals, the center-left Indian National Congress—the main opposition party to the BJP nationally—has been unusually lethargic in joining the protests and amplifying their message. Although Rahul Gandhi, the former head of Congress, opposed the farm laws when they were up for debate in September, and has just recently called for their repeal during a solidarity protest organized by his party in New Delhi, the majority of the demonstrations have been organized, promoted and executed by groups and individuals representing the grassroots. ...

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