No option for Opposition other than Unity

Date:

Modi and co targeting them vigorously

Idea initiated by Prashant Kishore 

(Anita Saluja, New Delhi)

 With the Opposition Parties being targeted, one after the other, by the Modi Government, the latest one being in Maharashtra, where Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, along with senior leaders like Praful Patel and Chhagan Bhujbal were lured by the BJP,  the Opposition has finally realised that there is no option but to unite, to save their own parties. Far from dampening their spirits, the tactics applied  by the ruling dispensation of ED and  CBI raids, misusing the money and muscle-power, have all added to a sense of urgency among the Opposition to work out a strategy, where they can, in most of the constituencies, put up a single Opposition candidate against the BJP.

 Though the idea, initially floated by poll strategist Prashant Kishore, of fielding a single Opposition candidate against the BJP in all the 543 parliamentary constituencies, may sound optimistic, but the question that arises is whether it is feasible, too? After the success of the first Opposition Meet on June 23 in Patna, chaired by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, comes the next conference in Bengaluru on July 17-18, where UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi will also be present.

 Such is the angst against Prime Minister Narendra Modi that temporarily all the regional parties, which don’t see eye-to-eye with each other, have sunk their differences, for the larger cause. We will, therefore, see Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, all in one frame. Those who still have reservations, include SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and BSP leader Mayawati. The others like BJD, BRS, TDP and YSRCP, may not join hands with them.

 After the victory in the States of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka recently, the Opposition is finally convinced that “Modi ko harana, Mumkin hai.” If the Congress can defeat the BJP single-handedly in these two States, why can’t they succeed in other States, as well? Given the question of their survival, the Opposition has now started to think big, of trouncing the ruling party at the Centre in the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.

 The Opposition Unity moves are based on the assumption that the BJP has come to power in the last parliamentary elections in 2019, with 37 per cent vote. Theoretically, the argument goes, if the remaining 63 per cent vote is consolidated behind the Opposition, then automatically the Saffron Party can be defeated. Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar has predicted that if Opposition Unity is stitched up, then the BJP tally in Lok Sabha in 2024 would be brought down to below 100 seats.

 Now, this is not something that is so easy to achieve on the ground. While Opposition Unity is indeed the need of the hour, parties like SP and BSP in UP (80 seats), BRS in Telangana (17 seats), TDP and YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh (25 seats) and BJD in Odisha (21 seats), accounting for 143 Lok Sabha seats, could make things difficult, as these parties may not come on board. AAP in Delhi (7 seats) and in Punjab (13), accounting for an additional 20 seats, could also prove to be problematic, as both Delhi PCC and Punjab PCC are divided on getting AAP into the Opposition front. Effectively, 163 seats may witness multi-cornered contests.

 Moreover, even the parties who agree to forge Opposition Unity, like TMC, Janata Dal (U) and NCP, may demand a larger share of seats from the Congress in other States, thus leaving the Congress with lesser number of seats to contest.

 The Opposition Unity, therefore, may sound to be achievable, but it is indeed a challenging task, even though the political satraps from the major states,  will be sitting together for two days in Bengaluru, applying their minds to electorally snub the duo — Modi and Shah.

 Even if the issue of fielding a single candidate against the BJP is resolved, it will be a herculean task for them to prepare a Common Minimum Programme. Most Opposition parties are unable to speak in one voice even on important issues like Uniform Civil Code, Article 370, Secularism, Hindutva, etc. Parties like AAP, Shiv Sena of Uddhav Thackeray and NCP are ambivalent. It remains to be seen what would be their final response. An anti-Modi sentiment seems to be the only glue keeping them together, which may not be enough. So far, the Opposition has failed to come up with an alternative economic programme and an imaginative political strategy, like organizing joint action programmes, which can capture the imagination of the people. The Opposition has to come up with a roadmap, on the way forward.

 The paramount issue, ofcourse, is the naming of the Prime Ministerial face of the Opposition, which is the major stumbling block for Opposition Unity. Everyone, right from Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Pawar, are aspiring to become the Prime Minister, with the single agenda of not letting Rahul Gandhi, or any other Congress leader, become the Prime Minister. Possibly, the leadership issue may be put off till after the elections, but the public, at large, would prefer to know the name of the Leader who will confront Narendra Modi. The Congress is in no mood to concede the Prime Ministership to anyone else.

 Mindful of how tricky the situation could be, the Congress appears to be adopting a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, focus is on concentrating more on improving its own seats tally in the Lok Sabha in 2024. At the same time, the Congress is keeping all channels open for dialogue with Opposition parties, trying to convince them of the historic need for Opposition Unity, ahead of Lok Sabha elections.

While there are States, where regional parties dominate, there are quite a few States, where there is a straight contest between the Congress and the BJP. For instance, Gujarat (26), Rajasthan (25), Madhya Pradesh (29), Chhattisgarh (11), Haryana (10), Himachal (4), Uttarakhand (5), Goa (2), Lakshadweep (1), Karnataka (28) and the North-East, excluding Sikkim (24), that adds up to 165 seats, where the Congress is in direct contest with the BJP. Strike rate of the Congress has to be particularly high, if the party has to emerge as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha. In States like Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu, the Congress is in alliance. In States like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Congress is nowhere in the reckoning.

 First and foremost, the Congress has to revive and revitalize itself, in order to lead an effective Opposition against the BJP at the national level. A weak Congress cannot become the fulcrum for a credible Opposition alliance to take on the BJP. The Congress has to rebuild the party organization and make it strong, in order to emerge as the principal challenger to the BJP. It is only then that it can attract and forge an alliance with other Opposition parties.

 The first, credible step in the direction would be for the Congress to wrest power from the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, besides retaining power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where elections are due later this year. This would inspire confidence in the people that the Congress can be an effective alternative to the BJP. The Opposition Unity sans a powerful and energetic Congress will serve no purpose.

 (The writer is Delhi-based senior journalist and political commentator. Views are personal.)

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