Anti-forces unite again
In a fresh bid to cobble together a grand alliance of opposition parties, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu met Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on Thursday. He also held talks with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and National Conference (NC) Chairperson Farooq Abdulla in his efforts to expedite the process of bringing together important opposition parties ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Over the last weekend, he held similar parleys with Delhi Chief Minister and national convenor of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, among others. The Assembly election in Andhra Pradesh is due for mid-next year, around the time of the Lok Sabha elections. Earlier this year, Naidu had quit the NDA on the issue of denial of special status to Andhra Pradesh in the wake of the state's bifurcation and the creation of Telangana. Talking to newsmen after their meeting, Gandhi said, "It is critical for the country that all opposition parties get together and provide a vision."
Over the past months, there have been several attempts by leading opposition leaders to unite parties and take on the BJP dispensation at the Centre as a united force — but their efforts have not borne any tangible results, prompting the BJP to term all such attempts as futile and the opposition unity a failed idea. However, there have been quite a few occasions when such unity efforts have put forth unexpected results. The recent by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, where arch rivals BSP and Samajwadi Party (SP) joined hands against BJP candidates, led to the latter's defeat. The most remarkable of these by-elections held in Kairana further strengthened the idea that if opposition parties do come together and decide their candidates keeping the demographic diversity in mind, it can throw up unexpected results. In western UP's Kairana, the Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after the demise of BJP MP Hukum Singh and, in the by-election, both BSP and SP offered unconditional support to Rashtriya Lok Dal's (RLD) candidate Tabassum Hasan, when all the three regional parties reached a consensus to give the seat to RLD and field a Muslim candidate. In the by-election, Hasan defeated BJP's Mriganka Singh, daughter of Hukum Singh. Western UP is a Jat-dominated region with a sizeable population of Muslims and the two communities have traditionally been living in harmony. After the Phulpur and Allahabad by-elections, Kairana showcased meticulous planning and the necessary give-and-take that is a pre-requisite to take on the might of the ruling party. That SP, BSP and other opposition parties including the Congress, which offered its support to the candidates despite not having much importance in the state, have agreed to field common opposition candidates against the BJP underscored the fact that these parties have understood well that they cannot defeat the BJP on mere anti-BJP sentiments — as was showcased in the 2017 UP Assembly elections where they fought independently and lost miserably. They need to take into account demographic calculations as well while deciding which party and who exactly should be given the ticket.
The latest effort initiated by Naidu to unite opposition parties lacks substance on this account; the bottom line being the same that mere anti-BJPism will not work. Rather, it can backfire and end up benefitting the saffron party. The opposition parties can take a cue from the BJP which has decided to cancel the tickets of some of its sitting MPs in Bihar and field an equal number of candidates as its regional partner JD (U). This sense of accommodation — giving importance to practical factors while deciding the candidates — will hold the key in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections when the BJP will deploy resources and manpower at an even larger scale.
A decisive moment in the opposition's unification drive came when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took the lead in the matter and met opposition leaders across the spectrum earlier this year. But lately, she has been busy in her home state and is unable to fine-tune the details of the proposed grand alliance. If the opposition leaders are serious about taking on the BJP in the next Lok Sabha election, some of them will have to work full-time on this proposition as piecemeal measures would be of no match to the dedication of BJP President Amit Shah in successfully connecting the dots. With the kind of time that Rahul Gandhi has, he can do this but then, the opposition leaders need to publicly express their confidence in him. Naidu's meeting with Rahul Gandhi on Thursday can be the first steps towards that direction.