Beyond the hug and the wink
To secure power and emerge as the ultimate leader, Rahul Gandhi has the onerous task of consolidating divergent Opposition leaders.
Now that the Narendra Modi government has won the trust vote on Friday, what next? The dramatic 'hug' and 'wink' of Congress President Rahul Gandhi while speaking on the no-trust motion on Friday might have become news, but the real question is whether the Opposition is really ready to take on the BJP in 2019 and, also, who will lead the Opposition.
Though the trust motion aimed at attesting the NDA numbers, battle lines for 2019 polls have been drawn after the heated debate. The next step to show opposition unity will be in the election of the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, but BJP is not keen to hold the elections unless it mobilises the numbers for its own candidate or a BJP-backed candidate. So, it is likely to be postponed to the Winter session of Parliament by which time the polls for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh would be over.
While, by and large, there was Opposition unity in the Parliament, the efforts to lure parties like the BJD did not succeed. The TRS (11) and BJD (20) stayed away. NDA ally Shiv Sena (18) also stayed away. They had been banking on 129 votes including smaller parties and got 125. Clearly, much more needs to be done to take on Modi.
BJP too has the task of keeping NDA flock together and acquire new friends. Though it gained the JD (U) and some smaller Northeastern regional partners, TDP walked out of NDA in March and Shiv Sena, its oldest ally, is practically out. Smaller parties like Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Hindustani Awam Morcha and RLSP also quit the NDA. The BJP itself pulled out its support to the PDP government. The party managers expected to get about 350 votes, much beyond the NDA strength in the house (314) but received 25 votes less despite getting the 37 votes from the AIADMK.
For Congress, if it wants to project its president Rahul Gandhi as a challenger to Modi, much needs to be done to establish his supremacy in the Opposition. He has emerged much more confident and the transition from Sonia to Rahul has been smooth. The first meeting of the Congress Working Committee chaired by Rahul on Sunday, authorised him to go ahead and form poll alliances and also draw up the roadmap ahead of 2019. Rahul realises the difficult task of expanding the Congress vote base. "In each constituency, we have to find people who have not voted for us and develop a strategy to reach out to them and win back their trust," he told the CWC.
On forming the alliances, Sonia Gandhi who might play a bigger role in her capacity as the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party observed: "The need of the hour is the opposition unity and the opposition has to get together in strategic alliances, keeping aside personal ambitions."
However, both tasks are difficult. Regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Mayawati (BSP), Chandrababu Naidu (Telugu Desam Party) and Sharad Pawar (NCP) are not willing to accept Rahul Gandhi as the Opposition Prime Ministerial candidate, though they did not show any hesitation in accepting Sonia Gandhi in 2004 when she cobbled up a coalition, which ultimately came to power. In the present political atmosphere, Rahul must find a way to work with these strong and egoistic leaders and win over them. It is a million dollar question whether they will accept Rahul as their leader as all of them nourish Prime Ministerial ambitions.
Bringing new friends to the opposition ranks is going to be equally difficult as regional parties like the BJD and TRS want to maintain an equal distance from both BJP and Congress, as they are the main rivals in their states. Congress does not want to include AAP in the opposition group. Parties like INLD, PDP, Rajinikanth's new outfit, YSR Congress and other smaller parties are averse to the Congress. Since DMK is already with Congress, AIADMK will not join the opposition group.
In such a situation will Congress support anyone else after declaring Rahul Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate? Sensing the opportunity to become the face of the Opposition, Mamata Banerjee roared at a rally on Saturday "Bengal will show the way for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls" and announced that she will bring all the Opposition leaders in one platform in a rally proposed to be organised on January 19, 2019, at the Kolkata Brigade Grounds. It is obvious that Mamata wants to wow the country with a massive show of strength. BSP wants Mayawati to be declared as the Prime Ministerial candidate. There are others. With so many 'ifs' and 'buts', Congress must win over new friends and maintain its old allies if it means business. It is not impossible, as alliances require a mutual give-and-take attitude from both sides. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal)