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Disunity among rivals suits BJP

Will the Opposition be able to unite to take on the BJP in the 2019 polls? This is a million-dollar question as it has been elusive although the opposition wants to make the 2019 polls as one of Prime Minister Modi versus the rest. Disunity in the opposition suits the BJP.

Disunity among rivals suits BJP
Will the Opposition be able to unite to take on the BJP in the 2019 polls? This is a million-dollar question as it has been elusive although the opposition wants to make the 2019 polls as one of Prime Minister Modi versus the rest. Disunity in the opposition suits the BJP.

The Opposition has realised the need to come together to fight the BJP, which has expanded in the west and the east. Only in south it is not that successful so far. In north, it has already saturated. Moreover, the opposition is getting jittery after the stellar performance of the BJP in the recent five-state Assembly elections where the party won two and managed to form the government in two other states despite not being the number one party. Today the BJP is ruling alone or in coalition in 15 states. So ever since the results went the BJP way, there has been a call for opposition unity. But it is not easy, as, except Congress and the Left, other parties are confined to regions and headed by single individuals whose influence may not go beyond their state.

The first move came from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently when he suggested forming a united opposition front while speaking at a book release function in Delhi. He asked the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who was sitting in the audience to take the lead in this regard. The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also attempted opposition unity during Modi's demonetisation drive in December. The unity move was taken forward during the just concluded budget session, and Rahul had discussions with the left leaders D Raja and Sitaram Yechury. Congress President Sonia Gandhi who had come back after her medical checkup also held a meeting within the party about how to check the influence of the BJP.

The first evidence came on the efficacy of Electronic Voting machines which many opposition leaders including BSP's Mayawati, Aam Aadmi Party's Kejriwal and others had complained about. Last week, 13 opposition parties went to President Pranab Mukherjee to protest about the EVMs, and they also met the Election Commission informing of their distrust in the machines.

What must be music to the ears of the opposition leaders is the latest addition to the unity move chorus when the BSP supremo Mayawati said in Lucknow this week: "The BSP now has no reservations about taking the help of anti-BJP parties in its fight against EVM (electronic voting machine) tampering and the BJP as it is the democracy which comes first... we have to keep democracy alive." This public statement has ignited fresh hope on forging a united anti-BJP front. In fact, the Congress tried to get the SP and the BSP together to form a grand alliance in UP just as it did in Bihar but the traditional rivalry between the SP and the BSP blocked that effort.

But these are all only initial moves, and there is a long way to go and much more needs to be done if it is to be concretised. The first thing is who will head such a front? Sonia Gandhi had proved herself in 2004 by mobilising the non- BJP parties when UPA government was formed. However, she is not in good health and wants her son Rahul Gandhi to take over the party. Unfortunately, for Congress, Rahul has no credibility. Moreover, senior leaders like Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Farooq Abdullah, and others may not be willing to work under him.

Rahul Gandhi reportedly held a meeting with Sharad Pawar recently and discussed the move. Pawar may be a good choice if he agrees and other parties agree to his leadership. The other two names are Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar.

Secondly, while the arithmetic could work in favour of the opposition, the chemistry may be a problem. Except Congress and the Left (in pockets) the others are all regional parties headed by individuals with king-size egos. Such a front will be a combination of parties which have no common ideology or programme and finding common ground will be difficult but not impossible.
The third is the strategy. So far the BJP bashing or Modi bashing has not helped the opposition in elections. On the contrary, it has resulted in Modi becoming stronger. The other plank of secular/communal too seems to have failed with the Hindu polarisation taking place in favour of the BJP.

The Opposition has to spell out what they offer to the public in place of Modi's Hindutva and development by building a counter-narrative. The fourth is the communication. This is where the opposition is lacking as the BJP has been able to reach out to the voter much better than the opposition parties.

The first test will come in the upcoming Presidential and Vice Presidential elections. Will the opposition put up candidates for either post knowing that the BJP has the adequate number of votes to get its own candidates? So far the opposition has not given a thought to it. The final hope of a divided opposition is to wait and watch for the BJP to commit mistakes. It should keep in mind that among all the states which went to polls post-2014 only in Jharkhand the BJP has a slight edge over the combined vote-share of the opposition. Secondly, the BJP has already reached saturation point in the north. One week is long in politics and will the opposition be able to sustain for two years?
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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