Opposition unity imperative
In the last few days, the Congress President Sonia Gandhi has been very active talking to a whole host of opposition leaders about the need for a joint opposition candidate ahead of the Presidential elections. The vote for the new President is due in July this year, and the BJP has already contacted and garnered support from some non-National Democratic Alliance parties including YSR Congress. Sonia Gandhi, as the leader of the largest opposition party, has to take immediate measures to consolidate the unity of the anti-BJP parties who are already supporting her move. Simultaneously, she has to initiate steps to ensure that some of the non-BJP parties who have maintained a distance from the Congress-led opposition are persuaded to join them to defeat the BJP led NDA's candidate.
The task is complicated and requires an accommodative approach on the part of the Congress leadership. Sonia Gandhi has to take full help of the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury and CPI MP D Raja in making a success of the opposition efforts. As of now, the BJP led NDA is not entirely assured of the electoral majority in the Presidential elections if there is a contest. The incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee may be agreeable for a second term only if he is a consensus candidate. If that happens, the contest will not be there, and all focus will be on the elections for the Vice- President in August this year, and the BJP is determined to have its candidate as the next Vice-President.
The opposition has to be fully prepared to secure victory for its candidate in the Presidential elections if there is a contest and it can be made possible only by making every effort to bring together the parties which are still outside the present opposition camp. The opposition camp needs to convince the likes of Biju Janata Dal and AIADMK since their electoral numbers will contribute to the opposition strength against BJP. Apart, efforts will have to be made to garner the support of a few parties like Shiv Sena which are looking for ways to come out of the BJP orbit.
The trial of strength between the BJP led NDA, and the Congress-led opposition over the elections for the President and the Vice-President will be followed immediately by the state assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat by the end of 2017. Irrespective of the outcome of the Presidential elections, the opposition parties have to gear up fully to take on the BJP in both the states. In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress is in power, and the Virbhadra Singh Government is under attack from all sides by the BJP, and the saffron party is determined to take over the reins of this hill state from the Congress taking advantage of the CBI proceedings against the Congress Chief Minister.
A beleaguered Congress has to reinvent its poll strategy by arriving at an understanding with the smaller parties in the state because in many seats, the small support base of the parties like BSP, CPI and CPI-M counts. The BJP has effectively made use of this strategy in some states including Uttar Pradesh with success. The Congress has to widen its appeal among the non-BJP masses, and a broad front has to be formed including the members of the civic society. For the secular forces, the fight in full earnest should start with all vigour from the next round of state assembly elections in Himachal and Gujarat. If the Congress takes a domineering attitude in Himachal and Gujarat and does not agree to broaden the alliance against the BJP, the party has little chance to improve its position. An active association with the pro-active anti-BJP forces will help the Congress electorally also.
In Gujarat, there are signs of resentment against BJP rule. The state BJP is riven with factional battles. But still, the Congress has not been able to organise its workers to take on the BJP. The Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi in his recent visit has tried to galvanise the base level workers, but the BJP base is quite strong, and the RSS shakhas are giving booth-wise support to BJP candidates. The Congress has to widen its reach to the other forces opposed to the BJP rule. Sonia Gandhi has to see that the Congress reaches some understanding with the smaller anti-BJP parties in Gujarat. The Congress victory in Gujarat assembly elections is a tough task, but this is not impossible provided the Congress leadership unites the anti-BJP forces in the state and takes steps to widen the fissures within the state BJP leadership.
The success of the Congress and its supporting allies in Himachal and Gujarat in this year's assembly elections can only set the pace for the Congress and opposition resurgence in the next round of state assembly elections in 2018. The ground reality is that in the coming round of state assembly elections, excepting Tripura, the Congress is a major player. If the Congress loses, the BJP gains and that is a further cause of demoralisation for the opposition and buoyancy for the Saffrons. This makes it necessary for the Congress to be accommodative and take into battle all forces who are opposed to the BJP.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is most vehement these days in favour of a Congress-led opposition front to fight the BJP both in the presidential elections and in the 2019 general elections. She is meeting Sonia Gandhi on May 16 for discussions on the road map of the opposition. Mamata has to be a critical component of the anti- BJP front at the national level. CPI-M may fight Mamata in West Bengal, but on the national plane, Trinamool and the Left have to collaborate to build a solid anti- BJP front along with other parties. At the last meeting of the central committee, the CPI-M avoided taking a definite position on aligning with the Congress to form an anti- BJP alliance. In fact, the CC communiqué issued ion April 20 did not mention the need for such a front. It is high time, the CPI-M leadership gives up its ambivalence and take a firm position for a national anti-BJP alliance with both the Congress and the Trinamool. Maintaining equidistance from the BJP and the Congress at this juncture as per the 2015 Party Congress document will only help the BJP juggernaut. The Left can persuade the Congress to work for a common programme of action, and the Congress should work out this in consultations with other parties.
Congress has to rejuvenate itself. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hijacked the pro-poor agenda of the Congress. It will require extraordinary statesmanship and ingenuity for the present Congress leadership to prove their pro-poor credentials before the common masses. Only a programmatic vibrant Congress tuned to the demands of the new century can deal with the BJP challenge along with other non-BJP opposition parties. For the GOP of the country, the moment of truth has arrived.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)