Need for strategic overhaul
Merely demonising the PM is not yielding the Opposition any results.
There is a growing realisation among the opposition parties that their survival is now dependent upon their unity. In a democracy, an effective opposition is very important. Therefore, efforts are currently going on to unite the non-BJP parties but unfortunately, they are facing road- blocks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been able to convince people that he is doing something exceptional. Even after three years, he is able to give that impression although it isn't all smooth sailing for the Modi government. It is facing tough challenges over unemployment, incidents of cow vigilantism, unrest and violence in Kashmir Valley, attacks on Dalits, farmers' suicides, uneasy relations with China, and breakdown of diplomatic parleys with Pakistan. The Opposition is not able to take advantage of these problems.
Can the Opposition ever be united? It had done so in 1977, 1989, 1996, and 2004. In the last Lok Sabha polls, the effort to cobble up a united front had collapsed. Individual egos, ambitions, regional contradictions and changing equations make a national grand alliance difficult. Although a beginning of sorts has been made recently in forging Opposition unity there is still no clarity on the path ahead. On two occasions in recent times it seems to be eluding. The first was on the Presidential candidate and the second was about participating in the GST function held in Central Hall of Parliament on Friday. On both occasions, cracks were visible.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was the first to break the unity move by announcing that his party JD (U) will vote for the NDA candidate Ramanth Kovind who was Bihar Governor earlier. About 17 opposition parties chose former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, as its Presidential nominee with an impressive show of strength. Meira Kumar, daughter of tall Dalit leader, the late Jagjivan Ram, hails from Bihar. Similarly, the GST launch saw parties like the NCP, SP and JD (U) breaking the opposition unity and attended the GST launch on Friday.
One of the biggest points of contention is about who should be the "face of the Opposition". Except the Congress and the Left, powerful regional chieftains dominate most other parties in the opposition. While there is competition among the regional chieftains like Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and Mulayam Singh, the Congress thinks being a national party it should automatically get the leadership.
The Opposition disunity is mainly because of the weakening of the Congress and the Left. There is leadership crisis in the Congress and the Left is losing ground. Even if he is elevated to the party president, Rahul Gandhi is not seen as a credible leader who could unite the Opposition. Also, Rahul has a long way to go before people accept him as a challenger to Modi.
Secondly, the absence of a strong alternative makes the BJP rise. It is this TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor, which could help Modi if the opposition continues to be weak.
Thirdly, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh summed up the situation recently: "Even a united opposition cannot take on Modi. Opposition parties have been left with nothing. Their coming together won't make any difference. It is also because of the fact that the credibility of opposition leaders is low. As long as Modi's credibility is intact, the BJP has no reason to worry. It will keep winning elections."
Fourthly, the BJP is claiming the nationalist space, anti-corruption plank, pro-poor agenda and has even appropriated the UPA sponsored schemes like the Aadhaar and MGNREGA. The Congress feels that the BJP is also trying to appropriate the Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and BR Ambedkar.
So, what is the way forward for the Opposition? First of all, it should work for a common minimum agenda, acceptable to other parties. Indeed opportunistic alliances are no substitute for a convincing common programme of governance or for a trustworthy leadership. This may be difficult but not impossible.
Secondly, the opposition should change its strategy, as mere demonising Modi is not giving the results. For instance, demonetisation move of Modi is an example. Tackled well, the Opposition could have won the support of the middle classes but it failed to bring out the flaws in the scheme. It is the same on the cow vigilantism, beef ban, and other issues.
Secondly, the communal/secular plank is not working as the BJP is going from strength to strength in the past three years despite being dubbed as a communal party. The aspirational and younger voters are not interested in this plank. So unless the narrative changes, the opposition has no chance.
Thirdly, while a Grand Alliance is a good idea on paper it is the chemistry, which matters in uniting the opposition. The egos of most regional leaders also come in the way of unity move. Look at what is happening in Bihar where there is already strain between the Chief Minister and the RJD chief LaluYadav! Common struggle at ground level and unity of action at the constituency level are the effective tools to forge unity among workers of different parties who have been rivals.
Prime Minister Modi is depending on a divided opposition as it will not only keep him in power but also enable his return in 2019 polls. Or else, as National Conference leader Omar Abdullah has warned, it should be ready to live with the spectre of Modi in power till 2024 at least.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)