Withering Opposition unity?
Despite an initial show of strength that grabbed national attention, the Opposition’s ‘Mahagtbandhan’ is now a mirage
While the Opposition has been touting a Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), what is unfolding on the ground is indeed quite different. It is quite clear now that a Grand Alliance is unlikely and, instead, parties are inclined to go for state-specific alliances. This is because the Opposition is not united in choosing a leader as its prime ministerial face and is also experiencing resurgent ego clashes between regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati. All of them want to keep their options open for a post-poll scenario.
This is more so after SP-BSP announced their alliance in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday and Congress decided to contest all seats in UP on Sunday. The alliance between SP and BSP has been on the cards for some time and the announcement on Saturday has only confirmed the possibility. This is indeed a major decision as the combination could bring success, going by the relevant caste arithmetic. The chemistry too should work as it did in the recent by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur.
Without these two parties, there cannot be a Mahagathbandhan as their focus is now on winning a maximum number of seats in their state, and they will think of the prime ministerial bid after the poll results are announced. "We want the next Prime Minister to be from Uttar Pradesh and everyone knows whom I will support," Akhilesh Yadav said, hinting that BSP chief Mayawati might throw her hat in the ring if they get a good number of seats. RLD might find a place in their alliance too. So, it is clear that there will be multi-corned contest in UP. Congress, which was hoping to find a place in the alliance, has now reconciled itself to fighting solo in the polls but its morale is high after the recent wins in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. UP has the maximum number of seats and, it is believed, whoever wins UP wins India. BJP won 71 seats in 2014 and losing UP would dent its overall tally in the coming polls.
With no UPA at the national level, Congress is trying to focus on state-specific alliances. There are about 350 seats where alliances have already been put in place. The party has a two-level strategy. The first is to fight solo in states where it is strong and the second is to go for alliances with regional and smaller parties across different states.
Congress has been successful in stitching alliances with various small and regional parties. In Karnataka, the party has combined with Janata Dal (Secular). In Tamil Nadu, Congress has been an ally of DMK. In Bihar, the party is in alliance with RJD and some smaller parties. In 2015, the Mahagathbandhan with JD(U) and other parties worked well for Congress but, this time JD(U), is with NDA. In Maharashtra, Congress-NCP ties have been firmed up and even seat-sharing has almost been decided. In Kerala, Congress leads the UDF coalition. UDF and the LDF have been alternating their terms in power in Kerala. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Congress has an alliance with Telugu Desam Party. In Gujarat, the party has smartly stitched an alliance with local leaders like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mewani and Alpesh Thakor, during the Gujarat Assembly polls and that continues. In Jammu and Kashmir, Congress could go for an alliance with National Conference.
In West Bengal, Congress is divided about the alliance – whether to go with CPI-M or Trinamool Congress – but it will choose one of them clearly. In UP, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Puducherry, Congress might fight solo.
So where does that leave the Grand Alliance? It can be successful only when all anti-BJP forces come together to fight BJP and, going by the present trend, that may not happen. The Opposition is sending conflicting signals about its unity. While SP-BSP has announced its alliance, Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao has been trying to form a federal front with regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee. His bête noire, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, has also been trying to unite anti-BJP forces at the national level by talking to various parties. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has been entrusted with the task of talking to various parties ahead of the 2019 polls. With parties pulling in different directions, the Grand Alliance at the national level is now a mirage.
In such a scenario of a split in opposition votes, in several states, it will be advantage Modi as BJP boasts of a disciplined cadre, unlimited resources, excellent communication strategy and, above all, the influence of a strong leader like Modi. It is simple mathematics that as long as anti-Modi votes are split, the Opposition's chances of winning are not bright unless they unite.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)