The opposition has failed to forge unity on the demonetisation move of the Modi government even after 50 days though the people are feeling the cash crunch and continue to stand in queues before the banks. Despite the hardships faced by the common man, who welcomed the demonetisation announced on the night of November 8, people are also confused about how long they have to face the cash crunch. There are reports that the economy is heading for a slide and that the costs of the currency ban may well outweigh its touted benefits. The Modi government is under severe pressure to justify its decision on the currency ban. This is because the slow delivery of cash has marred the Reserve Bank's remonetisation efforts. Despite a lot of ammunition to go gunning for the government, the opposition has not been able to capitalise on this issue. Secondly, while almost all the opposition parties have been criticising the demonetisation move, they have not come under one umbrella.
The opposition stalled the Parliament for the first few days in an organised manner in the Winter Session, but slowly cracks began to appear. While the Congress, Trinamool Congress, the Left, BSP, RJD, and AAP opposed the note ban per se, some including the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and BJD cautiously supported the demonetisation while criticising the government’s unpreparedness to deal with it. The Congress and the Trinamool Congress were in the forefront in stalling business in Parliament. Some seasoned and grassroots leaders like Sharad Pawar, Nitish Kumar, and Naveen Patnaik have seen through Modi’s game. So have the others like Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, and Karunanidhi. They realise that if his plan to woo the poor works, Modi is bound to come back in 2019 and even beyond.
The Congress wants its Vice President Rahul Gandhi to make his mark as a leader who can stand up to Prime Minister Modi but his efforts to unite the opposition seem to have flopped. The Congress had called a meeting to take the fight forward on Tuesday, but the opposition's response was lukewarm. Those who attended the meeting include the Trinamool Congress, RJD, JD(S), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, AIUDF, and the DMK. Those who skipped the tea party include NCP, JD(U), CPI-M, CPI, BSP, and SP. Apart from Rahul Gandhi, the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was a prominent political figure in the meeting. Playing down the poor attendance, Mamata Banerjee claimed, “the Opposition parties are together even though they have not turned up today. We have chalked out a common minimum programme on corruption charges against the Prime Minister and demonetisation.” She thundered in the joint press conference, “There are three days left for your deadline of 50 days that you had asked for, that you had asked the people of the country to bear. I ask, Mr Prime Minster if this is not solved in 50 days as you have promised, will you resign as Prime Minister of the country? There is no magic with which you can make the pain go away,”
The Congress has all the credentials to lead the opposition but still why did the party fail to forge the opposition unity? Certainly, it was due to arrogance and poor management skills to reach out to the others. In fact, the meeting helped Mamata emerge as a national leader overshadowing Rahul Gandhi who sat beside her in the press briefing.
First of all most opposition parties said they did not know the agenda of the meeting. The Left, JD(U) and the NCP had declined as they were not willing to let the Congress appropriate the entire credit for the demonetisaiton protests. This feeling was there even earlier when the Congress organised a march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to submit a memorandum to the President, and they did not join. The opposition unity went for a toss further when Rahul Gandhi took a delegation to the Prime Minister early this month, without informing them. In short, they see the Congress sabotaging the opposition unity by projecting the party above other parties and also projecting Rahul to lead the opposition. Several prime ministerial candidates in the opposition are waiting for a chance like Nitish Kumar (JD-U), Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Mayawati (BSP), Mulayam Singh (SP) to name a few.
Secondly, these parties feel that there were no wider consultations with the other parties as the Congress took a unilateral decision. The JD (U) leader K C Tyagi had also noted that no common minimum programme has been chalked out. The left parties are questioning the economic agenda of the Congress.
Thirdly, some like the JD (U) and the BJD are assessing the impact as they feel that there is still support for the measure as the poor feel that Modi was taking on the rich and the corrupt.
Fourthly, it needs a lot of tact and persuasion to bring parties like the Left and the Trinamool on the same platform as they do not want be seen on the same side because of their local politics. There are inherent contradictions. It is the same for the SP and the BSP which are fighting for their survival in the ensuing UP Assembly polls or the DMK and the AIADMK who have been rivals for decades. The Congress lacks a leader of stature to bring them all under one umbrella as Sonia Gandhi has taken a back seat and Rahul Gandhi is seen as junior to most of these regional chieftains. Right now, the Opposition lacks a strong leader who is acceptable to all and inspires trust and confidence.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)