By Kalyani Shankar
The idea of an alternate front has emerged once again after the meeting held at the Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s residence recently. Why is the idea gaining ground though there are three more years for the next General elections? Some opposition leaders believe that non-BJP parties should join hands without waiting for Congress to take the initiative. Pawar was categorical that any new alliance will include Congress to fight the BJP and added such a collation should have collective leadership.
The Congress is living in past glory. It is neither taking lead in uniting the opposition nor would join in any front with a supporting role. But some parties, like Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Aam Admi Party, Akali Dal, Telangana Rastriya Samithi and Biju Janata Dal are opposed to the Congress. That is why Pawar now talks of collective leadership.
Historically, the idea surfaces whenever the national parties become weak. Then the regional parties aspire to rule the country by coming together.
Secondly, having established their respective political fiefdoms, these regional satraps aspire for a more significant say in determining national priorities and policies.
Thirdly they also develop prime ministerial ambitions, having seen the elevation of Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral earlier. However, the track record of such fronts proves that they have produced weak prime ministers in the past.
Fourthly, the national parties have begun to depend on the regional parties in the states’ piggyback riding on them. The conflicting egos and ambitions among the regional satraps and mutual mistrust make any front initiative incoherent.
So as Pawar realizes that an ideal coalition is an anti- BJP coalition, Congress included. Is it possible to have a collective leadership in a partnership where the regional satraps and the Congress would expect to head such a coalition? Finding a consensus leader in such strange alliances would be difficult. The alternate front without a face will be a flop show.
Moreover, getting 272 seats, the required majority in Lok Sabha, without either the BJP or Congress is unrealistic. The BJP won around 38 percent of the vote in the Lok Sabha Election 2019, and Congress 20 per cent. History also reveals that a third front government was not formed so far without the support of either of the two parties.
The first third front government led by V.P Singh was supported by the Left and the BJP in 1989. Another such front emerged in 1996, supported by Congress, but it lasted only two years. The Vajpayee led 24 partnered NDA coalition fell within 13 months, but the second time he completed his full term. The UPA government led by Manmohan Singh lasted two full terms. The NDA 11 government led by Modi is currently in its second term. So at the most, an alternative front to the BJP is the only possibility with Congress either leading or supporting it.
Secondly, having fared well in the recent Assembly polls, the regional satraps have national ambition for 2024 general elections.
But it would be premature to speak of possibilities in 2024. Three years is a pretty long time in politics — and the BJP may well recover some of its lost political momenta. An old national party like Congress has the potential to revive. Also, with all its slide, the Congress Party got 11 crore voters in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but not yet strong enough to take on the BJP on its own. SharadPawar can play the leading role in rallying anti-BJP parties together, leaving the contentious question of leadership after the elections.
Facing a leadership crisis at the national level and indiscipline and factionalism in the Congress-ruled states, the party has to pull up its socks. Being a big national party it has only two choices- either join the new manch or spoil the chances of the Pawar initiative by keeping away.
It is indeed a welcome move that the opposition has realised this and plans to come together before 2024. Now that the goal is set, the means have to be found. It is a long and bumpy journey ahead. The opposition parties, Congress included need to pool their resources, ideas, campaign, and a new narrative to succeed. Just Modi- bashing will not wash. The ball is in the court of Congress to support the new front or continue to live in its past glory. For that, it has to sort out its leadership crisis first.
In a democracy, just as it needs a strong government, it also requires an effective opposition. With a divided opposition, there is every chance of the BJP coming back in the next polls. (IPA Service)