By Sushil Kutty
For want of a better description, they’re the ‘non-BJP, non-NDA opposition’. The goal is to transform to the ‘non-BJP, non-NDA ruling alliance’. They have to corner 273 Lok Sabha seats in 2024, what a bright old spark, called a ‘journalist’, says is ‘half of half’ of the total Lok Sabha, the tipping point to flip Narendra Modi off the scales.
‘Nice try’ is not what they want to hear post-2024 General Elections. But there are irritants. Like the Congress, easily the bulwark of the ‘non-BJP, non-NDA’, is not geared enough. It has leadership issues. Is that so? Rahul Gandhi is still the ‘Boss’, and most popular Congress leader, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s ‘Indira nose’ notwithstanding.
The Congress is strong in Kerala, Karnataka, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Assam, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. There’ are direct contests between Congress and BJP in many of these states.
Chief Minister MK Stalin shouts the loudest ‘Rahul for PM’ of them all. And Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will come around. Between Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi, the choice for the left parties is Rahul Gandhi all the way to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg.
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor has met NCP supremo Sharad Pawar twice. Kishor’s muse is Mamata who sent him to Pawar’s bailiwick to talk turkey. Later, after Pawar and Kishor failed to reach consensus, when the so-called Rashtriya Manch met at Pawar’s 6 Janpath residence, Trinamool’s Yashwant Sinha was a prominent presence.
Sinha’s death wish will be to see Modi evicted from all walks of life, except that of the ‘Chaiwala’. It’s also a fact that Rahul Gandhi cannot suffer jaded old fogies, doesn’t matter whether it’s a Prime Minister propped up by the Congress, or the Yashwant Sinha sort.
The ‘non-BJP, non-NDA opposition’ leaders are talking among themselves, discussing strategy and tactics, careful not to get bogged down by either the ‘Congress factor’ or by the ‘prime ministerial face’. Yet not everybody who counts is on board. The ‘non-BJP, non-NDA’ is still a disparate lot.
And some oddballs have been milling around. For example, what was Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar doing at the 6 Janpath meeting? Why was he there, representing which party? The Left Front? Akhtar fancies himself a communist, at least his late father-in-law, Shabana Azmi’s father Kaifi Azmi was a communist.
Also, let’s not forget that the RJD, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (S), Telugu Desam Party, YSR Congress, DMK have still not been roped in. And there cannot be a more unpredictable bunch than Lalu-Tejashwi Yadav, HD Kumaraswamy, N Chandrababu Naidu, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati.
It is hard to predict to which side some of these leaders will bend. At his 6 Janpath meeting, Pawar said there cannot be an opposition force without the Congress. But will that be a sentiment shared by any of the rest of the ‘non-BJP, non-NDA’?
Maybe Prashant Kishor is talking to the wrong person. It’s not Pawar who needs to be convinced. He should tap some of his friends in the Congress, who are stalwart enough to convince the Congress high command.
Forget the ‘Group of 23’, though. Old fogies who Rahul Gandhi cannot suffer. Guys led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, the ‘Group of 23’, have reportedly contacted the ‘non-BJP, non-NDA’ and had offered to “join forces” at an opportune time. Of course, the opportune time is a thorn in the side.
The feeling is that the best time will be around when Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and Uttarakhand elections take place along with those in Goa. If the Opposition wrests UP from the BJP that will be the biggest upset. But if Capt. Amrinder Singh loses Punjab or the Congress doesn’t get Uttarakhand, there’ll be an upheaval in the Congress.
The Gandhis may lose standing. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi cannot escape blame for the crises in Punjab and Rajasthan. They are also under pressure to ‘do something’ to get a majority in the Lok Sabha come 2024. Most of the Congress still want Rahul Gandhi as party chief, even those in the ‘Group of 23’, whose rebellion was only to pile pressure on Rahul Gandhi to ‘return to power’.
So, maybe Prashant Kishor is talking to the wrong leader to take on Narendra Modi in 2024. Rahul Gandhi is more popular (and the Congress is stronger) than Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee will ever be in nearly a dozen states. The ‘non-BJP, non-NDA’ opposition should name its prime ministerial face and revive the ‘mahagathbandhan’. That will be “half of half” of the battle won. (IPA Service)