By Nitya Chakraborty
There has been a sudden change in the political mood of the country, especially among the non-BJP opposition parties after the conviction of the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi by the Surat Court and consequent disqualification of Rahul as Lok Sabha member from Wayanad constituency of Kerala. If the conviction is not stayed by the higher court including the Supreme Court, the de facto Congress supremo will be debarred from contesting any election for the next eight years. This means that in the worst scenario for the Congress, Rahul Gandhi will be eligible to contest for elections only after March 23, 2031.
This scenario can change if the conviction is stayed. Then Rahul will be entering the Lok Sabha as MP again with new clout both for him and the Congress Party. That will help the Congress in improving its image among the people on the eve of the assembly elections in Karnataka, due in May this year. But if the conviction is not stayed and Rahul has to be out of Parliament for the next eight years, the Congress may have to zero in on a new leader, including from the Gandhi family for being projected as the potential Prime Minister from its side in case the situation leads to that after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress has got unusually strong support in the last four days since conviction from the opposition parties which are openly opposed to the Congress claim to leadership of the opposition. The 14 opposition parties which have jointly sent a petition to the Supreme Court seeking intervention against the Narendra Modi Government’s use of the central agencies against the opposition parties, include the Trinamool Congress, AAP, TDP and YSRCP which have been very critical of the Congress in the recent weeks. But after the disqualification, the way, the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal have blasted the Modi Government gives signal that on this issue of the misuse of the central agencies to serve the political interests of the BJP, they are fully with the Congress.
These parties really have taken the view that the disqualification of the Congress MP from his Lok Sabha membership is a grim signal to all the non-BJP political parties about what can happen to any of them at the whim of the Prime Minister. On March 27, seventeen political parties, including TMC, BRS and AAP attended the strategy meeting convened by the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge indicating that the entire opposition, irrespective of whether they fully agree to the Congress policies, are with the main national opposition party on Rahul Gandhi issue.
Congress state units have started agitation protesting against Rahul’s disqualification throughout the country. Simultaneously, BJP has also called its units to counter that through its press meets and rallies by explaining how Rahul does not care for the democratic norms. The Congress leadership will certainly seek political mileage out of the entire developments. That’s fine but this should not lead the Congress to take the big brother position of deciding courses on behalf of the entire opposition. The Congress has to focus all its attention on the Karnataka assembly elections and ensure that the party wins and forms the government this time. That should be its primary task and if the Congress achieves that, that will turn the political wind in the country further in favour of the Congress and against the BJP.
Despite the total support given by the regional and the other national parties like the Left to the Congress on Rahul disqualification, there are genuine issues of divergence between some of the opposition parties and the Congress at the ground level in the states. For instance in Kerala, the Congress will certainly try to create a favourable political climate on Rahul issue since he was a Lok Sabha member from Wayanad constituency. If the Election Commission announces the by election from this seat which is now vacant, the Congress will be fielding its candidate and naturally it will be vehemently contested by the CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front.
The LDF in 2019 Lok Sabha elections suffered heavily by getting only one out of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The Congress led Unite Democratic Front got19 which was not the reflection of the actual popular strength of the contending fronts. But Rahul Gandhi’s contesting from Kerala generated a favourable position for the Congress and the Party got the dividends from that. This time, the Left will do its best to win this seat defeating the Congress nominee, whoever he is.
Similarly, in Karnataka assembly elections, if there is no alliance between the Congress and the JD(S) before the assembly elections, that should be taken with grace by both the leaderships and they should work out understanding after the results are out, if there is a hung assembly. More importantly, on the basis of the respective strength in the new assembly in Karnataka, the Congress and the JD(S) can try for a pre poll alliance before the Lok Sabha polls.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has already talked to the Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy and the BJD supremo Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik and they have all agreed for cooperation among the regional parties in favour of federalism. Naveen’s agreeing at this time on this issue is politically significant. Shiromoni Akali Dal (Badal), which has dissociated itself from the NDA government, is also interested in talking to Mamata and the leaders are supposed to meet shortly. Mamata has already talked to BRS leader K Chandrasekhar Rao and the AAP leader Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The emerging political scenario is not ripe for a full fledged pre-poll alliance of the opposition parties before the Lok Sabha elections. The practical political strategy should be to see that the Congress and the regional parties fight the BJP in its respective strongholds and the principal non-BJP party in each state has the right to decide on the nature of alliance, if there is any need. The Left has its own states identified. In Kerala, the Left Front will fiercely fight the Congress led UDF in 2024 Lok Sabha polls to increase its strength substantially and in Bengal, the Left-Congress combination has the potential to challenge both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party is the principal opposition party to take on the BJP. SP will decide if it needs Congress as its alliance partner. In Bihar and Tamil Nadu, the ruling combinations are models and they are expected to remain the same to take on BJP led NDA in the two states.
If both the Congress and the non- BJP opposition parties pursue this approach before the Lok Sabha elections and join hands against the BJP after the poll results are out, this will lead to the smooth emergence of a post 2024 polls front of the opposition. The leader- Prime Minister can be decided then based on the respective strength of the contesting parties and the acceptability of the same to the majority of the new members of the Lok Sabha. This is the only way the entire non-BJP opposition should work for this. (IPA Service)