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Mahagathbandhan’s Patna Rally Is A Fresh Start

By Harihar Swarup

Despite Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ditching the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) and joining hands with the BJP, it is in national interest to ensure that the alliance does not collapse. The grand opposition rally sponsored by the RJD in Patna was a welcome step in this direction. The rally drew in senior political leaders from, at least, 12 parties — including Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav, rebel JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad and CPI’s D Raja.

The gathering of anti-BJP forces may well be the first step towards nation-wide Mahagathbandhan of secular parties for the 2019 Lok Sabha election. And, if such a Grand Alliance does fructify, it could at least prove to be a serious challenge to the BJP-led NDA. For there are growing signs that the BJP dispensation has developed an authoritarian streak as exemplified by its championing of food policing laws and kid-glove approach towards cow vigilantism. This provides an opportunity for anti-BJP parties to make an electoral comeback.

There is need for perfect understanding and cohesion among the constituents of the Grand Alliance. That is a difficult task because personal interests clash but it has to be achieved. Take the case of Sharad Yadav. The senior JD(U) leader, the founder of the party, has been at loggerheads with Nitish Kumar ever since the latter broke the coalition with the RJD and Congress to form a new ruling alliance with the BJP.

Having removed Sharad as leader of the JD(U) in Rajya Sabha, Nitish Kumar is now pushing for his ouster from the Rajya Sabha and he may succeed but Sharad has to play an important role in uniting the Opposition parties. He has to lead the Grand Alliance and make it a formidable force in run up to Lok Sabha elections. With his long years of experience and quality of carrying everybody with him, Sharad is the right man to be appointed convener of the Grand Alliance. In general elections, which are not far, Sharad may contest from his old seat of Madhepura.

There are some dark sides of the Patna rally. The fact that BSP chief Mayawati stayed away from the RJD-sponsored rally shows that few parties are still unsure about continuance of Grand Alliance. Mayawati made it clear that she would only join a secular, anti-BJP coalition after a seat-sharing formula is worked out. In the same vein, Congress being represented by Ghulam Nabi Azad, instead of the party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, shows that it too is testing waters. After all, with RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and his family being charged with fresh cases of corruption, other political parties too are wary of being tainted by associating with Lalu.

Since 1980s, regional parties have been influential in building alternatives to the dominant party at the centre. But at the core of these coalitions has been a party with a national presence. The anti-Congress National Front in the late 1980s was conceived as a federal platform for many regional parties, including TDP, which was a key player, but the Janata Dal, which had pockets of influence across India, was the pivotal force.

When the United Front was formed in the 1990s, the Janata Dal though a diminishing party now, once again provided the thrust. Since then the Congress and the BJP have firmed up national coalition—the UPA and the NDA— while the Janata Parivar has disintegrated into scattered regional groups, and the communists, now limited to Kerala and Tripura have been reduced to bit players. The shrinking of Congress since its humiliating defeat in 2014 election has left the BJP’s Opposition without a core. With no clear leader or driving force, the Opposition has been pursuing politics that is at best reactive to the BJP agenda.

The regional outfits are beset with their own problems and crises with many of them burdened by charges of corruption and promotion of dynastic politics. Moreover, the BJP has been strategic in appropriating agendas formally identified with the Congress and erstwhile Janata formations.

Old binaries, like Mandal and Kamandal, regional versus Centre and secular versus communal are less effective against the BJP because the party has smartly defused these— by offering a mega narrative that simultaneously invoked nationalist, communal and class identities.

Not only has the BJP been expanding its footprint and social base, it has also been collecting regional parties allies. The Opposition needs both core and an overarching narrative to challenge the BJP. Neither an acknowledgement of its formidable challenge, nor the will to meet it, was spotted on stage in Patna. (IPA Service)

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