By Kalyani Shankar
Can the Opposition unite and pose a challenge to the BJP in the coming months? There are so many ifs and buts. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had organised a mammoth rally in Kolkata’s Brigade grounds on Saturday. A who’s who of the opposition had gathered to prepare a roadmap for a coalition against the ruling BJP. Addressing the ‘United India rally’, Mamata predicted that BJP’s days are numbered and that the “expiry date” of the Modi-led government is over.
The rally was perhaps the beginning of the opposition efforts ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to oust the BJP government. Though earlier when the Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy took oath in May last with several of them gracing the occasion, it did not move forward but this time, it is likely to be followed up with another rally in Amravati in Andhra Pradesh by N. Chandrababu Naidu and another in Delhi organised by the Aam Admi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal.
An impressive list of leaders from 23 parties including former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, former Union ministers Sharad Pawar, Arun Shourie and Shatrugan Sinha, three chief ministers – Chandrababu Naidu, Arvind Kejriwal and H D Kumaraswamy, former chief ministers Akilesh Yadav, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Geogong Apang among others, participated.
From the podium Mamata Banerjee appealed to the country “Badal do, badal do, Delhi mein sarkar badal do (change the government). The other speakers also echoed the same sentiments. This is the first big effort after the BJP lost the three big states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh last month.
The opposition boasts of a wealth of leaders. But as former Prime Minister Deve Gowda pointed out it would be a Herculean task as the problem is for different party leaders to forget their differences and come together. There are many opposition parties of various hues and ideologies pulling in different directions.
The possibility is not a national coalition but state specific alliances. The ego of the regional chieftains comes in the way of unity. In fact the Congress Party is working on this strategy and so do the other parties. For instance, in UP, the SP and the BSP have come together keeping the Congress out. In West Bengal will the Congress go with the Trinamool Congress or the Left? Will the Telugu Desam continue its ties with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh where the Congress is almost zero? In the northeast, alliance with regional parties is required. The Left parties have remained outside, as they do not want to share the platform with Mamata Banerjee. The Telengana chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, who was busy mobilising a federal front was absent at the rally because he did not want to share the dais with Naidu and the Congress leaders. These are the challenges which come in the way of opposition unity.
Once this issue is resolved, then comes the question of who would be its prime ministerial candidate. This has been pushed aside for now, claiming that it will be a collective leadership and the candidate can be decided in the post poll scenario. “Throw the BJP out. We will figure out who can become the Prime Minister. Modiji need not worry,” says Banerjee. Even the Congress has agreed that the decision should be only in the post poll scenario. The opposition therefore will go without a challenger to Modi despite its galaxy of leaders while he will do a presidential style campaign.
The third challenge is for the regional satraps to show an extraordinary determination to sweep the polls in their respective states. They did well in 2014 by winning an impressive number of seats. A repeat performance would go a long way in challenging Modi.
The fourth challenge is a “one-on-one fight” against the BJP. This would avoid a division of opposition votes but it appears difficult. Prime Minster Modi is counting on a divided opposition to win in 2918.
The fifth and the more important is that the opposition has no new narrative. Just Modi- bashing will not get them votes. Unless they come up with a vision, voters will not be enthused.
The Prime Minister has reacted in his characteristic style: “My stand on corruption has made some people angry as I prevented them from looting public money; they have formed the mahagathbandhan.” Modi is sticking to his corruption plank.
There is no doubt that the opposition unity is very difficult but no harm in trying. After all the BJP came to power with just 31 per cent vote share in 2014. As one of opposition leader said “Manzil bahut door hai, Raasta bahut kathin hai; Dil mile na mile, Haath mila ke chalo” (our destination is far and the path is difficult; despite our differences, we have to tread the path holding hand together). The coming days and weeks will show whether the opposition means what it says. (IPA Service)