By Sushil Kutty
As 2022 rolls over for 2023 the Opposition has to declare a PM-face. There is no other option for the opposition parties but to fight Narendra Modi unitedly. Consider it a fait accompli, something that has been decided, and all that remains is to make it public. Fait accompli forecloses any opposition. The decision has been taken, period. As the Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi would say, “Full-stop, Ta-Ta, Bye-Bye!”
Going into battle without a PM-face has been the Opposition’s Achilles heel. Leaving things for the post-poll did not work in 2014, or in 2019. Just like the BJP vote-bank is focused on Narendra Modi for PM, the non-BJP electorate should also have a focus-face to root for, and vote for. Failing which, the only option left for the non-BJP voters (not for the opposition parties) would be to come together on their own and zero in on a PM-face, which is difficult to even visualize.
The Indian electorate is often branded as “ye public hai ye sab jaanti hai”. But that is hardly how things actually are. Non-BJP votes are frittered away, even though they are an overwhelming 60 percent to the BJP’s 40 percent. The BJP got 31 percent votes in 2014. And 2019 saw the BJP vote share jump to 38 percent.
Chances are the BJP vote-share crosses the 40 percent mark in 2024 to give Modi a third term. The Opposition can tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, unless it gets its act together, and chooses a PM-face of its own to take on Modi one-on-one with the power of the multiple come together.
That said, the BJP is in a better place for two reasons. One, ask how many opposition leaders from the different opposition parties want to be the PM-face and half a dozen hands will go up in the classroom with the teacher with her back to the blackboard! There are too many bloated egos in the Opposition, each one of them wanting to become Prime Minister.
It is just impossible to get the Opposition to come to a consensus on a single PM-face. Two, given this short-sightedness, things cannot come to a happy conclusion because the non-BJP electorate does not have a forum to come together on itsown, and decide for themselves on a single PM-face from the combined Opposition.
Besides, how to determine who qualifies to be the opposition PM-face? There are multiple faces. From Mamata Banerjee of the TMC to K Chandrashekhar Rao of the TRS/BRS. From MK Stalin of the DMK to Uddhav Thackeray of the UT faction of the Shiv Sena. There’s Nitish Kumar of the JD(U). And AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal, whose party has already named him Modi’s No.1 challenger.
But which among these prospects, has the credentials to challenge Modi, and win? Most will fall by the wayside, road-kill on the highway to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg. The majority will be post-poll claimants. And that, too, only if the BJP fails to get a majority, which again will happen only if the Opposition fights with a projected PM-face.
The reality is none of the opposition leaders bar one will pass the name-and-face recognition test outside their home states. The DMK’s MK Stalin is hardly known or would find favour outside Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry. Mamata Banerjee has a similar handicap outside West Bengal. Ditto K Chandrashekhar Rao outside Telangana.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP has achieved national party status after cornering 13 percent vote share in Gujarat. Also, Kejriwal fancies himself Prime Minister of India. But will voters nationwide, who did not vote for Modi in 2014 and 2019, vote for him? The chances are slim as long as there remain powerful regional parties with their regional satraps in state after state.
The single-biggest fallout of Mandal-Mandir of the early 1990s was that while the Mandir-backers lined up behind the BJP in a more or less solid phalanx, the Mandal-ites found themselves divided and wavering, unable to decide on the one party to take on the BJP. This is where the Congress scores. Only the Congress can take on the BJP one-on-one nationwide.
Out of the nine national parties, only the BJP and the Congress have a truly nationwide presence. And it’s only in the last 15 years that the BJP started upstaging the Congress. Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party is a national party but in a general election it stands no chance outside Maharashtra. And Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool outside West Bengal. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party has only a thin presence in a smattering of states.
The thing is neither Mayawati, nor Akhilesh Yadav nor Stalin or KCR would be an acceptable PM-face outside their states. The Tamil Nadu electorate will not vote for Mayawati. The Karnataka voter will not vote for Mamata Banerjee. The Kerala voter will be divided between CPM and Congress, with the BJP in the periphery?
The point being made is that for the first time in nearly 10 years, after two general elections, there is a chance to evict Narendra Modi from 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, defeat the BJP and save the peacocks from authoritarian clutches. That chance is now. For the Opposition, Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is the vehicle to pull through a 2024 victory, provided the Opposition fights 2024 under one chosen PM-face. And, as of now, the only Opposition PM-face that checks all the right boxes is Rahul ‘Ram’ Gandhi. (IPA Service)