By Kalyani Shankar
India is missing an effective Opposition at the Centre and States as it tries to check the surge of the ruling BJP. Political equation often changes before the poll as the enemies become friends and friends become enemies. The BSP and Congress came together in 1996. The S.P. and the BSP came together in the early nineties, and the Congress and the S.P. joined hands in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.
When the situation requires opposition parties, do not mind combining to check the ruling party as multi-cornered contests only give the ruling party a chance for victory as the votes are splintered.
If the Opposition is to survive, it must rebuild itself from the states upward. The current five state Assembly polls are crucial in this regard. Putting up a joint candidate against the BJP or tactical understanding within the Opposition parties would have had more victory. It does not mean that the entire Opposition should come together, but a broad coalition would have gone a long way.
There are many reasons for the disunity among the opposition parties. Congress has failed to lead the Opposition as a pan-national party since 2014. The party continues to live in its past glory while the regional satraps feel they are much more effective in opposing the BJP in their respective states.
The challenge before the Opposition is how to defeat the BJP. Although the 2024 Lok Sabha elections are two years away, the BJP has already started making moves. These five state Assembly polls are crucial because they will indicate the direction for the future. The BJP wants to retain U.P at all costs. As the Congress weakens, India misses a strong, credible national opposition inside and outside Parliament.
While individually, each opposition party talks about the need for unity, they seem to be more at war within their respective parties rather than taking on the ruling party.
Many leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, Yogi Adityanath are ambitious and nurture prime ministerial ambitions. But what is crucial is who or which party dominates India’s Opposition in the future. Unfortunately for Congress, the party is now a junior partner in a coalition while regional parties play a significant role in their respective states. That is where the competition lies.
There is war within Congress. The party faces factionalism and indiscipline. There is erosion and infighting in U.P. and Punjab as senior leaders from ‘Team Rahul’ like Jitin Prasada and RPN Singh have left for BJP. To humor Cricketer Navjot Sidhu, the Gandhi siblings sacked chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh to placate Navjot Singh Sidhu but the inner party conflicts still remain. Sidhu is not reconciled that he has not been projected as the potential CM.
Even after emerging as the single largest party in Goa and Manipur, the BJP outwitted Congress and formed the government after 2017 assembly elections.
Congress and BSP fight for the same groups. In UP, it is the Dalit and Brahmin votes. AAP and SAD are principal opponents of Congress in Punjab. AIMIM and Congress compete for the minority vote in Telangana. The Congress and Aam Admi Party are rivals in U.P, Punjab, and Goa.
Congress has spurned the offer of NCP and Shiv Sena, (its Maharashtra coalition partners) to form a front in Goa. Mamata Banerjee never misses a chance to make snide remarks against Congress. So does Mayawati, but she attacks both the S.P. and the Congress in U.P.
Then there are ego clashes among the regional chieftains. The regional satraps are not keen to work under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
The Opposition needs a new narrative and effective strategy to win. While the BJP has cornered the committed Hindu vote, there are floating Hindu votes. It cannot succeed without the support of a section of Hindus. Rahul Gandhi perhaps realizes this, which is why he has been talking of a difference between Hindutva and Hinduism.
With a proper strategy and strong leadership, the Congress could regain its lost glory. For instance, in 180 seats of 542 in Lok Sabha, the fight is direct between Congress and the BJP. There are over 350 seats where the regional parties are dominant, including states like Uttar Pradesh (80), Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42), Bihar (40), Tamil Nadu (39), Andhra Pradesh (25), Odisha (21) and Telangana (17).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a secret weapon. The weak Congress party and disunited Opposition keep the BJP in power. So part of the solution is within the hands of the opposition. Instead of fighting among themselves, the opposition needs to unite to fight BJP effectively. A disunited opposition will only help BJP to retain power in 2024 Lok Sabha poll. (IPA Service)