Taking forever to be battle-ready

| | in Oped

The BJP continues to march forward while the opposition parties still bicker and blame. They refuse to understand that they need to revamp their respective strategies. Lack of unity is their other weakness

Will the Opposition be able to unite to take on the BJP in the 2019 poll? This is a million dollar question, though the Opposition wants to make the election as one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi versus the rest.

The Opposition has realised the need to come together to fight the BJP, which has expanded in the west and the east. and only in the south it has not been that successful so far. In the north, it has already saturated. Moreover, the Opposition is getting jittery after the stellar performance of the BJP in the recent five State Assembly elections, where the party won two and managed to form the Government in two other States despite not being the number one party.

Today the BJP is ruling alone or in coalition in 15 States. So, ever since the results went the BJP way, there has been a call for opposition unity. But it is not easy, as except the Congress and the Left, other parties are confined to regions and headed by single individuals whose influence may not go beyond their State.

The first move came from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently, when he suggested forming a united opposition front, while speaking at a book release function in Delhi. He asked Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who was sitting in the audience, to take a lead in this regard. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also attempted opposition unity during Modi’s demonetisation drive in December.

The unity move was taken forward during the just concluded Budget session and Rahul Gandhi had discussions with the Left leaders D Raja and Sitaram Yechury. Congress president Sonia Gandhi who had come back after her medical check-up, also held a meeting within the party about how to check the growth of the BJP.

The first evidence came on the efficacy of electronic voting machines which many opposition leaders including the BSP’s Mayawati, Aam Aadmi party’s Arvind Kejriwal and others had complained.  Last week, 13 opposition parties went to President Pranab Mukherjee to complain about the EVMs and they also met the Election Commission informing it of their mistrust.

What must be music to the ears of the opposition leaders is the latest addition to the unity move chorus when BSP supremo Mayawati said in Lucknow this week, “The BSP now has no reservations in taking the help of anti-BJP parties in its fight against EVM-tampering and the BJP, as it is democracy which comes first... we have to keep democracy alive.” This public statement has ignited fresh hope on forging a united anti-BJP front. In fact, the Congress tried to get the SP and the BSP together to form a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh just as it did in Bihar, but the traditional rivalry between the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj Party blocked that effort.

But these are all only initial moves and there is a long way to go and much more needs to be done if it is to be concretised. The first thing is who will head such a front? Sonia Gandhi had proved herself in 2004 by mobilising the non-BJP parties when the UPA Government was formed. However, she is not good health and wants her son Rahul Gandhi to take over the party. Unfortunately for the Congress, Rahul Gandhi has no credibility. Moreover, senior leaders like Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Farooq Abdullah and others may not be willing to work under him.

Rahul Gandhi reportedly  held a meeting with Sharad Pawar recently, and discussed the move. Pawar may be a good choice, if he agrees and other parties agree to his leadership.   The other two names are Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar.

While the arithmetic could work in favour of the Opposition, the chemistry may be a problem. Except for the Congress and the Left ( in pockets), the others are all regional parties headed by individuals with king-size egos. Such a front will be a combination of parties which have no common ideology or programme. Finding common ground will be difficult.

Then there is the strategy. So far, BJP-bashing or Modi-bashing has not helped the Opposition in elections. On the contrary, it has resulted in Modi becoming stronger. The other plank of secular / communal too seems to have failed with Hindu polarisation taking place in favour of the BJP.

The fourth is to do with communication. This is where the Opposition is lacking, as the BJP has been able to reach out to the voter much better than the opposition parties.

The first test will come in the upcoming presidential and vice presidential elections. Will the Opposition put up candidates for either post, knowing that the BJP has the adequate number of votes to get its own candidates?

The final hope of a divided opposition is to wait for the BJP to commit mistakes. It should keep in mind that among all the States which went to polls post 2014, only in Jharkhand the BJP has a slight edge over the combined voteshare of the opposition.

(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)

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