A pan-India Opposition alliance to take on the BJP remains a chimera at best. Recent activities in the political circles have made it clear that the Opposition lacks unity. The more it divides anti-BJP votes, lesser will be its chances of winning
While the Opposition has been touting the idea of a mahagadbandhan (grand alliance), what is happening on the ground is entirely different. It is pretty clear now that a grand alliance is most unlikely. Instead, parties are more inclined to opt for State-specific alliances. This is so because the Opposition is not united in choosing a prime ministerial face. Then at the regional level, satraps like Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati have huge ego problems. All of them want to keep their options open for a post-poll scenario.
The situation has become more precarious ever since the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the BSP announced their alliance in Uttar Pradesh for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. The Congress has now decided to contest all 80 seats of Uttar Pradesh in the general election.
Let us be clear, the SP-BSP alliance had been on the cards for quite some time now. The latest announcement just confirmed it. Nevertheless, it is indeed a major decision and the combination will be a huge success if one were to ponder upon the caste arithmetic. Their chemistry, too, should work as it did in last year’s by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur.
It must, however, be agreed that without these two parties, there cannot be a mahagadbandhan. Their focus now is on winning the maximum number of seats in their State. Only after the poll results are announced, will they think about the prime ministerial bid. “We want the next Prime Minister to be from Uttar Pradesh and everyone knows whom I will support,” SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said, hinting that Mayawati might throw her hat in the ring if they get a good number of seats. The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) might also find a place in their alliance.
So, it is clear that Uttar Pradesh will witness a multi-cornered contest. The Congress, which was hoping to find a place in the alliance, is now reconciled to fighting it solo in the Lok Sabha poll but its morale is high after its recent win in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of seats and whichever party registers victory over there, will win India. The BJP won 71 seats in 2014 in Uttar Pradesh. This time around, if it loses the State, it would dent its overall tally for the forthcoming election.
With no United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the national level, the Congress is trying to focus on State-specific alliances. There are about 350 seats where tie-ups are already in place. The party has a two-level strategy. First, is to fight solo in States where it is strong. Second is to go for alliances with regional and smaller parties in States.
So far, the Congress successfully stitched alliances with various small and regional parties. In Karnataka, the party combined with the Janata Dal (Secular) and in Tamil Nadu, the grand old party has been an ally of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). In Bihar, it is in alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and other smaller parties.
In 2015, the grand alliance with the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and other parties worked well for the Congress but this time around, the JD(U) is with the NDA. Likewise, in Maharashtra, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (Congress-NCP) tie-up has been firmed up and even seat-sharing has almost been decided.
In Kerala, the Congress leads the United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition. The UDF and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) have been alternating power in the State. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the Congress has an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
In Gujarat, the Congress had smartly stitched an alliance with local leaders like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mewani and Alpesh Thakur during the Gujarat Assembly poll. This formula is still on. In Jammu & Kashmir, chances are high that the Congress can opt for an alliance with the National Conference (NC).
In West Bengal, the party stands divided and is speculating whether it should go with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) or the TMC but that it will choose any one of them is clear. The Congress might fight it solo in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Puducherry.
So where does all of this leave the grand alliance? It can be successful only when all anti-BJP forces come together to fight the ruling party. Going by the present trend, it seems unlikely.
The Opposition is sending conflicting signals about its unity. While SP and BSP have announced their alliance, Telangana Chief Minister Chandrashekhar Rao has been trying to form a federal front with regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee. His bête noire, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, has also been trying to unite anti-BJP forces at the national level. He is already in talks with various parties. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has been entrusted with the task of talking to various parties ahead of the 2019 poll. With parties pulling in different directions, the so-called grand alliance at the national level is at best a mirage.
In such a scenario, with a split in Opposition votes in several States, it is an advantage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP has a disciplined cadre, unlimited resources, excellent communication strategy and above all, the guidance of a strong leader like him. It is simple mathematics that as long as anti-Modi votes are split, chances of winning for the Opposition are not very bright.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)