Opposition Unity

Riddles Remain Unresolved

Manas Bakshi

As election weather is hotting up politics of blame game has begun while no party is highlighting the basic issues regarding unemployment, price rise, privatisation and all that. It’s more like a shadow-boxing. Exploring the possibility of a conglomerate of some opposition parties–INDIA by name–for a coalition at the national level in 2024 seemed not utopian at the beginning–in view of the fact that consecutive meetings–the first one having been held at Patna–of divergent political forces and/or groups have so far taken place. And the most recent one on 31st March–a rally at the RamlilaMaidan in Delhi–is said to be in demand for ‘LoktantraBachao’ which means–save democracy.

Attended by almost all the parties under the canopy of INDIA, the rally also laid emphasis on immediate release of Delhi’s Chief Minister ArvindKejriwal who was arrested ‘by ED in the excise policy case’ and of Hemant Soren, ex-CM of Jharkhand. On the other hand, Prime Minister NarendraModi avowed in a rally at Meerut on the same day that “It is this war on graft that has put biggies in jail” and “action against corrupt will continue”.

At the outset when the meeting of INDIA was held at Patna, apparently there was no dearth of enthusiasm to form a strong opposition against the ruling dispensation at the centre. A coordination committee for formulating election strategy was formed comprising fourteen members, old and young, from the constituent members of INDIA like SharadPawar (NCP), T.R Balu (DMK), D Raja (CPI), K C Venugopal (Cong) from the aged group and TejashiYadav (RJD) Abhisek Banerjee (TMC), RaghabChadda (AAP) from the youth–to mention a few. But hurdles started surfacing even before the alliance took off. properly.

While Bihar C M Nitish Kumar’s return to the BJP-led National Democratic alliance (NDA) dealt a body blow to the opposition INDIA bloc far ahead of the election, BahujanSamaj Party (BSP) decided to go it solo. Its chief, Mayawati contended that her party would contest the 2024 polls alone but it would remain open to a post-poll alliance provided it was given adequate representation in the government. Quite in conformity with this, W B Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a key player in formation of INDIA ‘formally pulled the plug on the INDIA effort in Bengal’ claiming all 42 Loksabha contests for the TMC.

That the prospect of India as a united force seems to be in a shambles in view of some of the recent strategic developments is not without reason. And that was evident when the Bharat JodoYatra followed by NayaYatra took place. It gained support in varied proportions in some states–no doubt. In Assam, CPM and TMC both featured–whatever is the extent. But inconsistency loomed large with both the parties staying away when it came to West Bengal. Neither of the parties came forward to lend support to the Yatra on the ground that they were not invited though, finally, CPM leaders like Md. Salim and SujanChakrabarty joined the Yatra. Not only that, on 13.2.24 CPM and Congress joined hands in the procession to demonstrate solidarity as also highlight the Sandeshkhali turbulence issue.

Needless to point out that issues to be addressed at national level may differ with issues at state level where regional politics holds sway; but unfortunately, one can hardly expect unison on ideological standpoints of parties coming together at present to fulfil some common objectives. Which is why temporary nexus–often hurried–takes place on some specific issues which take little time to jumble up and peter out. Earlier experiences of coalition governments at the centre have not been as soothing as were expected at the time the governments were formed.

While the Congress President MallikarjunKharge opines that ‘an alliance can happen anytime’, TMC chief affirms ‘CPM and Congress claim to be part of INDIA but there is no alliance actually’. The point is to be viewed with an eye to how far the Modi factor will be effective in the ensuing Loksabha polls; because, in 2023 Assembly polls, the saffron storm that swept Madhya Pradesh, Chattishgarh and Rajasthan also bore another indication; and it was that BJP’s pulling ahead in those states could be well attributed to Congress’ taking victory in those states for granted or failing to read the mood of the people there. With BRS not performing so well, whatever Congress gained in Talengana could bring it some comfort but BJP also fared well–its number rising from one to nine.

For one thing neither CPM nor Congress is supposed to budge an inch from their stand of distancing from TMC as far as the state-level politics of West Bengal is concerned. While Congress, AAP and Shiv Sena have different way of thinking with regard to polls in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra, UDF and LDF in Kerala will hardly come together for a compromised equation though, in Bihar and West Bengal, it has happened. As everyone knows ‘wrestling’ at state level and coalition at centre bear no indication of healthy politics–a must for opposition unity. Again, the initial difference of AAP with Congress on denouncing the Delhi ordinance issue and its earlier stance on Uniform Civil Code are factors to reckon with if chalking out a strategy for fighting together BJP is the target.

As a matter of fact, allegation of state against centre is often of deprivation but, this time, it is accompanied with two other issues–one of electoral bond and the other is of CAA. The first one will take time to be resolved since hardly a political party can claim to be sacrosanct in this respect; but the other one–CAA–is sensitive. And the controversy over the threat of implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act in BJP- dominated states and its avoidance in non-BJP states will continue to sting. Despite BJP’s assurance that CAA concerns only those ousted from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh before 31.12.2014 but others including Muslims have no reason to be apprehensive of it, “Trinamul and the Left will try to intimidate” people harping on the issue. So, it depends on how well can BJP defend CAA and how effectively the opposition can clarify the threat behind CAA.

Even after all this, it is to be admitted that bringing heterogeneous political segments under the same umbrella for attaining some common minimum objectives to elbow out a regimented political party like BJP–despite some of its inherent drawbacks–is not a cakewalk. The Patna meeting was not devoid of such inconsistencies as have erupted later. For a viable alternative to BJP, the differences of opinion between Non-NDA political parties need to be resolved first–because the line of political thinking and dynamics moving the regional parties are not always the same as to ensure an easy consensus at national level. More so when it comes to their political attitude and approach to positioning of Congress without which the venture is bound to remain incomplete.

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Vol 56, No. 44, Apr 28 - May 4, 2024