Twelve major opposition political parties of India (barring Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party) wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month, demanding that the Centre take immediate action to ‘mitigate the ferocious second wave of COVID’.
They suggested a series of measures that include distributing free vaccines, and even stopping work on the Central Vista project and repealing the farm laws.
After Mamata Banerjee’s grand victory against the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bengal, Opposition parties have gained confidence. They feel they now have a template to defeat the BJP.
They have used the surging coronavirus cases to join forces and launch a united attack on Modi 2.0 dispensation for its ‘failure’ to rein in the pandemic.
The camaraderie between Congress and Trinamool Congress was visible in the Bengal elections, where the grand old party despite having an alliance with the Left parties in the state, seems to have systematically transferred its votes to Didi to checkmate the BJP.
For Congress, the clear enemy number one is the BJP, and it doesn’t mind sacrificing a state where it had no great hope anyways.
The party also tied up with AIUDF in Assam and put up a good fight against the BJP. The Mahajot recorded just 1.5% less vote share than National Democratic Alliance. The Congress showed intent and strategy, took the risk of allying with a so-called ‘communal’ party, though it lost in the end.
In Tamil Nadu, Congress agreed to fight on a fewer number of seats for the sake of alliance and recorded a good strike rate.
In 2019, after the declaration of Maharashtra results, the party which is called as lethargic, slow to react, etc, swung into action (though coaxed by NCP boss Sharad Pawar) when it saw an opportunity due to the falling out between the Shiv Sena and the BJP. This led to the installation of an anti-BJP government in the state which has completed 1.5 years in office.
For regional parties too, the BJP and not the Congress is the main opposition. The BJP is officially the number two party in Bengal and Odisha. It is slowly and steadily taking over from Congress to emerge as the main player against KCR’s TRS in Telangana. The BJP has tied up with Jana Sena and is attempting to dislodge TDP from the number two slot in Andhra.
In few North Eastern states, regional parties and not Congress have emerged as the main challenger to the BJP.
However, we have seen in the past (including in 2014 and 2019 general election) that forging a united front to defeat the BJP is easier said than done.
Some regional parties like Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, KCR’s TRS and Jagan Reddy’s YSRCP do not consider BJP as untouchable. They have helped the saffron party pass important Bills in the Rajya Sabha where it lacks majority. These parties may want to be in the good books of the central government.
For regional parties, many of whom have been founded on an anti-Congressism plank, being on the same side of the grand old party means a big transition which could be opposed by their cadre and supporters / voters.
While the Congress may be willing to play second fiddle to the dominant regional party in the state elections (like RJD in Bihar), it may wish for a quid pro quo in the national elections, thus demanding that it contest a lion’s share of seats. This could be a tricky point.
Another issue which the Congress faces is that in the process of tacitly helping the better positioned regional party to win against the BJP (like in Delhi, the AAP and in Bengal, the TMC), it runs the risk of losing its support base forever in the state.
The question of who will be the leader of the grand alliance in the national polls is the stickiest point. Logically, Congress should allow regional parties to lead the alliance in states, and regional parties should allow Congress to be the leader in general elections.
Seven state elections, including the big ones Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, are due next year and will test the feasibility of a grand alliance. Out of these three — Goa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand — are mainly Congress versus BJP contests.
In UP, which is in many ways the gateway to Delhi, the Opposition is divided. The Samajwadi Party and the BSP, which had formed a Mahagathbandhan to take on the BJP in 2019 general elections, has failed to live up to its promise. One of the reasons was they kept the Congress out of the alliance. The Congress contesting separately led to the defeat of candidates in UP.
There is no way the opposition can defeat the BJP in the 2022 state polls without SP-BSP-Congress coming together. Can the leaders of these parties shed their egos and join hands? With a low index of opposition unity, the BJP, despite a loss in panchayat polls, appears well placed as of now.
It remains to be seen whether this bonhomie among opposition parties lasts long and crystallises into a formal front to take on the might of BJP’s election machinery, in states and general elections.