By Ashima Makhija
The Grand unified opposition suffered another jolt on 11th August, Sharad Pawar-led National Congress Party (NCP) decided to skip a crucial opposition meeting, convened by Indian National Congress (INC) party president, Sonia Gandhi. The meeting was aimed at strengthening opposition unity and chalking out a joint strategy against the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP).
The leaders of 16 opposition parties attempted to evolve an “alternate option” to counter the ‘Narendra Modi brand of politics’. But the meeting was eclipsed by the absence of NCP. After Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar’s decision to dump the Grand Alliance in Bihar, any step by Pawar to leave the Opposition and align, directly or indirectly, with the BJP could be another setback to opposition unity and could potentially cripple the dream of the opposition parties to arrest the saffron wave.
Strategy to counter BJP’s 2019 ‘juggernaut’
Among the leaders who were present at the meeting in Parliament complex are former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, AK Antony, Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamta Banerjee, National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah, CPI leader D Raja, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and others. The opposition leaders of 16 parties authorised INC chief Sonia Gandhi to form a small group to coordinate with the “like-minded parties” on programmes to be organised during the three months till the winter session of Parliament.
Yechury proposed that the parties should align with the people’s movements on the street, for instance, the farmers’ unrest over policies of the government. Issues such as demonetization, increasing unemployment, attacks on minorities and agrarian crisis were identified as the chinks in NDA’s titanium armour. An RJD rally in Patna on 27th August is expected to mark the official beginning of a unified opposition electoral campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Another piece chipped away?
This was the first Opposition meeting, after Nitish Kumar’s dramatic exit and was intended to demonstrate that the battle of a united opposition to challenge the saffron regime has not yet been lost, but this strong political message was lost in the ‘commitment fluctuations’ of Sharad Pawar.The NCP is apparently upset that the Congress had chosen to believe that their candidate did not vote for Congress president’s political secretary Ahmed Patel in the recent Gujarat Rajya Sabha election. Patel won by one vote.
Both the NCP and the Janata Dal(U) candidates claimed they had voted for Patel. The Congress did not say anything on this issue publicly but its leaders let it be known in private conversations that the NCP had voted for the BJP and that it was the Janata Dal (U) candidate who had cast the deciding vote. “After we issued a whip to our MLAs, they voted for INC. Why should we be accused of not supporting it? That is why we decided to boycott this meeting,” NCP leader Praful Patel said. On the other hand, INC veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad said NCP chief Pawar was unwell and he had spoken to him ahead of the meeting.
Inside Pawar’s mind
A widening trust deficit has emerged in the relationship between INC and NCP. Even though both parties have been partners in Maharashtra and at the Centre, INC is sceptical of the loyalties and operations of Sharad Pawar. Pawar is reputed to be a canny politician who maintains good relations with parties across the political spectrum. It is difficult to predict his political moves as he has a tendency to keep his friends and foes constantly on tenterhooks. INC’ conviction about cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections, by the legislators of NCP, seems to have further expanded the ‘chasm of mistrust’. Praful Patel believes that Congress wants to project NCP as “BJP’s B-team” to damage its credentials ahead of assembly elections in Gujarat.
Third Front on the back foot?
As PM Modi is marching ahead to capture all the states where BJP is still weak and establish an unchallenged, Nehru-like regime in India, the opposition is struggling to maintain unity in face of mild adversity. In order to pose a significant challenge to the PM’s party, it is imperative for the opposition to reduce the current inequality and mistrust in its internal functioning, to pursue a common agenda and to build an interstate network of groups, organisations and outfits that profess the non-saffron brand of politics.
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