The much-awaited Lok Sabha elections are approaching and yet the Opposition is no closer to chalking out a ‘mahagathbandhan’ formidable enough to take on the BJP-led NDA government.
Meanwhile, the ruling party, which seeks re-election, continues to kindle Modi mania among its existing allies and the general masses and even Congress workers, with the slogan “Modi hain, toh mumkin hain”. What The Wire describes as a “highly centralised nature of government” has, more or less, embodied the primary mode of governance for the last four years.
Despite such obvious red flags and the slow but steady progress of opposition alliance, top Congress spokesperson and Sonia Gandhi aide Tom Vadakkan defected to the BJP on Thursday. Vadakkan declared he was leaving the Congress because the party was working “against the national interest”; a few days later, he said publicly, “Once you join BJP all your crimes are cleansed.”
No conversation on poll alliance can begin without talking about the amorphous vote share arrangement in Uttar Pradesh, a state that sends the highest number of parliamentarians (80).
Congress’s general secretary for UP(E), Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, is set to launch her campaign trail from Allahabad; meanwhile, the party continues to send mixed signals when it comes to pre-poll alliance with the Mahagathbandhan, made up of Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
The Congress has chosen to fight the polls in UP on its own strength after the SP-BSP offered it only two seats. The party announced the names of 16 candidates for the state, including heavyweights like former BJP MP Savitri Bai Phule.
Refusing to saddle with the Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati-led respected coalition, senior leader and former Karnataka CM M Veerappa Moily said, “For a national party like the Congress, we cannot take like that (the offer of only two seats). That is why we are putting up candidates.”
He, however, added that the Congress doesn’t want the Mahagathbandhan of BSP, SP, and RLD to lose and is keen on entering into an understanding with it in segments where it isn’t strong, even without a pre-ordained vote share agreement. This underscores the singular unified goal of all opposition parties: to defeat the BJP.
The ruling alliance of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) seems strong on the surface. A few months back, however, a senior Congress leader had slighted their ally’s role in governance, casting serious doubt on the future of the combine and the level of satisfaction with the current cabinet-share arrangement.
But Rahul Gandhi, in a generous move, awarded JD(S) chief and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy as many as eight of 28 seats for the upcoming polls, a decision for which he faced flak from his own party. Analysts further argue that this may prove to be a counter-productive strategy as most of these eight seats are from constituencies where JD(S) has traditionally been weak.
In Assam, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) of Badruddin Ajmal has said it will contest seven of the state’s 14 seats, while the Congress is exploring a partnership with the AIUDF, targeting its voter base in the northeastern state. AIUDF reportedly has considerable pockets of support in Assam, particularly among Muslim voters.
While the Congress debates on the presumably positive alliance, it is important that it learns from its mistake in the 2016 state elections, when it chose not to tie up with the AIUDF, fearing cannibalisation of its voter base. But the division of votes against the BJP proved costly.
Meanwhile, NDA ally Asom Gana Parishad, which had quit the alliance over the Citizenship Bill controversy last month, is reportedly back in the fold. Other regional parties in the northeast, which run states in coalition with the BJP, are also sticking to their winning horse for now, making it a difficult contest for Congress, which lost a lot of ground here last time.
Kerala and West Bengal
While the Congress has expressed interest in forging a pre-poll alliance with the Left bloc in West Bengal, it has vehemently ruled out a similar possibility in Pinarayi Vijayan’s Kerala.
The Congress leader dismissed suggestions that the opposition unity was not happening at “desired levels” to take on the NDA, saying a pre-poll alliance was not possible in Kerala.
“We (Congress) are fighting against the Left parties in Kerala… pre-election unity is not possible at all (there). We are likely to be with them… Leftists in West Bengal, there the pre-election scenario is different,” he said in a recent interview to PTI.
The Congress will almost certainly make a formal announcement of the tie-up with its old partner in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference (NC).
With the dissolution of BJP’s coalition with Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP last year over key differences, including the repeal of Article 35A, the future of the state’s politics will depend heavily on where the winds of Pulwama blow.
Contrary to its earlier strategy to contest the elections from Delhi alone, the Congress has indicated that it is rethinking the possibility of an alliance with AAP, where the formula 3+3+1 would be adopted.
According to it, two parties would keep an equal number of seats and give the seventh seat to a strong independent candidate, like Yashwant Sinha. This would entail the dropping of certain enthusiastic candidates, which could lead to trouble. The AAP has further indicated that it might already be too late for the two anti-BJP parties to get together.
Why it matters
It is interesting that dethroning the BJP from the Centre remains at the fore of the entire Opposition’s agenda, regardless of whether regional parties are confident of culling in enough votes for themselves or are compelled to go it alone due to Congress’s lofty demands.
The development of such alliances in the coming month, notwithstanding the flurry of parties that would try forging post-poll alliances, will be telling on the vote’s outcome.
The power and unity among regional parties has the ability to deal the Centre its comeuppance, but it must stand the test of time and temptation first.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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