A strong show of unity, but chances of grand alliance still bleak

Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, IndiaWritten By: Rajesh SinghUpdated: Jan 21, 2019, 12:07 PM IST
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Raising hands in unity on public platforms is one thing; contesting elections on the ground in an equally united fashion with a leader at the helm, is another. 

By now it should be obvious that there is going to be no grand national coalition to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019. Instead, there would be mini-alliances at the state-level to contain the ruling party and dent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal charisma. Some such partnerships have already been formalised. 

In Uttar Pradesh, the BSP and the SP have joined hands; in Maharashtra, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party have decided to contest as a team; in Telangana, the TDP and the Congress are together. Besides, the possibility of the Congress and the DMK aligning with each other in Tamil Nadu, and the National Conference, PDP and the Congress striking a deal in J&K, is strong.  

The prospect of a pre-poll national alternative to the BJP-led NDA is bleak despite the impressive show of solidarity among opposition leaders that was witnessed on Saturday at a rally organised by Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata. 

Leader after leader in their speeches called for the ouster of the Modi-led NDA regime, accusing it of various improprieties. It must be recalled a similar show of strength had been seen some months ago in Bangalore when HD Kumaraswamy was sworn in as chief minister of Karnataka. It had led to speculation that at last, the opposition was on the way to uniting. But it did not happen. It’s not just that many regional parties are wary of partnering with the Congress. There are contradictions among the regional outfits themselves. 

For instance, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao has also launched his drive for a similar alternative, but he skipped the Kolkata event. The NCP will contest Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra in alliance with the Congress, but its leader Sharad Pawar was in attendance at Banerjee’s event which was billed to promote a regional front as opposed to a Congress-led one. BSP supremo Mayawati did not attend, though her Uttar Pradesh partner Akhilesh Yadav was there. Even DMK leader MK Stalin, who has endorsed Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s candidature as prime minister, was present in the Kolkata rally which certainly was not held to stamp its approval to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.  

Then there are the likes of powerful regional satraps such as Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal who refuse to play ball with the idea of the so-called federal front or align with the Congress, even as they position themselves in opposition to the BJP. The AIADMK too has consistently kept away from these initiatives, possibility because it wants to keep the doors open for a tie-up with the BJP in the coming months.  

Given the confusion, it’s not surprising that regional parties who often attend grand programmes and vow to oust the Modi regime are bereft of both an acceptable face who will lead them to the national electoral battle and policy direction on issues of national importance. In fact, these are not even priorities for them, as they have stated time and again. The priority is to get rid of the Modi government; everything else is supposed to seamlessly follow thereafter. The problem is: Recent political history shows that ‘everything else’ does not follow. 

In the run-up to the 1977 Lok Sabha poll, a large number of leaders belonging to various outfits got together and formed the Janata Party with the express and sole purpose to defeat Indira Gandhi and her Congress in the aftermath of Emergency. They had no other agenda — no economic policy, no foreign policy etc. They exploited the mood against her and won. But within months the unravelling began and in two years the government collapsed. The ‘oust one person’ agenda does not work by itself. 

It is ironical that the Kolkata rally should have glorified coalition politics when some of the participants are having sleepless nights managing a coalition. Kumaraswamy had, for instance, only hours before the event, lamented that he had to run a coalition government. He said that he would have been able to govern far more efficiently had his party, the Janata Dal (Secular), been given a clear majority by the electorate. And who can forget his teary-eyed statement that coalition politics was a “poison” which he had been compelled to consume!  

Besides, Kumaraswamy is currently facing a crisis in his home state, with reports of a few Congress MLAs ready to rebel. Two Independents have already withdrawn their support to his government. While the BJP has been blamed for seeking to destabilise the coalition regime, the fact is that the upheaval is largely due to friction within the Congress, divided into the DK Shivakumar and the Siddaramaiah camps, and the BJP is naturally hoping to cash in on the internecine conflict.  

The perils of an unnatural coalition are manifest in the Karnataka example — as they were in the BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu & Kashmir. Raising hands in unity on public platforms is one thing; contesting elections on the ground in an equally united fashion with a leader at the helm, is another. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)