The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) hope of avoid­ing the night­mare of a united op­po­si­tion may well be fulilled.

Af­ter K. Chan­drashekhar Rao of the Te­lan­gana Rash­tra Samithi poured cold wa­ter on the idea of a fed­eral front loated by him and Ma­mata Ban­er­jee some time ago, the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP) cza­rina, Mayawati, has scut­tled the pos­si­bil­ity of a united op­po­si­tion bat­tling the BJP by chart­ing out her own course.

By form­ing an al­liance with break­away Congress leader Ajit Jogi in Ch­hat­tis­garh and uni­lat­er­ally an­nounc­ing the names of 22 BSP can­di­dates in Mad­hya Pradesh, Mayawati has vir­tu­ally dumped the Congress and ex­posed the hol­low­ness of the bon­homie which the non-bjp lead­ers had dis­played at the swearingin of Kar­nataka Chief Min­is­ter H.D. Ku­maraswamy in Bengaluru last May.

All eyes will now be on Ut­tar Pradesh to see whether the un­der­stand­ing be­tween the Sa­ma­jwadi Party (SP) and the BSP, which paid rich div­i­dends for the two in re­cent by-elec­tions, will last till 2019.

Given Mayawati’s dis­in­cli­na­tion to go along with the Congress and her de­mand for a “re­spectable” share of seats in an elec­toral ar­range­ment, it is open to ques­tion whether the Ut­tar Pradesh tie-up will sur­vive the strains of her mer­cu­rial tem­per­a­ment.

Sev­eral rea­sons have been cited to ex­plain her hes­i­tancy to be a part of a broad-based anti-bjp front. One is that she is un­der pres­sure be­cause of the pend­ing cases against her be­ing pur­sued by the En­force­ment Direc­torate and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

The other is that she wants to as­sert her hold on the Dal­its at a time when young lead­ers of the com­mu­nity like Jig­nesh Me­wani and Chan­drashekhar Azad “Ra­van” are com­ing to the fore.

A third fac­tor is her known un­re­ali­a­bil­ity as an ally which was in ev­i­dence in Ut­tar Pradesh in the mid-1990s when she dumped the SP in favour of her sworn en­emy at the time, the BJP, and then ditched it as well.

More re­cently, she is back to an un­der­stand­ing with the SP which, too, had be­come a sworn en­emy fol­low­ing the so-called cir­cuit house in­ci­dent in Lucknow in 1995 when she faced a se­ri­ous threat from a group of Sa­ma­jwadi Party “goons”.

How­ever, what the lat­est un­cer­tain­ties in the wake of her pol­i­tick­ing sug­gests is that a far more con­certed at­tempt to form an al­liance of the na­tional op­po­si­tion par­ties is needed than the present desul­tory ini­tia­tives that are be­ing un­der­taken by lead­ers like Ma­mata Ban­er­jee and Sharad Pawar.

For this pur­pose, an oc­ca­sional din­ner or a march to “save” the Con­sti­tu­tion are not enough. There have to be reg­u­lar meet­ings of the lead­ers of par­ties whose com­mit­ment to take on the BJP is un­equiv­o­cal -- a test in which the BSP has failed.

Among the par­ties whose “sec­u­lar” cre­den­tials and re­li­a­bil­ity can be trusted are the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Sa­ma­jwadi Party, the Na­tional Con­fer­ence, the Left par­ties and the Na­tion­list Congress Party — al­though Sharad Pawar’s com­ment that the peo­ple do not doubt Modi’s in­ten­tions on the Rafael deal will bother the Congress.

The prime min­is­te­rial am­bi­tions of some the lead­ers like Ma­mata Ban­er­jee are known, but these mo­ti­va­tions need not come in the way of bring­ing to­gether like-minded par­ties on a com­mon plat­form, leav­ing the lead­er­ship ques­tion for the fu­ture. But to do so, there is a need for some­one to as­sume the re­spon­si­bil­ity of do­ing the hard work of net­work­ing.

Can Rahul Gandhi be the per­son since Ma­mata does not quite have a pan-in­dian per­sona while Sharad Pawar at 78 may not have the en­ergy to do the run­ning around a la Amit Shah?

The West Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter’s other di­fi­culty is that she is ap­par­ently fac­ing con­sid­er­able prob­lems at home. As the vi­o­lence dur­ing the pan­chayat elec­tions showed, there are wide­spread mis­giv­ings about the law and order sit­u­a­tion in the state where the Trinamool Congress cadres are seem­ingly em­u­lat­ing the ear­lier law­less­ness of the Marx­ists.

Since the un­set­tled con­di­tions are be­ing ex­ploited by the BJP to es­tab­lish it­self in the state, the Chief Min­is­ter faces a po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge as well. She may not have the time, there­fore, to stitch to­gether an op­po­si­tion com­bine by reach­ing out to the var­i­ous lead­ers across the coun­try.

The Congress pres­i­dent is bet­ter placed in this re­spect. He is rel­a­tively young at 48 and is not bur­dened by ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties. He is also now far more en­er­getic than when he was caught nap­ping in par­lia­ment.

His dis­ad­van­tage is that he is not a “nat­u­ral” politi­cian like his sis­ter Priyanka and is gen­er­ally seen to be stand­ofish and ill at ease with the lead­ers of other par­ties, es­pe­cially the elder ones among them.

But it is now gen­er­ally agreed that he is be­com­ing more adept at in­ter­ac­tions. Given the chal­lenges which the Congress is fac­ing in the wake of Mayawati’s cyn­i­cal ma­noeu­vres, Rahul has no al­ter­na­tive but to leave no stone un­turned in the quest for forg­ing a vi­able op­po­si­tion unity.

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