‘Grand Alliance’ The Non-starter
The Rajya Sabha deputy chairman poll exposes opposition unity and chances of Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi providing leadership to the ‘grand alliance’ in making
The more they pose to be united or making efforts to do so, the more disintegrated they stand. This definition befits the most and aptly describe the much talked about opposition unity efforts, to stop the Narendra Modi juggernaut in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in the light of Harivansh Narayan Singh, a Janata Dal (u) nominee, romping home victorious as NDA backed candidate to become deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha.
All those who thought that the opposition parties led by Congress were seriously working at opposition unity and that the deputy chairman’s election was a testing ground, were abysmally proved wrong. All those who thought that leaders of these opposition parties would keep their altar- egos aside and would not be mesmerised by the glare of the BJP-led ruling combine had to cut a sorry figure. But it seems these leaders had no remorse and unmindful of the formidable challenge that they face in the coming general elections.
Most of the anti-BJP and anti-NDA political parties, who in some measure were trying to cobble an alliance, have their share of blame for losing this opportunity to put a united face. It is definitely a reflection of poor show of alliance management on the part of Congress which is expected to become fulcrum of the opposition unity. There are other factors too responsible for opposition unity showing deep crevices which, of course, were tactfully exploited by the Narendra Modi Government on one side and an aggressive Amit Shah-led BJP on the other.
Where did the opposition parties exactly go wrong or is only the Congress to be blamed? These questions warrant an answer despite the fact, as has been witnessed in the past, that ruling party has always been at an advantageous position and having where-withal to exploit the chinks in the opposition camp. All the available tools in their (read ruling dispensation) armoury were as effectively used by the BJP-led Government as it could to ensure victory of Singh.
The Congress, despite covering much ground, has not been able to keep pace with the overdrive into which their arch rival BJP invariably slips in the face of such contests particularly when the broader question of opposition unity is involved. The question arises that should the Congress have stolen a march over BJP in approaching fence sitters such as Biju Janata Dal headed by Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Shiv Sena, YSR Congress of Jaganmohan Reddy, Peoples Democratic Party and other smaller groups.
The victory margin of the ruling combine candidate, of 20 odd votes, was on account of these fence sitters falling to the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he personally called Patnaik, Shiv Sena parmukh Uddhav Thackerey and some others. Even under the circumstances the main grouping of the opposition parties should be given the credit that they stood their ground. The only failure was that they failed to muster additional support not entirely due to the laid back attitude of the Congress but also due to lackadaisical behaviour of leaders such as Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Trinmool Congress chief Mamta Banerjee
and even the Left parties.
Initially, Pawar seemed enthusiastic and was receptive to the idea that NCP nominee be made the united opposition candidate and accordingly name of Veena Chavan had almost been finalised. It could have ensured support of Shiv Sena due to Pawar’s personal equation with Thackereys and then Maratha factor coming into play with Chavan being a Maratha. This line up could have created a positive atmosphere for some other fence sitters to back the opposition candidate as Pawar has good equations with leaders of some of these parties.
The first setback came for the opposition unity as Pawar changed his mind, ostensibly under influence from one of his close aide who was under some pressure to convince his leader in dropping the idea of fielding a NCP candidate, midway through the process. A similar pressure seemed to have worked on YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy who is facing heat of series of CBI cases going against him. The fact that Congress president Rahul Gandhi seemed reluctant to personally approach leaders such as Naveen Patnaik, AAP chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and even Reddy whereas the ruling elite lost no time in contacting them, ultimately made the difference.
In fact, Patnaik, sources said, had kept an open mind till Modi and Bihar chief minister and JD(u) president Nitish Kumar stole march over the opposition camp and rang him up to seek support for Singh’s candidature. The phone calls did the trick as none from the opposition camp including Rahul and Pawar, the latter enjoys good relation with Patnaik, attempted to contact him. This development tilted the scale.
The ruling dispensation had an edge was clear from the very beginning. The fact that such elections are not held on a level playing field, as has been seen in the past, was also fully known. Still it was expected that the opposition, amidst reports of vigorous efforts at unity, would be able to create a strong impression that they meant business. The manner, in which some of the opposition leaders were seen going around and indulging in lose talks days before the elections, in respect of opposition unity over deputy chairman’s elections, had a contrarian effect on the unity issue.
Entirely blaming the Congress will not help the opposition parties in their endeavour to unite. In fact, by doing so they would only be helping the cause of BJP leaders whose prime targets are Congress and Rahul Gandhi and repeatedly raise questions on his capabilities to lead the combine. If they are to unite they would have to close their ranks in its entirety without getting into the leadership issue. Or else they would run the risk of inviting another sobriquet “united we fall divided we stand”.
Jagan Mohan Reddy with Sharad Pawar