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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 30, New Delhi, July 10, 2021

Issues in stitching together an Opposition Front to BJP | P S Jayaramu

Friday 9 July 2021

by P. S. Jayaramu *

2nd July, 2021

There has emerged and is still emerging, plenty of writings about the need for stitching together an Opposition Front to take on the BJP behemoth in the Parliamentary elections of 2024. The need part is emphasised not only by opposition politicians who are seeing an opportunity to take on the Modi led BJP in the wake of its failure to unseat Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal recently and its not so impressive performance in the Tamilnadu election and even Assam, though the Party retained power there. The failures of the Modi Government in coming up with a comprehensive policy to effectively deal with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic pandemic, which preceded it, but got aggravated by the Covid-19, the mounting unemployment situation, and above all the social fissures and the polarisation that has resulted in the wake of BJP’s pursuit of Hindutva politics, have added a sense of urgency to the Opposition’s thinking on the issue. Sections of the media and academia, largely centrist and ‘left liberals’, are seeing a great opportunity in pushing for an Opposition Front against the Modi Government. Needless to say, the issue is going to remain the hobby horse of many politicians and the academic-media complex in months to come.

My purpose here is to discuss the project of Opposition Front keeping in mind the multiple challenges and issues it throws up. At the outset, there is no clarity as to whether what is going to be pursued is a a single opposition front or a third front as some of its protagonists are talking of. If the accent is on third front, who and which parties constitute the second front? Though there is no clear answer, an implied response is that the erstwhile UPA which consisted of the Congress Party and the Left Parties, constitute the second front and the third front would consist of the non Congress and non Left parties which the NCP leader Sharad Pawar is articulating these days with the support of the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, assisted by the highly successful political strategist Prashant Kishor. Prashant Kishor seems to have developed ‘political ambitions’ after his announcement that he would no longer do the job of an election strategist.

My own view on the project of a non Congress non Left opposition front against the BJP is that it is an unworkable idea as there is no clarity about its constituents. BSP leader Mayawati , though not any more a real political force either in UP or at the national level, has already stated that she would fight the UP and subsequent elections on her own. As for the Samajwadi Party(SP) its social base has shrunk in UP after the BJP has won over a sizeable section of its electoral base, specially the non Yadav vote apart from a section of the SC, ST and OBC electorate. Some of the women muslim voters too have developed a soft corner to the BJP.

 As for the other regional parties like the AJADMK in Tamil Nadu, though it lost office, did impressively well in the recent State elections, is with the BJP. The DMK which fought the elections in alliance with the Congress Party, may not be very enthusiastic about the third front given the history of its association with the UPA 1& 2. Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh may show interest but he is a spent force. Jagan Reddy, the CM of Andhra Pradesh, will go with the Congress when the chips are down, though he knows that the Congress Party/UPA Is unlikely to be in power in 2024. Telengana’s KCR is unpredictable. As for Shiva Sena(SS), it is not clear as to how it would respond to the opposition front idea when the Lok Sabha elections approach. There are reports that the SS has kept up its unofficial channel with the BJP and is willing to share power with the BJP in the State as long as it is allowed to retain the CM post. The Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik is too shrewd and experienced to jump to any opposition front and might like to be on his own. He has not burnt his boat with the Modi led BJP either. The other regional players are not political forces in terms of their reach in national politics and would matter less in the any realistic calculation about the opposition front.

The foregoing analysis leads me to emphasise that the project of a third front is unlikely to make any headway and the only realistic way of taking on the Modi-Shah led BJP, behemoth, which has massive organisational and financial resources with a well oiled electoral machine, is for the entire opposition to come together. However decimated the Congress Party is, next to BJP, it is the only national party, demanding a role in the stitching together of an opposition front. It must however be added that to be conferred an important role to it, the Congress Party must do the following things. 1) It must resolve the leadership issue by democratically electing, preferably a non Gandhian, as the Party President. By doing so, it would be at one stroke robbing the BJP to accuse it of dynastic politics. 2)The Party must resolve its ideological muddle with Rahul Gandhi projecting a strong left of the liberal point of view in his opposition to the Modi Government’s policies while other seniors, including Sonia Gandhi, are taking an ideologically neutral position. Clearly, the Congress badly needs to come out of its ideological predilection. 3) More importantly, the Party’s central leadership should give up its disdain for regional leaders and encourage them to play their rightful role in national politics. 4) The Party must work hard to strengthen its cadre by recruiting youth to the party fold by convincing them that it recognises their aspirations and is committed to fulfilling them, something, Rahul Gandhi has failed to do.

At a more substantial level, the project of a united front against the BJP needs not just the coming together of political leaders, old and young, but a willingness on their part to seriously take up national issues concerning farmers, workers, students and the underprivileged sections of the society. All that the Congress and leaders of other parties have done is to carry on their tirade against Modi, however justified it is. Anti- Modi’s per set will not help the Opposition to wrest power. The Opposition’s leadership crisis can be overcome if only it goes back to the ideas around which Jayaprakash Narayan led his movement in 1977. As Yogendra Yadav wrote ‘opposition unity should transcend electoral alliances and that we need a ‘prathipaksha’ not a ‘vipaksha’.( Yadav has elaborated on his idea of a pratipaksha in his, ‘Opposition unity should transcend poll alliance, The Tribune, 1st July, 2021). Will a leader of JP’s caliber and national committment emerge to lead the opposition to ensure that elections are no guarantee against the tyranny of the democratically elected leaders, a point Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, N.V. Ramana made obliquely, in his Justice. P. D. Desai memorial lecture a few days ago

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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