These days, as we approach the next Lok Sabha election which is exactly only a year away, there is much chatter about plans and strategies to dislodge the BJP Government led by Narendra Modi at the centre. Among various ideas, the key strategy being talked about is around mounting a United Opposition against the BJP which seems to be the only way to defeat the Modi Sarkar considering its reigning popularity among the majority of the population. Now while this sounds logical and easy on paper, many challenges and tricky situations emerge when trying to put this into practice. In terms of an approach, what are the options for the opposition?
Option one is a United opposition which means the coming together of Congress and Regional parties with a pre-poll alliance to take on the BJP. This would mean a rainbow coalition of more than 10 parties. Ideally, if this works, there will be only one main opposition candidate against the BJP in almost all the LS Seats. The problem in this proposition starts with who will head this coalition. With Lok Sabha Polls increasingly becoming presidential, the voter would like to know who is she voting for, as the Prime Ministerial candidate. While for the BJP, it is very obvious that it is Narendra Modi, for a grand opposition alliance, it is a question mark.
In order to fix this conundrum, will all the regional parties accept a Congress leader as the PM candidate? This is almost a certain no-go considering the state of the Congress presently. Will the Congress accept any other regional party leader as a PM candidate now without knowing what will be the electoral success of that leader’s party now? Can all the regional parties come to an understanding on “a” particular regional leader without knowing how many seats his or her party will win?
Also, putting together a coalition means Congress and other parties coming to a compromise on the seats they will contest. Any arrangement that is thrashed out in such a compromised manner will only put the local party workers’ interests at peril. For example, in West Bengal, Congress would have to toe the line of the TMC and agree not to contest in most seats and also work for TMC candidates in those seats. In Delhi where the AAP came to power after dislodging the Congress, Congress has to play second fiddle to the AAP. There are many other states in this situation. This naturally dwarfs the interests of the local state leaders whose ambitions need to curb in order to push the cause of the other party.
It is also difficult for regional parties to convince their core voters of a diluted ideological position like what we are seeing recently with the Savarkar remarks controversy. Both Uddhav Sena and NCP have rushed to not only distance themselves from Rahul Gandhi’s acerbic comment on Savarkar but they have also gone on to condemn it. BJP will only add pour more oil into such fire.
A rag-tag coalition of parties with divergent positions coming together just to defeat the BJP in the 2024 elections is the kind of free fodder, the BJP would feast on to build a narrative of the tyranny of coalitions. An era of a very convoluted coalition politics that bogged India before Vajpayee became the PM in 1998. I already saw some short videos being circulated by the BJP on social media taking potshots at the ills of a multi-party coalition without a clear face.
Finally, in New India, no other sight is more repulsive than the sight of leaders of political parties of all hues clutching and holding their hands up on stage like the one we saw last in 2018 in Bengaluru during the swearing-in of H. Kumaraswamy as the Chief Minister of a post-poll alliance in Karnataka.
The second option therefore would be not to have a full-fledged pre-poll single alliance but for Congress with its like-minded allies and regional parties to contest based on what they feel as strengths. Now, this is similar to the situation we had in 2019 and we all saw what happened. In BJP Vs Congress head-to-head seats, Congress gets decimated. In BJP Vs Regional party situations, in some states like Delhi, UP, Bihar etc… BJP gets the benefit of a fragmented opposition and in a few states where the regional party is strong like WB, Odissa and TN, they win big.
The third approach could be to have a tactical state-wide understanding depending upon who is stronger between the Congress and regional parties. Now, this approach is required only in states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, AP, Telangana, Odisha and Kerala. This means a compromise both on the part of Congress and the respective regional parties not to contest in these states if the other one is stronger and also work towards transferring their votes diligently to the other. As I understand, this was the approach advocated by Prashant Kishor before he moved to Bihar on his Jan Suraaj Yatra. However, this approach also has the same challenges when implemented at the ground level. For example, in a state like Kerala where the Left and the Congress have always been on the opposite side of the fence, will one party give up its position in the state just to defeat the BJP at the Centre?
From the above scenarios, it is clear that BJP is in a pole position as far as the 2024 elections are concerned. If you are a strategist for the opposition, what would you advocate?
It may be a good idea for Rahul Gandhi to embark on another yatra namely ‘Opposition Jodo Yatra’. This need not be a Padayatra of course but air sorties to state capitals that matter first to convince the respective regional party leaders to come to a tactical tie-up with the Congress and then the respective state leaders of the Congress to accept a short-term compromise and work towards defeating the BJP as described in the third option. Easier said than done. But, may be worth a try. Before Prannoy Roy the original proponent of the Index of Opposition Unity (IOU) concept comes up with the Index of Opposition Disunity as the defining concept for the next few decades!
Yet, will that be still enough to stop the BJP from returning to power in 2024? That’s for another blog.
Pic Courtesy: The Wire