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Forging Oppn unity: An uphill task
A mega Opposition meeting, hosted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, in Patna to chalk out a roadmap for the formation of an anti-BJP front for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls has concluded with many of the leaders agreeing to meet again at Shimla
A mega Opposition meeting, hosted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, in Patna to chalk out a roadmap for the formation of an anti-BJP front for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls has concluded with many of the leaders agreeing to meet again at Shimla. Speculations are rife that the possibility of some parties dropping out of Shimla meet is not ruled out.
The coming together of prominent opposition leaders on a single platform, it was hoped, would be a decisive first step in the months-long effort to unite top anti-BJP outfits representing different ideologies. But the meeting was conspicuous by the absence of many regional heavyweights, leaving a lot to be desired since the agenda is to take the fight to the BJP which dominated the previous two Lok Sabha elections.
Nitish said they were working in the national interest and accused the BJP of acting against the country’s interest as it was trying to change India’s history. But the deliberations were not so smooth. Instead of working on a single point agenda of uniting to defeat BJP at the hustings, each party has been putting forth its own demands and insisting on a climbdown by the Congress.
Differences emerged between the AAP and the Congress after Arvind Kejriwal insisted that the grand old party make its stand public on the Delhi ordinance failing which it would not be possible for his party to attend the future meetings of the Opposition. The Centre had on May 19 promulgated an ordinance to create an authority for the transfers and posting of Group-A officers in Delhi, a week after the Supreme Court handed over the control of services in the capital, excluding police, public order and land, to the elected government. Kejriwal has since been reaching out to the leaders of non-BJP parties to garner their support against the ordinance so that the Centre’s bid to replace it through a bill is defeated in Parliament. So far, the Congress has not openly stated anything.
“The black ordinance is anti-constitutional, anti-federalism, and outright undemocratic... Congress’ hesitation and refusal to act as a team player, especially on an issue as important as this one, would make it very difficult for the AAP to be a part of any alliance that includes Congress,” the AAP said in a statement. “Until the Congress publicly denounces the black ordinance and declares that all 31 of its Rajya Sabha MPs will oppose the ordinance, it will be difficult for AAP to participate in future meetings of the like-minded parties where the Congress is a participant,” it added.
The first meeting gave an impression that every party wants its own pound of flesh to be decided before joining hands to defeat the BJP. Hence, the meeting felt that there was need for a coordinator. Now the question is who can play the role of cupid (coordinator) is not yet known. Will Nitish who brought things to this level of holding first meeting of 17 opposition parties be the coordinator? Will he be able to resolve the differences and bring them on one platform? Only time will tell. The only decision taken was that AICC president Mallkarjun Kharge will chair the Shimla meeting.
However, Kharge exuded confidence that things would fall in place soon. He said, “We have decided to prepare a common agenda and will take decisions in the next meeting on how to move forward. We will have to evolve separate plans for every state and we will work together to dethrone the BJP at the Centre.” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, “We may have some differences but have decided to work together with flexibility and will work to protect our ideology”
But this optimism was not visible among the participants. Congress West Bengal chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdary called TMC a party of thieves, which led to some protests and NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackery had to play the role of peace makers. Pawar felt that the differences among the opposition parties need to be set aside.
Mamata Banerjee objected to Congress attitude in Bengal. “Everyone has to show a big heart. The BJP will benefit if we fight among ourselves,” she said. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah differed with AAP and said they had not opposed the abrogation of Article 370. AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi in a statement said he was not invited for the meeting by Nitish Kumar because he speaks truth.
A look at the Lok Sabha numbers of the regional parties who attended the meeting compared to the ones who were either not invited or skipped the event show that opposition unity, though the need of the hour, is an uphill task.
The regional parties who attended the meeting together won 88 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress party on its own has 52 members. The parties which are not part of the opposition meeting held at Patna is 60 seats. Unless the Congress and other opposition parties sink their differences and unite, pushing BJP to the wall is certainly a big challenge.
A similar picture emerges if we compare the non-Congress chief ministers who were part of the unity efforts and those who weren’t. Kejriwal (Delhi), Mamata (West Bengal), Mann (Punjab), Nitish (Bihar), Soren (Jharkhand) and Stalin (Tamil Nadu) were part of Friday’s opposition meeting. Together, their parties won 63 seats in 2019. After this meeting, even Stalin seemed to unhappy and did not participate in the media briefing and it is being rumoured that he may skip the Shimla meeting.
On the other hand, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy (Andhra), K Chandrashekar Rao (Telangana), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), were not part of the meeting. They had led their parties to victories in 43 seats in 2019. These parties would help the BJP in balancing the loss which BJP may suffer if the anti-BJP parties succeed to arrive at some consensus.
Moreover, though parties like AAP have emerged as important national players after success in state elections, they do not hold significant heft when it comes to Lok Sabha polls. With governments in Delhi and Punjab, AAP holds influence over just 20 Lok Sabha seats. Assuming its candidates win all the constituencies in these two states, it will only mean an addition of 20 seats to the opposition kitty in case they unite.
Reacting to the opposition meeting, Amit Shah said Modi would return as PM in 2024 with over 300 seats and tried to ridicule the opposition meeting in Patna as ‘photo session.’
But BJP should understand that they too are not as strong as they were thought to be few months back. Back to back victory of congress in Himachal and Karnataka had injected some new life into the congress party in Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The Congress party in Telangana which was dormant so far has suddenly swung into action and is going aggressive though the party is known for internal differences and each one is pulling in different direction. It seems to have overtaken the BJP in attacking the BRS.
The BJP which had gained advantage and gave an impression that it was the real opposition seems to be losing the ground fast. Though many leaders were aspiring to join the saffron party, they somehow have taken a step backward and some of them like Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy and Jupally Krishna Rao have decided to join Congress. The BJP on the other hand seems to be committing mistakes and is losing its image which could adversely affect its dream to emerge as a major force to reckon with or force a hung assembly.
With the new joinings having come to halt, the state BJP leaders are now in a state of confusion. On one hand, they are facing the criticism that the Centre is gong soft on Delhi liquor scam issue in which BRS leader and MLC K Kavitha is alleged to have been involved. Congress and other opposition parties are alleging that the BRS and the BJP are two sides of the same coin and hence the ED had put the issue on back burner. There are also allegations that there are BRS coverts in BJP.
Interestingly, the verbal attack against each other by BRS and BJP has scaled down giving credence to the Congress campaign that these two are hand in glove. While the BJP is struggling to counter this campaign, the BRS working president K T Rama Rao has got appointments of four Central ministers in Delhi.
The BRS, analysts say, would either support the BJP in case of any shortfall or will remain neutral and indirectly help the BJP after the Lok Sabha elections.
One thing is certain that a major political churning has begun and what turns and twists it would take, how long the opposition will remain united if they manage to at least put up a show of joining hands is something that one needs to be watched.