The chinks in the Opposition’s armour with the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in mind are evident with Telangana chief minister and Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) president K Chandrashekhar Rao calling Congress president Rahul Gandhi the ‘biggest buffoon’ in the country. The message to the Congress is loud and clear. That the much-touted Opposition unity to combat Prime Minister Narendra Modi is beginning to totter and could well be a non-starter.
It was to cover up the weakness of not having a clear, joint opposition challenger to Modi that the Opposition, especially the Congress, had decided to defer the selection of the leader after the elections. But in the absence of a common leader, the Opposition is sending out confusing signals to the electorate months before the general elections, of disunity amidst the facade of unity.
The cold reality is that many parties have serious reservations on Rahul’s name as the united Opposition’s nominee for prime ministership. If proof was needed, they demonstrated that in the Bharat Bandh in which some parties, while seeking the ouster of Modi, conducted the stir in their own ways, keeping a safe distance from the Congress.
It suits Rahul’s dutiful parrot Randeep Surjewala to twitter that it did not reflect disunity when the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party decided to organise their own stir against hike in petrol and diesel prices and precipitous fall of the rupee value confined to Uttar Pradesh rather than going along with the Congress on an all-India basis.
But the fact is that it clearly reflected a refusal to accept Rahul’s leadership of the Opposition. Likewise, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee betrayed the same attitude towards Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. How Chandrashekhar Rao differed with them was in openly debunking Rahul and simultaneously breaking bread with the BJP’s central leadership.
Rao has the Muslim vote in mind when he rules out a pre-poll alliance with the BJP but there is a tacit understanding that he could be willing to tie up with the saffron party after the Assembly polls if conditions are conducive for him. It can hardly be overlooked that the TRS had abstained, and therefore, helped the BJP on the no-confidence motion moved against the Modi government and that it had supported the BJP’s presidential candidate and had backed the demonetisation move when the rest of the Opposition railed against it.
It all stands to reason because Congress is TRS’ main rival in the State and the Congress-Telugu Desam alliance in Telangana has made it vital for TRS to oppose the Congress tooth and nail. A grouping of regional parties which Chandrashekhar Rao considered at one stage has proved a non-starter. That also explains why Chandrashekhar Rao will go whole hog against Rahul’s lack of ability to lead the Opposition. He is on record as having said that every time Rahul visits Telangana, the Congress loses a few votes due to his guffaws.
It is common knowledge that Mamata Banerjee is as vehemently opposed to Rahul’s leadership of the Opposition for a different reason — that she sees a leadership role for herself at the Centre. The Akhilesh Yadav-Mayawati combine in UP also is not reconciled to Rahul’s leadership at the Centre and would much rather concentrate all its attention on UP. Sharad Pawar, the redoubtable NCP supremo, has pitched his tent with the Congress but there is no knowing what he would do if he is confronted with the prospect of Rahul as prime ministerial nominee. Pawar is a time-server and nurtures a deep-seated ambition to be prime minister himself. He weighs his options carefully and is doubtlessly a wily operator.
He is known to keep his cards close to the chest and would reveal his true colours at the crucial time. There is little love lost between him and Sonia or Rahul Gandhi except in terms of lip service. The BJP on its part is banking on Janata Dal (U)’s Nitish Kumar and on Chandrashekhar Rao to rope in some small parties in the event of the NDA falling short of numbers after the general elections. Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal has already been partially won over and would require some sops to cross over to the BJP camp.
The AIADMK in Tamil Nadu has no one else to lean on except the BJP because its arch-rival the DMK is in the Opposition camp with the Congress. In Andhra, Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress is at a loose end and could well opt for the NDA overtly or covertly since its enemy number one is the Telugu Desam of Chandrababu Naidu. Apart from the handicap of the Opposition not having a common candidate to project as its rival to Narendra Modi, there is the glaring absence of an alternative programme to convince the voter that it is capable of ushering in a new economic and political order.
Rahul Gandhi has neither depth nor understanding and can hardly be expected to come up with a clear-cut programme of action that can inspire people. The seniors in the Congress party do not have the gumption to come up with a blueprint for action and the other Opposition groups do not count for much anyway. It is not as though Modi and his government are invincible in the circumstances but it can only be a negative vote against the BJP that can displace the current dispensation, without regard to what lies in store under a government that brings disparate forces together.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.