Opposition continues in reactive rather than pro-active mode, rousing itself occasionally to condemn the government and/or Narendra Modi and making desultory attempts at forging a united front. The humble farmers of Mandsaur and Sikar are proving a more effective opposition than the UPA & friends. With the Lok Sabha elections just 18 months away and the aam aadmi clearly unhappy, why aren’t the opposition parties on red alert?
BJP president Amit Shah’s ‘Mission 360’ appears more like ‘Mission Impossible’ – until one looks at the Opposition. And then, one is tempted to ask, ‘What Opposition?’. At a time when the NDA government is at a low point, relentlessly battered on social media over the economic slow-down, rising fuel prices, agrarian distress, lack of jobs and the crazy mosaic of taxation represented by GST, one would imagine a buoyant Opposition rubbing its hands in glee, as if Diwali had come early.
Instead, it continues in reactive rather than pro-active mode, rousing itself occasionally to condemn the government and/or Narendra Modi and making desultory attempts at forging a united front. The humble farmers of Mandsaur and Sikar are proving a more effective opposition than the UPA & friends. With the Lok Sabha elections just 18 months away and the aam aadmi clearly unhappy, why aren’t the opposition parties on red alert?
The Congress is, but not because of the 2019 general elections. It is coming to grips with a greater challenge: the prospect of Rahul Gandhi becoming party president, a turn of events as dreaded as it is inevitable. The Election Commission has spoken: it will not grant the Congress another reprieve from the impending transfer of power from Sonia to Rahul Gandhi. Organizational elections, last held in 2010, were due in 2015. Three successive extensions were granted. But now, the party will just have to bite the bullet and put a new team in place by December, 2017.
Rahul’s reluctance to take over the reins of the party is matched only by the party’s reluctance to see Sonia hand them over. His leadership skills apart, their dilemma is summed up by, “Narendra Modi vs Who?”. In all likelihood, 2019 will be a contest of pre-electoral alliances, just as 2014 was. This means that the nominee for prime minister cannot be merely the leader of the Congress, but of the UPA. Will Sharad Pawar, Mamata Bannerjee, Lalu Yadav, Mayawati/Mulayam Singh, Naveen Patnaik, etc have to accept Rahul as their prime ministerial nominee in 2019? Will they have to discuss seat-sharing and electoral strategy with him, rather than with Sonia Gandhi?
Consider this: Amit Shah is already in overdrive, flying across the country on three-day tours, working out electoral arithmetic while in flight. His army of ‘vistaraks’ has been deployed at the ground-level, a seat-by-seat assessment undertaken and vulnerable constituencies identified and assigned to senior party leaders for remedial measures.
Meanwhile, far from maddening demands of electoral politics, Rahul manifested at the University of California (Berkeley). In a candid interaction, he dissed his own party for “arrogance” and lack of vision. By 2010, Rahul said, the UPA’s 2004 vision was outdated. What was Rahul doing as party vice-president while the Congress tanked? Not asked or answered.
Rahul has been promising to reform and reshape the Congress since 2013, but apart from abortive experiments in candidate selection, nothing has materialized. With general elections on the horizon, it may be too late for sweeping changes. He would do better to address himself to the daunting task of stitching together winnable alliances, state by state.
The Opposition, not to put too fine a point on it, is in shambles. The mahagathbandhan in Bihar shattered when Nitish Kumar nimbly switched sides, leaving Lalu Yadav & Sons out in the cold. Rahul said he “knew it was coming”, but preferred not to disclose why he didn’t do anything about it. Congress MLAs in Bihar urged Rahul to stick with Nitish and dump the scam-tainted Lalu Yadav. But Rahul saw Lalu as a more reliable ally, or maybe he was just impressed with his putra-moh. After all, as he told the crowd at Berkley, dynasticism is “how India works”. We are like this only.
UP offers the prospect of another mahagathbandhan. His alliance with the Samajwadi Party on the eve of the assembly elections in UP didn’t yield any electoral dividends, but appears to be a long-term investment. However, the SP itself is a divided house. Then there’s Mayawati, who shunned the Mulayam Singh-led SP but may be more kindly disposed towards an Akhilesh Yadav-led party – particularly with the BJP nibbling relentlessly at her vote bank.
In Tamil Nadu, he will have to keep the DMK within the UPA fold, a task which may become easier if the BJP aligns with the non-DMK forces, i.e., what’s left of the AIADMK after the death of J Jayalalitha. In Maharashtra, his job will be to maintain the tottering alliance with the NCP. The toughest job of all will be getting non-NDA, non-UPA parties on board, i.e., Mamata, Naveen Patnaik and the Left, many of whom are rivals. This will require not just political acumen, but dedicated effort. No one has ever accused Rahul of being a workaholic, but perhaps Sonia should exert her maternal authority and ground Rahul until he does his homework.
The author is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author.