On Friday, June 23, Nitish Kumar can have the satisfaction of a meeting of a few Opposition leaders in Patna, in his latest quest to unite all against the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Such is the mood of cynicism even among the Opposition parties that the main interest lies not so much in as to what concrete outcome will emerge from this one-day talkathon — it mainly centres around who will respond to the invitation of the Bihar CM, who in his latest avatar has donned the anti-BJP colours.
Given his frequent change of partners from Laloo Yadav to BJP and then back and forth, if there is some lingering doubt that he may once again go back to supping with the saffron party, nobody can be blamed. For, Nitish lost his credibility a long time ago and now cuts a sorry figure even in Bihar where Laloo Yadav’s RJD seems to be actually in the driver’s seat.
Anyway, the agenda for the Friday meeting is still not clear, aside from the general claim that it would discuss ways to oppose the BJP in an effective manner without dividing the anti-BJP vote. It is a laudable objective. But achieving it may not be easy. To begin with, there has to be a semblance of a programmatic unity. Merely saying that the one-point agenda is to avoid multiple candidates against the BJP in the parliament poll without offering a cogent agenda, a workable action plan, and, above all, a common leader around whom there is a general consensus such unity will flounder at the first step. Besides, the over-sized egos and contrary agendas of various Opposition leaders would need to be reconciled. Who among the entire Opposition bloc commands such a moral authority to be able to resolve seemingly irreconcilable contradictions for the sake of attaining a larger goal of defeating the Modi-led BJP. That the unity project is fraught with irresolvable contradictions can be gauged from the fact that right now the BJP, Congress and the CPI(M) find themselves on the same page in opposing the ruling Trinamool Congress’s highhandedness in the on-going panchayat polls. The three parties have welcomed the Calcutta High Court order directing the central forces to oversee the elections while the Trinamool Congress has bitterly opposed it, appealing in the Supreme Court against it, though unsuccessfully. Is it anyone’s case that the bitter rivals in West Bengal can put aside their recriminations and hostilities and work together in the Lok Sabha poll? The voter is not a fool. He will see through the charade, anyway.
Or take the on-going campaign by the Delhi Chief Minister against the central ordinance taking over the control of services. Arvind Kejriwal, the latest gadfly in politics who cannot sleep without throwing a stone or two at the central government to hide his own failures to provide meaningful governance, now seeks the support of all Opposition parties to defeat the ordinance in parliament. Given that he has unleashed a barrage of criticism against the Congress in general and the Rajasthan government in particular with an eye on the election in the State later this year, there is naturally a division in the Congress ranks over lending support to the AAP. Despite Kejriwal seeking to meet Rahul Gandhi and nominal Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge there has been no response as yet. Why should the Congress lend support to a party which has taken away its main support-base both in Delhi and Punjab. It is unlikely that Nitish Kumar, the self-appointed sutradhar of the Opposition, will have any cogent solution to resolve these huge contradictions among various non-BJP groups. Yes, Chief Minister Stalin can happily mark his presence in Patna because he faces no challenge from any party that is likely to join the conclave, the Congress Party in Tamil Nadu being a minor ally of the ruling DMK. Maybe Akhilesh Yadav too can come and fulminate to his heart’s content against the BJP but the sub-text of his message will be that the Opposition unity is contingent on the Congress not muscling in on the anti-BJP space in UP. In short, Opposition unity is a chimera, easier said than done. And of the people Nitish Kumar, the convener of the unity meet, has little bargaining power himself even in Bihar, with his following shrinking to his own caste brothers. However, as a talkathon it can dominate news headlines for a day.