Can the coming together of 26 non-BJP political parties last Saturday in Kolkata lead to achieving their one point agenda of seeing the back of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the upcoming general elections? It requires out of the box thinking to achieve that objective. It is by no means easy as challenges abound in defeating the BJP led NDA at the hustings.
Make no mistake. Modi is not one to throw in the towel without a tough fight as his popularity rating continues to be way ahead compared to any other leader. Even before he became the Prime Minister in May 2014, he had alluded to the need for a second consecutive term for the BJP in the imposing South Block on the Raisina Hill.
He wondered aloud if the people can give the Congress more than five decades at the Centre, why should they grudge giving the Lotus party 120 months on the trot. The single most important factor for the Opposition is their aversion for the Head of Government who they accuse of destroying institutions which strengthens the democratic system of governance in this country.
The question is will the strategy adopted serve in delivering a severe blow to the saffron brigade? At the same time, most of the leaders assembled in the Eastern metropolis firmly opposed Congress president Rahul Gandhi being enconsed in the Prime Minister’s ‘kursi’. While that is a firm no go with the non-Congress leaders and regional satraps, the underlying need for them is to steer clear of working at cross purposes and queering the pitch.
As the host, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also the Trinamool Congress chief, emphasised the country is in the grip of a “Super Emergency” much worse than that imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975 necessitating the slogan of “Badal do, badal do, Delhi mein sarkar badal do (change the Modi government)”. As the Modi regime miserably failed in achieving the multitude of pledges made to the people, the Opposition charged the BJP with dividing the country and its politics posing a threat to unity and plurality.
Most of the leaders expressed serious concern about the reliability of the EVMs necessitating a four-member committee being formed to look into the manipulation allegedly by the BJP. It is a prelude to these leaders meeting the officials of the autonomous Election Commission of India in due course. On the other hand, the situation for the BJP remains unchanged with its star campaigner Modi in the forefront carrying the burden on his shoulders with party president Amit Shah playing the second fiddle.
There is no doubt a lot has changed since April-May 2014 when Modi and the BJP was way ahead than the others having secured a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha for the first time. This time around even the die hard BJP supporters are highly circumspect if the the party can retain power with a majority for the second time running since its formation in 1980. The distress faced by farmers continues unabated coupled with the lack of employment generation among other debilitating issues.
Then, there is also the Rafael controversy which continues to be whipped up time and again despite an exhaustive rebuttal by Union Defence minister Nirmala Seetharaman in Parliament. Clearly, the Opposition display of solidarity in Kolkata underlines the need for much more work to be done. With the general elections round the corner, the Modi regime is in overdrive trying to convince the electorate that it has done well on several fronts encompassing the uplift of the poor as well as providing direly needed relief to the overburdened women in feeding the family.
A major weakness of the Opposition is that it is yet to thrash out an alternative political agenda catching the imagination of the electorate. The SP and the BSP shared the stage along with the Congress being left out in crucial UP contributing the maximum number of 80 seats in the Lok Sabha. If the Congress decides to contest all the seats from UP, it can play the spoiler for the SP and the BSP by splitting the votes which might prove advantageous to the BJP. It is also being argued that the Congress might surprise everyone as the single largest entity in UP if the Dalits, Brahmins and Muslims vote for them.
Even as Mamata Banerjee and BSP supremo Mayawati view themselves as contenders for the office of Prime Minister, the Congress might prefer steering clear of the leadership stakes if it fails to cross a certain threshold compared to the simple majority of 272 seats in the House of the People. NCP strongman Sharad Pawar and certain others have consistently maintained that the crucial issue of who will be the Prime Ministerial nominee of the “Mahagatbandhan” will only be taken up after the results of the general elections are known.
That might put the ‘Mahagatbandhan’ at a disadvantage as steering clear about their Prime Ministerial nominee before the results of the general elections are known can have serious ramifications. Clearly, going by accepted practice the Prime Minister will be one from the party enjoying the highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha compared to the others. The ensuing general elections appears set to keep the people on the edge of their seats. The argument for now is to get rid of the Modi regime. The rest is being left for later. Modi’s contribution has been to unite the Opposition as well. Will that be enough is the million Dollar question.
T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.