Nothing Grand About Opposition Alliances
Despite much talk of the need to oust the BJP, opposition parties have been able to put up credible alliances only in some states.
Two days back, the Congress and Aam Admi Party failed to forge an alliance in Delhi, meaning that the national capital with seven seats is set to witness a triangular contest.
This is likely to benefit the BJP, which had won all seven seats in the capital last time.
Weeks back, the Congress surprised many by fielding Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad in Kerala, thus choosing to take on the left parties, which were being seen as an ally in the stated opposition design to unseat Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.
The inability of opposition parties to forge alliances in many states flies in the face of their grandiose claims that this election is about unseating the BJP.
The first grand opposition rally in Kolkata, which saw the participation of more than 20 parties, had seen impassioned speeches calling for the ouster of Modi from power. There was a wide expectation of alliances across states, and many had already begun to compare the situation to the 1971 anti-Congress alliance.
But the enthusiasm has failed to translate into actual seat arrangements in many states.
In fact, the BJP has been able to strike a deal with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) despite disquiet over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Assam. And it also succeeded in keeping its arrangement with its long-standing ally Shiv Sena intact, despite public statements against the BJP leadership by the regional party.
Months back, former BJP leader and now its critic Arun Shourie had advised opposition parties to ensure that just one candidate from opposition parties took on the BJP on any one seat to ensure opposition votes did not split. This, he added, would stem the saffron party’s tide.
However, as we are in the midst of electioneering, it is amply clear that credible opposition alliances have been formed in very few states.
Uttar Pradesh is one, though even here the Congress is not part of the opposition’s grand alliance. Not just that, Priyanka Gandhi’s meeting Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ in hospital – followed by the Dalit outfit’s support to the Congress’ Imran Masood in Saharanpur – and her hints about wanting to contest from Varanasi were seen as attempts by a weak Congress to turn the contest triangular at least in some seats. However, the Congress has finally chosen to field Ajay Rai from Varanasi.
Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav – who had walked the extra mile to tie up with the BSP and RLD – announced the candidature of Shalini Yadav from Varanasi at a time when there were reports that the Congress was looking to field Priyanka against Modi. The message was clear: there was no third seat apart from Amethi and Rae Bareli that the grand alliance would cede to the Congress in UP.
However, it must be said that the grand alliance in UP is at least partly credible as a challenge to the BJP.
In Bihar, there is a Congress-RJD alliance, with the parties of Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi also on board. The alliance lays claim to Yadav, Muslim, Koeri and Musahar (the most underprivileged Dalits) votes.
However, this is nothing like the opposition alliance of the last assembly elections, in which the BJP was routed in the state. For, Nitish Kumar – who has enjoyed individual charisma for years, apart from a captive vote among the OBC Kurmis – is with the NDA again. While Kurmis are far fewer in number than Yadavs in Bihar, Kumar has enjoyed a reputation that was an advantage to the grand coalition last time. However, that reputation may already be fading after his flip-flops and also the deteriorating law and order situation.
Be that as it may, the NDA is clearly a match for the RJD alliance in Bihar, as it also has the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan – which has a steady Dusadh Dalit following – in its ranks. Moreover, the RJD refused to accept Kanhaiya Kumar of the CPI as the joint opposition candidate from Begusarai, something that may lead to a splitting of anti-BJP votes in the constituency.
In Karnataka, however, the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance still stands, though not without some hiccups in the last few months. In Jammu and Kashmir, too, the Congress and National Conference have struck an alliance. The Congress and NCP continue to be in alliance in Maharashtra, just as in the past. One good tie-up that the Congress has been able to manage is the one with the DMK in Tamil Nadu. Observers widely believe that the DMK will do well in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
However, opposition parties that have been insisting on the need to oust the Modi government to “save” institutions and secularism have been unable to walk the talk in quite a few states.
Delhi is just the latest example. In Andhra Pradesh, too, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party failed to strike an alliance. In Bengal, the Congress has no alliance with either the All-India Trinamool Congress or with the left parties. In fact, the Congress and AITC have also exchanged barbs in the state, months after the show of unity in the opposition rally at Kolkata.
While there may be a perception -- created by the opposition as well as the BJP – that the ongoing election is a battle between Modi and the rest, NDA and opposition alliances are, at best, balanced. While opposition parties have been competing with one another in being seen as anti-BJP, their desire to maximise their individual electoral gains has prevented the coming together of a grand coalition against the Modi government