By all indications, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s plan to forge a united front of opposition parties to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general elections is coming unstuck. Indeed, Gandhi’s burning desire to have her son and party president Rahul Gandhi at the head of a conglomerate to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a few takers in major parties.
The hard reality is that while Sonia commanded respect as Congress president, Rahul is considered an upstart who lacks leadership qualities despite his vociferous expression of anti-Modi and anti-BJP feelings. His claim that if he gets 15 minutes to speak in Parliament he would demolish Modi so completely that the prime minister would not have feet to stand on, is dismissed derisively by most leaders in the Opposition privately.
With West Bengal’s stormy petrel Mamata Banerjee having mooted the idea of a Third Force - regional leader and party to fight the BJP and the Congress in each state on the basis of the strongest opposition party in each state being supported by the others, there is some traction but that idea too has serious limitations.
That DMK’s MK Stalin has welcomed the idea and offered unstinted support to it does not make the task any easier. Clearly, Stalin is salivating at the thought of the Bengalis of Tamil Nadu gravitating towards the DMK in the Lok Sabha polls while he bids for the spoils in a few seats with Tamil concentration in West Bengal but this is hardly a panacea for the Opposition’s whining and frustration.
The Congress knows only too well that under such an arrangement, it would be left high and dry and any hopes that it may nurture of a leadership role for Rahul would be dashed to the ground. There is no way the party would accept such a proposition and without the Congress participation any Opposition challenge to the BJP would be a mirage.
What the experiment would lead to is a three-way contest which would be hugely beneficial to the BJP. Even if Mamata makes the deal somewhat palatable for the Congress, there is no way she would accept Rahul’s supremacy in an opposition arrangement.
The Congress has indeed been wiped out from much of the country. Of the two major states in which it currently rules, it could well lose Karnataka where elections are due in three weeks. In states in which it is the dominant opposition party it could have a chance to improve its performance due to the anti-incumbency against the BJP, but will the other opposition parties add strength to it considering that they have a poor base there?
The whole exercise seems utterly devoid of any promise. This is no way to challenge a well-entrenched and wily BJP which is riding high but could wilt under opposition pressure if the challenge is well-thought-out and strategically sound.
At this rate, if the Opposition fails to get its act together, some of the parties that are on the sidelines could still opt to go with the BJP.
Of all the opposition parties, while the Congress could gain traction in the northern belt due to anti-incumbency, BSP’s Mayawati is striving to make a mark in Uttar Pradesh. If the deal with the Samajwadi Party works out, the two together could put up a strong united front.
All eyes are on Karnataka which goes to polls shortly but while opinion polls there are predicting a close Congress-BJP fight in the Assembly polls, the fact is that BJP’s star campaigner Narendra Modi has yet to start his intensive five-day tour of the state with rallies all across the state.
The BJP has already breached the Northeast bastions of the Congress and the Left, but the TMC citadel of West Bengal still seems impregnable under Mamata Banerjee. All in all, posing a challenge to the BJP would be no cakewalk for the Opposition. The lack of agreement on a common leader could well be a major handicap.