As former Congress president Rahul Gandhi carrying the tag of a “reluctant leader” embarked on a 150-day over 3000-kilometer Kanyakumari to Kashmir ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ travelling across India to shed this title, the specter of opposition unity began haunting him from the onset. Well, the BJP had its set of customary questions and objections to the march. And that is fair enough for them to create doubts about the main political rival from the point of view of future electoral battles.
But the specter of opposition unity raised its ugly or pleasant to some, head as soon asMr Gandhi entered the Left Block ruled Kerala. Series of utterances by the ruling CPM, the major partner in the ruling alliance, leaders and even denial of permission to the entourage’s mobile boarding facility (containers mounted on trucks) to park for the night at an earlier identified spot, was neither in good taste nor would bode well for the opposition unity. The Kerala unit of the CPM fretted and fumed at Congress and targeted Mr Gandhi while its central leadership simply looked the other way.
Understandable that CPM-led Left Front and Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) are the main political rivals and that exigencies of local politics forced the Left Front to confront Mr Gandhi. However, it is rather ironic that for a local political cause the CPM leadership led by the seasoned chief minister MrPinarayi Vijayan preferred to overlook the larger issue of opposition unity. More so he ignored the fact that the BJP-led Right Wing was desperately trying to corner his government to facilitate the saffron party’s entry into the state.
“Is Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra actually a Congress Bachao Yatra”? This point question loaded with smirch and pun was angled to question the Congress’s motive behind its 18-day schedule for Kerala alone. Not leaving it at that the CPM comrades wondered as to why the Congress is focusing heavily on southern states particularly Kerala and at the same time avoiding other politically crucial ones such as Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Gujarat.
Taking this attack further a state CPM statement coined a phrase “Bharat Jodo or seat Jodo”. The reference again was to 18 days in Kerala and two days in UP. A mild clarification that followed the initial attack tried to set the record straight by saying that the Left Block was not opposed to the ‘padyatra’ but per se to the schedule.
Even before the clarification could sooth the ruffled feathers, yet another salvo came in the form of CPM Rajya Sabha MP, John Brittas’ signed article in a national English Daily not only questioning the motive behind the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ but straightway targeted Mr Gandhi. The harsh-language and the arguments forwarded by the writer only have the potential to further add to the confusion prevailing in the name of opposition unity.
“The thing with living inside an echo chamber is that life feels good even when you are marching away from reality at a steady pace. About 3,500 km separate Kanyakumari from Kashmir – the proposed length of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra-and if his advisers have their way, he would be further away from the stark political realities facing India’s principal Opposition party by the time he reaches Srinagar.The purported aim of the yatra is to redeem the nation from the BJP’s divisive politics. Five days into the rally, the headlines it has generated indicate how much closer the Nehru-Gandhi scion is to redeem the nation from hatred and bigotry: How expensive is that white T-shirt, was Jesus Christ a God, and how tasty are Kerala’s roadside snacks. But then, as a wise man of Delhi once said, “Hanuz, Dilli Door Ast” (Delhi is yet far far away),” Mr Brittas wrote.
The fact that he could not have written the article without the permission of the CPM’s central leadership as it appeared in a national daily, makes it more baffling. If Mr Brittas acted only on the advice of Kerala leadership in this connection, then it has brought in the open the serious differences reported between Mr Vijayan and his party’s central leadership.There have been reports and murmurs and instances of the chief minister acting on issues in defiance to the central leaders.
This was an avoidable situation and that a seasoned leader like Mr Vijayan could have acted in a more mature manner and keeping in mind the bigger goal of unitedly taking on the BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. It was more in the interest of the Left Block particularly the CPM which, apart from the Congress, have become the prime ideological target of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the Sangh Parivar.
He and the other CPM leaders should have viewed the dire need for opposition unity in the light of the fact having already lost Tripura to BJP and the West Bengal bastion to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. And with the saffron brigade breathing down Mr Vijayan’s neck to dethrone him.
The realisation must dawn on all the stakeholders bidding for opposition unity that it is crucial to the political survival of all of them. And more importantly to have a strong opposition was in the wider interest of the nation.
It was rather childish for the Kerala CPM leaders to object to the scheduling of another party’s programme. How would Mr Vijayan or the CPM general secretary, Sitaram Yechury feel if any other party dictated them on how to conduct their politburo meeting?
There is no denying the fact that the political parties vying for unity, be it the Congress or the CPM at the national level, or the regional outfits, will face such situations where they cross each-other’s path. It was expected that such hiccups would occur when once the stakeholders sit across the table to thrash out a formula for unity. However, such an occurrence with one side publicly questioning even when the unity process is yet to be set rolling, raises serious question whether these parties are serious on joining hands.
Despite instigations particularly Mr Brittas hard-hitting article, the Congress chose to mostly ignore the CPM outbursts. And rightly too.
“The yatra will of course help in bringing together the Opposition but that is a separate exercise,” Mr Gandhi said when asked, during the course of the yatra about what is being done for Opposition unity adding: “it is the responsibility of the entire Opposition to come together.Every party has a role in it, it’s not that the Congress party is the only party, every party has a role in it, and that discussion is in progress,” he said.
The fact that most of the regional parties barring DMK, have not supported the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” leave alone participating in it, makes the debate on opposition unity more serious. Should the Congress use the Bharat Jodo Yatra as a pivot to harp on a solo-mission in search of its lost ground rather than be caught in the crossfire of the regional satraps?