Opposition unity in tatters

Anil Anand
“Divided they stand united they fall”! This was the headline of a cover story put up by a leading magazine of India when the partners in Janata Party experiment of 1970s that overthrew the iron lady of India Indira Gandhi out of power, were squabbling with each other to stay united and save the fledgling Janata government headed by Morarji Bhai Desai. Ultimately, the government fell and Indira Gandhi was back with a bang.
The attractive headline has so far become a prelude to formation of any political alliance seeking to defeat the incumbent dispensation or leader and holds true for all attempts at forging a combine of the sorts. The only difference is that the headline in the 1970s signified the in-power Janata Party partners fiercely fighting it among themselves and subsequently plotting their own downfall. In all other cases it is reflection of troubles of formation of a pre-poll alliance.
Come circa 2019, the headline holds as good as decades back describing the plight of the opposition unity ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The more they try to unite to face the might of Narendra Modi-led BJP the more they find themselves tied in the knots of inflated egos, sometimes misplaced regional powers and most of the time challenging the might, whatever is left, of Congress the only national party among the champions of opposition unity. On top of that more than half a dozen regional satraps seem to be in a reverie sequence fathoming their chances to become prime minister squarely on the basis of his or her strength in a state and not even a region.
The latest entrant in this game of Prime Ministership is the man for all seasons and Nationalist Congress Party founder and chief Sharad Pawar. Although he has not openly expressed his desire but his decision to backtrack on earlier pronouncement that he would not contest Lok Sabha election states the obvious. So, one more addition to long list of Prime Ministerial hopefuls that includes Mayawati, Mamta Banerjee, Chandrababu Naidu and above all Rahul Gandhi.
It is rather ironical that none of the regional satraps is prepared to accept Rahul Gandhi’s candidature for the top post. And so is the ongoing tug-of-war amongst them all.
With elections barely a few weeks from now, the opposition unity is in tatters with every now and then a new mode of equations among the prospective allies being suggested. The much talked about but elusive unity is swinging like pendulum between a pre-poll to post poll alliance proposal. The argument, of late, gaining currency that every party wishes to be part of the opposition combine will contest elections on its own strength before they unite.
It is easier said than done. For example the talk of Aam Aadmi Party-Congress tie up in Delhi and Punjab has all but evaporated. A desperate AAP chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who tried hard for an alliance with Congress to defeat BJP in Delhi has given up all hope. Why was Kejriwal keen for a tie up with Congress in Delhi? Certainly to avoid splitting of votes or else BJP can again win all the seven seats. Losing all seven seats would be considered as some kind of referendum against AAP government ahead of 2020 Delhi Assembly elections, the party strategists feel.
With Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party formally announcing sharing and distribution of seats in Utter Pradesh and totally ruling out Congress, and even announcing a similar alliance in states such as Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh currently governed by Congress, it spells more problems for the opposition unity. Up till now the Congress leadership has not adversely reacted to the SP-BSP arrangement and is trying to keep the two parties in good humour. The fact that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra- Jyotiraditya Scindia combine has been made in charge of politically significant UP by the party president Rahul Gandhi for the Congress to chart its solo-course further adds to the confusion.
These are the latest addition to a series of contradictory signals emanating from the opposition parties camp. Not to talk of West Bengal where Trinmool Congress chief Mamta Banerjee has already declared her intent of not having any truck with Congress. On the contrary she has been systematically working to snatch the remaining strongholds of the Congress and Malda being the latest target. Known as bastion of the former Union Minister and late Congress veteran A B A Ghani Khan’s family bastion which was inherited by his brother and niece Mausam Noor, Mamta has managed to woo Noor to Trinmool fold. There is still another contradiction with no immediate solution in sight. It relates to the role of CPM-led Left block in the opposition unity efforts. Up till now Trinmool Congress-Left rivalry has led to the latter maintaining a distance. Although the Left grouping has considerably weakened in West Bengal but they are still not showing any interest to enter into any understanding with Congress notwithstanding reports of covert efforts between the two to arrive at an electoral understanding.
These are the glaring instances where opposition unity efforts are almost a non-starter. But there are other problem areas as well. Orissa, Telengana and to some extent even Karnataka where a fledgling Congress-JD(S) alliance is running the state government, forging an alliance for national elections would be easier said than done.