Where is the ‘Grand Alliance’?

Kalyani Shankar

Will there be a ‘Grand Alliance’ of the opposition ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls? As of now, many opposition parties including the Congress feel that it could only be a post-poll arrangement. For instance, the NCP chief Sharad Pawar has told a news channel recently: “A ‘Mahagathbandhan’ prior to the elections (Lok Sabha) is not practical.” The CPI-M has declined to have alliance in all the five poll-bound states and its general secretary Sitaram Yechury has said the ‘Grand Alliance’ could be only after the polls. The Aam Aadmi Party has decided not to join any alliance in 2019. The Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has announced that they couldn’t keep on waiting for the Congress tie up in Madhya Pradesh. The last word is yet to come from the BSP chief Mayawati. Though she has abandoned alliance with the Congress for ensuing Assembly polls she has not said anything about the Lok Sabha polls.
All these posturing after an impressive show of strength of opposition unity on May 23 at the swearing in ceremony of Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy! Those present chanting opposition unity included Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, chief ministers Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and Chandrababu Naidu, Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav, the BSP supremo Mayawati, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Rashtriya Lok Dal’s leader Ajit Singh.
But subsequently the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ idea, for now, has turned sour. What has gone wrong in the meanwhile? Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has described it as an anarchic combination, the likes of which were “tried, tested and failed” in India. Indeed there are inherent contradictions! The opposition parties concentrate more on chemistry than arithmetic. Thirdly, what role will Congress play? The party, which had ruled the country for 49 of the 70 years, is yet to shed its nostalgia of its mighty past and be more accommodative in seat sharing.
Fourthly, the Congress needs to yield place to the regional allies where they are strong. Fifthly, the opposition parties too should be realistic in their demands for seat sharing. The Congress President Rahul Gandhi had stressed the importance of two levels of alliances – one at the state level and the other and more important at the national level. The state level alliances have not taken off as expected so far. In fact there is so much opposition disunity in the ensuing Assembly polls.
Moreover, the opposition is losing faith in the ability of the Congress to lead. Mayawati says that Congress is not yet battle-ready. The Congress does not want the Aam Aadmi Party, the Shiv Sena is not acceptable in the Maharashtra tent, the Trinamool Congress will have no truck with the Left Parties in West Bengal, and the DMK and the AIADMK are on opposite sides. Interestingly, the SP and the BSP have come together. Some regional parties like the Trinamool Congress, Telengana Rashtra Samithi, Biju Janata Dal, SP and the BSP would like to isolate the Congress and form a third front but there can be no Grand Alliance without the Congress as it would be advantage BJP.
The opposition needs a new slogan as well as a strong leader who can unite the opposition. As a tried and tested leader Sonia Gandhi is a better bet as she is more acceptable but she has taken a back seat and handed over the baton to her son. Even now, if she comes forward to unite the opposition, they might succeed.
Interestingly a recent poll survey conducted by the ABP News-C Voter claims that the NDA would win a majority of seats in most states though states like Punjab, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh could show some resistance if the Opposition got united. It predicted that the NDA would get 38 per cent vote share while the UPA 25 percent and other parties 37 percent vote share. The survey claims that if the Congress – SP- BSP combine together in UP, the BJP would suffer a heavy loss.
The Congress is enthused after another ABP News-C Voter survey, which has predicted that the party may return to power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and will make a comeback in Rajasthan. Win or lose these Assembly polls will be a dress rehearsal for 2019. However, unless there is direct fight between the BJP and the united opposition, it will be difficult to dislodge the BJP. Though the Congress President Rahul Gandhi is optimistic that a ‘Grand Alliance’ would become a reality but there are many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ before that.
Ultimately, when the people want to get rid of the BJP, they look for an alternative. That alternative is yet to emerge because of the divided opposition and too many ambitious leaders. As of now Modi is still popular and the TINA factor may help him to return to power. However, in politics one week is said to be long and there are at least six months left before the polls. (IPA)