Whiff of opposition unity in the air

Anil Anand
Expectedly former Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, during the course of his latest media interaction, parried a question or to be precise avoided a direct response when asked about the weak opposition or lack of opposition unity to give punch to the ongoing farmers’ agitation. He sought to distract the issue by blaming the ruling dispensation for “influencing” all the major institutions such as judiciary, media and legislator which he felt has become a contributory factor towards opposition being unable to discharge its duties.
Mr Gandhi was right in his contention to some extent but not entirely as the issue of current state of the institutions comes secondary to the elusive opposition unity. His argument has merit but needs to explain as to how “independent” institutions could have helped in achieving or sustaining the opposition unity which he chose to ignore.
Coming in the backdrop of the coming assembly elections to five states including politically significant and non-BJP ruled West Bengal and Tamil Nadu and BJP ruled Assam, his observation though reflects a sense of dejection but assumes significance. It is so because these elections have opened yet another window of an opportunity for the opposition parties’ quest for forging a front against BJP. Will it really happen?
There is an urge among the different non-BJP parties to form an alliance and the dichotomy is that any initiative gets torpedoed by either the very proponents of the idea or the ones for whom the unity proposal is mooted. This dichotomy is currently at play in West Bengal as well as Tamil Nadu and Union Territory of Puducherry. The Congress is involved in both the cases whereas Trinmool Congress and DMK is the other half in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu-Puducherry.
In a between, a huge silver-lining has come for Congress as well as the opposition unity with the party achieving to stitch a “grand alliance” in Assam without any hitch or consternation. This is a five party combine led by Congress that includes AIUDF, CPI, CPM and Anchalik Gana Morcha. Since no chief ministerial candidate has been announced it could become a bone of contention. Nevertheless, it is a significant development from the opposition parties’ point of view.
There is no denying the fact that West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinmool Congress (TMC) chief, Mamta Banerjee is a street fighter and a strongly rooted leader, but there is also no denying the fact that she is under intense pressure from BJP which is trying every trick in the trade to find its ground not only in West Bengal but also Tamil Nadu.
So, when TMC MP and a close associate of Ms Banerjee, Prof Sugata Roy gave a clarion call to both Congress and arch rival Left parties, the two parties have since decided to contest the election in alliance, to join hands with his party to defeat BJP, it stated the obvious. His appeal particularly mentioning the Left parties did cause a flutter and surprise giving immediate reason to the BJP to retaliate by describing it as a manifestation of the TMC’s weakening graph.
It was certainly not an off-the-cuff remark by Prof Roy nor could he have done so without the consent of his leader who is known for her maverick style of functioning. What really caused surprise was TMC seeking an alliance with the Left parties as it is fully well-known that Ms Banerjee’s rise in politics has a lot to do with her strong anti-Left stance?
The question now arises whether there is any chance of a TM-Congress-Left alliance to take on the BJP? It becomes even more relevant in the light of the fact that the West Bengal Congress president and the party’s leader in Lok Sabha, Mr Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary was quick to retort to Prof Roy by suggesting that the TMC better merge with his party to effectively take on the BJP. Mr Chaudhary’s pathological hate for Ms Banerjee is well known and it has its roots in the days when she was in Congress. Although it is clear that a decision about joining hands with TMC has to be taken by the Congress’ central leadership, nevertheless, his retort did give the BJP a handle to mock the unity offer.
What makes the scenario more interesting is that the CPM-led Left parties, which stand politically decimated, surprisingly preferred to remain silent. Or else, the Left leaders have all along been attacking Ms Banerjee and blaming her for facilitating the entry of BJP in West Bengal by becoming part of the NDA during the Vajpayee regime.
A similar situation is threatening to arise in Tamil Nadu-Puducherry. The Congress and DMK have for quite some time now decided to contest elections together. Despite the fact that in Puducherry the Congress-DMK alliance is currently in power, the DMK sprang a surprise by announcing that it intends to go it alone in the Union Territory in the coming elections. It has resulted in speculation as to whether DMK will have a relook into its alliance with Congress for Tamil Nadu as well?
Coming back to West Bengal where BJP is upbeat mostly on account of its high decibel campaign and manoeuvrings that had started some two years back, the first obstacle in the opposition unity till the other day was Ms Banerjee herself. However, it seems she is beginning to have second thoughts and instead of “ekla chalo” she is ostensibly leaving nothing to chance to checkmate the BJP or threat posed by it. Naturally, her worry stems more from the fact that the saffron party managers have been able to lure some of her close aides into the BJP fold to create an impression of TMC being a sinking ship.
Assam was easier to achieve as there is no strong regional party with which Congress had to via for an alliance. Comparatively the picture in Tamil Nadu is also not that difficult with DMK being the leader, notwithstanding the Dravidian party’s changed stance on Puducherry. West Bengal still remains to be a tricky proposition but not impossible. The biggest impediment was Ms Banerjee’s authoritative approach to forge an alliance and her disliking for the Left Parties. The ice seems to have been broken with such an offer coming from the TMC itself.
In case the unity talks begin, the two main hurdles would be if the Left parties accept her as the chief ministerial face and, of course, the distribution of seats. Since TMC is the strongest among the three prospective alliance partners and that there is none other than Ms Banerjee having appeal in public, she would be a natural choice. Well, the seat sharing would be a big worry if it reaches that stage.
West Bengal is significant from the opposition unity point of view because she could prove to be a big motivator for such an effort at the national level a potential which Tamil Nadu or the DMK in the absence of its founder Mr M Karunanidhi cannot offer. Provided a strong TMC-Congress-left alliance is formed and wins the election.