Bonding rites: on Opposition unity

Opposition unity can come only with a more accommodative Congress leadership

August 24, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 11:37 am IST

A meeting of 19 Opposition parties on August 20 confirmed the sense of urgency that they feel to come together and build a united front against the BJP. It was also a demonstration of the challenges that they face in that task, in terms of programme and architecture. The meeting convened by Congress President Sonia Gandhi was attended by leaders of 18 other parties, including four Chief Ministers. These parties have strategic or ideological reasons to be part of a formation against BJP hegemony, and see no harm in aligning with the Congress in the process. All the 19 parties see the BJP as a threat to their own politics; some of them view it as endangering the constitutional values of the country too. There are other non-BJP parties that do not see it that way. The BJD, TRS and YSRCP, ruling parties in Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, respectively, see no gain in opposing the BJP or aligning with the Congress. They might also see antagonism with the BJP and affinity with the Congress as detrimental to their politics. Comparable is the situation of the BSP and SP, two influential parties in Uttar Pradesh that elects the largest number of Lok Sabha MPs. Ms. Gandhi has exhorted all parties to rise above compulsions to build a joint front against the BJP, the aim of which is to defeat the BJP in the 2024 general election.

The fact is that the Congress is itself a prisoner of its own compulsions and rigidities such as its institutional antipathy towards the YSRCP and TRS, and the personal fancies of its leader Rahul Gandhi who wields all authority and holds no accountability. Additionally, the Congress of today is vastly diminished compared to its position in the run-up to the 2004 general election when it could bring a host of parties under a coalition. Regional leaders then deferred to Ms. Gandhi, and her command over the Congress was absolute. The disarray in the Congress leadership is a drag on the attempts at Opposition unity. There is also a vast divergence among these parties on identifying the most critical issues in designing the optimal campaign against the BJP. The Congress and Left want to front-load in any Opposition campaign, the use of a spyware by an unknown government entity to snoop on a wide range of individuals. Parties that are more rural think price rise and agriculture distress and unemployment would have more salience among voters. This divergence need not necessarily be disabling for the Opposition. In fact, various parties could appeal to different constituencies and amalgamate their strengths, as it happened in the UPA experiments between 2004 to 2014. That requires significantly more leadership and management skills than available today in the Opposition gallery.


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