Stalin’s national challenge

Time and regional compulsions are challenges in forming a non-BJP coalition

Updated - March 30, 2023 01:12 am IST

Published - March 30, 2023 12:15 am IST

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin with Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, DMK MP T. R. Baalu, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah during his 70th birthday celebration programme in Chennai.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin with Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, DMK MP T. R. Baalu, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah during his 70th birthday celebration programme in Chennai. | Photo Credit: ANI

When Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, called for a pan-Indian alliance of Opposition parties, including the Congress, to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he stepped into the shoes of his late father M. Karunanidhi, one of the architects of political fronts at the national level.

Those present on stage with Mr. Stalin included All-India Congress Committee president Mallikarjun Kharge, National Conference (NC) leader Farooq Abdullah, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akilesh Yadav, and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejaswi Yadav, who are all waging a spirited fight against the BJP in their respective States. In fact, Mr. Abdullah urged Mr. Stalin to “come to the national scene” like his father.

Making it clear that neither a national alliance sans the Congress nor a post-electoral coalition would work in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, Mr. Stalin urged regional leaders not to allow State politics to come in the way of national politics. Although the DMK has been part of third fronts in the past, Mr. Stalin realises that these have been short-lived and futile in a political landscape that is ruthlessly dominated by the BJP.

However, regional leaders seem to have their own compulsions even though the BJP has emerged as a major challenge to them on their respective home turfs. A fortnight later, Mr. Yadav met Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and advocated for maintaining equidistance from the Congress and the BJP. This put paid to Mr. Stalin’s hopes for a pan-Indian alliance despite his personal rapport with Ms. Banerjee and with leaders of the SP and RJD.

Mr. Stalin’s supporters take pride in saying that he has proved to be more dangerous to the BJP than his father. They point out that he has remained unwavering in his opposition to the party and has aggressively asserted that the rights of States be defended. He has one advantage which his father lacked: the absence of charismatic Opposition leaders such as M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu. The All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) remains a divided house, while the BJP, headed by a police officer-turned politician, is yet to emerge as a key force in the Dravidian heartland.

Also read | Will never allow communal, racist, extremist forces to grow in Tamil Nadu: CM

On the flip side, Mr. Stalin does not have an advantage that his father enjoyed while forging national alliances. Unlike during the late post-Emergency period, the mid-1990s or even during 2004, when the political climate allowed for birds of different feathers to flock together with a common minimum programme, the present situation is not conducive as parties are unable to rally behind a single leader to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The SP should realise that it may be politically opposed to the Congress, but its ideological enemy is the BJP. If Mr. Stalin meets Mr. Yadav and prevails upon him to make a compromise with the Congress, he can score a point over the BJP,” argued a senior DMK leader.

A similar strategy may work in other States. In West Bengal, Ms. Banerjee, a friend of the DMK, who makes it a point to call on Mr. Stalin whenever she visits Chennai, needs to be convinced to work together with the Left parties and the Congress. The Left in fact fought the BJP in the company of the Congress.

“The Congress, too, should make adjustments with regional parties since it is facing challenges from its political offshoots in some States. It should come forward to make sacrifices in State politics in the interest of a national role,” the DMK leader said. The Congress has already come down in its position on the question of who should lead the front. While attending the meeting in Chennai, Mr. Kharge said the prime ministerial candidate could be decided later.

March to national politics: on M.K. Stalin

In recent times, there has been unity among Opposition leaders on major issues. Recently, 14 political parties filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the misuse of central agencies to target Opposition leaders. They also came together in their opposition to the disqualification of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi from parliamentary membership.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Stalin can seize the current momentum and build consensus among the non-BJP parties to put up a united front to take on Mr. Modi and the BJP. But he is hard-pressed for time.

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