The Opposition parties in India will have to redouble their unity efforts, especially since Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ram Madhav has claimed that his party will secure a majority in the Lok Sabha [Lower House of parliament]. This is in sharp contrast to Madhav’s earlier comment that the BJP might come up short, which galvanised the Opposition to come together.
Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao spoke to his counterparts in Kerala and Karnataka — Pinarayi Vijayan and H.D. Kumaraswamy — to sound them on his ideas of forming a non-BJP, non-Congress front. Rao now seems to have adopted a softer attitude towards the Congress party, presumably because both Kumaraswamy and Stalin have told him that they supported Rahul Gandhi’s claim to be the prime minister.
Having raised the issue of a non-BJP, non-Congress front with Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister, a few months ago, Rao may have realised it is not possible to keep the Congress out of the equation, if it gets 100-odd seats, more than any other non-BJP party. Soon Andhra Pradesh’s N. Chandrababu Naidu too entered the fray, praising Mamata as a Bengal tigress. What is obvious is that the non-BJP parties have a chance if they can get their act together because the BJP, in their view, is faltering. They also realise the need to move quickly since the BJP may use its status as the largest party in the House — which is a certainty — to form a government by wooing allies from outside the National Democratic Front (NDA).
The Lutyens Delhi grapevine has it that Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik tops the list of such potential allies, followed by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh. Reddy is on record expressing support to the BJP in a “hung” parliament if it promises to grant special status to his state — the issue on which Naidu quit the NDA. Ironically, Rao was also seen as a potential ally some time ago when he was moving closer to the BJP. But that phase is over.
Opposition parties believe that the BJP may get the first chance to form a government, so they have considered writing to President Ramnath Kovind about their willingness to give letters of support for an alternative government. If the president decides to ask the largest alliance to form the government, whom will he call?
Aye, there’s the rub, as Hamlet said. The Opposition’s failure to decide on a leader has been its biggest handicap, and that has been Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s biggest advantage. The Opposition certainly won’t be able to find a leader till the May 23 results, particularly since there are far too many contenders. While the Telangana chief minister wants someone from the south (Is Rao thinking of himself?), Naidu seems to have a preference for Mamata although he is equally friendly with Rahul.
Mamata nurtures lofty ambitions at the behest of her party men who want a Bengali prime minister. Her major hurdle at the moment is the challenge that she faces from the BJP in West Bengal, where Modi’s party appears to have replaced the Left and the Congress as the Trinamool Congress’ main adversary.
The strength of the challenge is not clear. The BJP is unlikely to get 20-odd seats out of 42 as party president Amit Shah predicted. But even if it gets seven or eight, it will mean it has been able to exploit the chinks in Trinamool Congress’ armour. Neither such a setback, nor the violence in West Bengal will bolster “didi’s” prime ministerial ambitions. Mayawati has also thrown her hat in the ring by saying that if she gets a chance to be the prime minister, she will stand for the parliamentary elections.
Her political bhatija (brother’s son), the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, has backed her ally in the Uttar Pradesh mahagathbandhan (grand alliance), He wants a prime minister from Uttar Pradesh. The khichdi (hotchpotch) image of the opposition remains valid and that lends credence to Arun Jaitley’s fears of “chaos” if the opposition comes to power.
In 1977, the Janata Party could initially dispel such apprehensions with the help of stalwarts like Jayaprakash Narayan and J.B. Kripalani. The present shaky gathbandhan has no one of such stature.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst based in India.