The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for a major part of this year, has focused its efforts on keeping the Opposition divided while occasionally spooking it with institutional terror in the form of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) raids.
It must only be galling for the ruling party, therefore, to see the likes of the Telangana Chief Minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) and Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) head Nitish Kumar cobble together a unified Opposition front with a missionary zeal for a "BJP-mukt Bharat" in 2024.
In fact, even after the BJP retaliated against the KCR-Nitish Patna meeting by splitting the JD(U) in Manipur nearly a month after Kumar parted ways with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar, the latter remained unfazed. He flew to Delhi to meet with Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, among others, to further discuss Opposition unity.
It's Do or Die for the Opposition Team
Given the ignominious downfall of raking up an anti-Modi sentiment before the 2019 general elections despite being met with a show of strength on a podium in Bengaluru, it is most likely that the current concerted efforts will fail too.
But there is a notable difference in the political climate between then and now. The Opposition has never had its eyes on the prize so badly when it came to defeating Modi – or at least whittling his numbers down – in order to force a coalition arrangement in 2024. This time, however, they would have a huge price to pay as their very survival is at stake.
More Names on the BJP Hitlist
The BJP's severe polarisation strategy since its second innings in 2019 has left the entire Opposition in the throes of an existential crisis. As long as the BJP was hooked on its "Congress-mukt Bharat" plan, most Opposition parties sat back, content, witnessing the grand old party of Indian politics fade into oblivion.
However, when the BJP turned its gun on the others, the mood instantly changed. The tipping point was the manner in which Shiv Sena head and ex-CM Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government in Maharashtra was toppled through a coup.
The Shiv Sena was fragmented using the proverbial carrot-and-stick approach of extending lucrative offers, including the chief ministerial post to top dissident Eknath Shinde on one hand and raid threats by investigative agencies on the other.
Flailing House of Cards
The resounding fall of the Maharashtra government sent shockwaves through the regional parties. Having decimated the Congress, which now whimpers in the shadow of its former self, the BJP seemed to have been on a demolishing spree of regional parties to reign supreme.
The trigger for Nitish Kumar's decision to finally take the plunge and drift away from the BJP after suffering two years of humiliation seems to have mirrored the situation in Maharashtra. And the die was cast for a renewed push to coalesce the Opposition to challenge Modi in 2024.
Major Roadblocks for the Upcoming Elections
There are many imponderables on the road to 2024. The biggest question, of course, is who the leader of a unified Opposition front will be. The hilarious jugalbandi between Nitish Kumar and KCR at their press conference in Patna suggested that the issue is still unresolved and both are contenders for the said post.
Other obstacles include the improbability of KCR's TRS and Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) co-existing on the same front with the Congress. The absence of a common ideology and the difficulties in framing a common minimum programme that will go beyond the generalities of doles and welfare schemes to convince voters that these parties can form a fully-functioning government are also major roadblocks.
History tells us that politics is the art of the impossible. The only comparable moment with contemporary times is when erstwhile Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, threatened by the Opposition, put all the leaders in jail during the Emergency. That's when they realised that if they didn't get together to fight her, she would rule forever.
It emerged much later that the ground for the formation of the Janata Party was laid while these leaders were in jail together. All it needed was an announcement that elections would be held. And the Janata Party was formed with polar opposites like the socialists and the right-wing Jan Sangh merging together to fight Indira Gandhi. Later, Jagjivan Ram and HN Bahuguna walked out of the Congress to give the Opposition a fillip. Suffice it to say, the Janata Party won.
Leaders of Most Oppn Parties Under the Scanner of ED, I-T, or CBI
While the Modi government has not taken extreme measures like throwing Opposition leaders behind the bars, it has certainly given them a common, pivotal cause to fight against.
Today, leaders of most regional parties are under the scanner of either the ED, CBI, or Income Tax authorities. Some are even in jail, like Satyendar Jain, a minister in Kejriwal's Delhi government.
After the fall of the Maharashtra government, Opposition leaders wonder who the next target will be. Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren moved his MLAs to a resort and sought a trust vote to prove that he was still in command. Kejriwal is making a hue and cry about the BJP's 'Operation Kamal' failure in Delhi. He, too, sought a trust vote to reaffirm his majority.
While all this may be shadow boxing, it is generating talking points for Opposition leaders to sink their differences in the run-up to 2024. And with the Congress in decline, space has opened up for regional leaders to play a bigger role in creating a unified Opposition front. They no longer have to contend with an overambitious Gandhi family.
It's still a long haul to create a viable and robust Opposition front to challenge a formidable leader like Modi. However, the way in which Opposition leaders are being hounded suggests that the BJP is definitely perturbed by the moves on the other side.
(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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