Opposition Unity a Myth? Many Riddles Including Trust Deficit Stand In Its Way
16 of the 21 parties invited by Mamata Banerjee turned up for the meet but key names like AAP, TRS, BJD abstained.
Mamata Banerjee’s meet to discuss a joint presidential candidate has exposed the chinks in the Opposition’s armour. While 16 of the 21 parties did meet and started the process to anoint a consensus candidate, many prominent names skipped the discussion.
The contentious questions – whether such a front should include the Congress or not and who would lead the front, still remain unresolved.
Parties like Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Jagan Reddy’s Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Prakash Singh Badal’s Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) abstained.
While some were not invited, staunch anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) crusaders like Arvind Kejriwal and Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) gave it a miss. The efforts to put up a joint candidate started on a wrong note of sorts.
Parties like Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has zero votes in the electoral college, attended the meet. Out of the top 10 opposition parties in India in terms of number of MPs and MLAs, four didn’t attend (40 percent). While quantity wise attendance looks good, it pales in quality.
Similar attempts to float an anti-BJP front have been made in the past, with most recent one just before the 2019 general elections, but with limited success.
Mamata Banerjee Lacks the Moral Authority to Lead
Mamata had called for the meeting continuing with her strategy of positioning the Trinamool Congress (TMC) as an alternative to the BJP in 2024. The party believes Mamata is best suited to take on Modi, given the condition the Congress is in today.
However, she lacks the moral right to lead the talks as the TMC is present only in West Bengal.
Regional parties and leaders holding prime ministerial ambitions, like Kejriwal and KCR, would not let Mamata lead the talks and take credit, hence they gave it a miss. Though their official position was that they can’t be seen sharing stage with the Congress.
There is also a conflict of interest angle here as AAP, TMC, and TRS plan to go national and fight elections in many states outside their home base.
Congress Still Has Numbers to Its Advantage
Going by the sheer numbers, Congress still has the moral right to lead any anti-BJP Opposition front. It has three times the number of MLAs to nearest party – TMC – on the list and more than twice the number of MPs in the Parliament.
However, many regional parties like YSRCP, TRS, BJD, AAP, TDP, and SAD have all been formed on the anti-Congressism plank. In some of these states, Congress is still the main opponent of these parties. Even the TMC was formed after Mamata forced a split in the West Bengal unit of the Congress.
The weakening of the Congress over the years, losses in successive general elections and 39/49 state elections have given ambitious leaders a chance to claim the so called vacuum at the national level.
Kejriwal and Mamata are gaining popularity for prime minister's post vis-a-vis Rahul Gandhi in some surveys. KCR too is likely to launch a national party soon.
Some parties like the TRS and the AAP hope of recreating a Third Federal Front of like-minded regional parties, minus the Congress. However, the numbers are not encouraging or favouring such a set up.
In the electoral college for presidential elections, UPA has around 24 percent votes and regional parties excluding the pro-BJP YSRCP and BJD have 19 percent.
Both Congress and anti-BJP regional parties need each other to put up a strong fight against the BJP in presidential elections, even though it is symbolic. The two fighting separately can’t stop the Modi juggernaut in 2024. However, this realisation hasn’t yet sunk in.
Opposition Parties Like BJD, YSRCP Need BJP
For parties like the BJD and the YSRCP, whose leaders don’t share any national ambitions, going against the central government does not make sense. They need the support of the BJP for funds for development and wish to be in their good books. Even KCR till some time ago used to back the BJP on important legislations.
Given this situation, Opposition parties should work to lessen the trust deficit, answer the two key questions raised above or leave it on the back burner for some more time.
The effort should be on putting a consensus non-political person as joint presidential candidate. Since they would not belong to any party, it will be easier to get support from all.
Then they should aim to get as close to 45 percent vote share in the presidential polls. This will help them show unity and put up a symbolic fight.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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