Rahul Gandhi-led Congress must adopt a two-pronged strategy for Opposition unity in 2019
The results of the Assembly elections in the three states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — have underlined the need for total unity of the Opposition parties, including the Congress, BSP and the Samajwadi Party. The Congress has done exceedingly well in Chhattisgarh on its own, but in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Party could have been in far more comfortable position if there had been a total alliance of the anti-BJP parties including the BSP and the SP. The Congress is finally forming the government in Madhya Pradesh with the support of two elected BSP members of the Assembly. The solo member of Samajwadi Party as also four elected independents have extended support to the Congress to form the government in the State.
The Congress certainly has enough reasons for satisfaction at the poll results in the three major BJP ruled states but this should not lead to any complacency in the Congress leadership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a seasoned politician and he knows how to convert the serious challenges into opportunities. Already, the BJP high command is working on the immediate measures for dealing with the major issue — farmers’ distress which led to the defeat of the BJP in the three BJP ruled states. Plans are afoot to announce a national loan waiver scheme for the farmers to take the winds out of the sails of the Congress. The new RBI Governor will be of help to the Centre by giving substantial funds from its reserves. The RBI funds of more than Rs 3 lakh crore will be of big help to the Modi government in funding the national loan waiver programme which may vary between Rs. 3.5 lakh crore to Rs. 4 lakh crore.
The people of the Hindi-speaking states will also wait anxiously whether the new elected Congress governments take measures immediately to deal with the farmers discontent. Congress president Rahul Gandhi declared in the election campaign in MP that within ten days of coming to power, the Congress government will waive farmers loans. Now, the new Congress government has to implement that and if it does not do it, it will have adverse effect on the farming community and naturally, the BJP will take advantage of that. Only four months are left for the Lok Sabha elections, so every single step of the new Congress governments will be watched by the people and its impact will be felt in the Lok Sabha elections.
That way, the Congress’s task is very tough on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress is doing well against the BJP against which there is mass anger now, but the Party is not expected to do well against the regional parties where the BJP is not the front runner. There are state politics compulsion and even with the best intentions, it is not politically feasible to put one opposition candidate against the BJP at a national level. So, the Opposition parties have to work on a pragmatic policy of ensuring maximum pre-poll collaboration to prevent division of votes, but in states, where the contests, even in a limited manner, become inevitable, the understanding should be a post-poll alliance of these parties against the BJP and its allies.
In MP and Rajasthan, the BJP would have lost many more seats if the Congress had aligned with the BSP in the State Assembly elections. Now with the BSP and SP giving full support to the Congress government formation in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the stage is set for total alliance of these three parties in the three states, as also in Uttar Pradesh which is electorally most crucial for the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha poll. The ambience of cooperation has been created and the Congress leadership has to ensure that the BSP and SP are kept solidly in the anti-BJP platform. This will be of immense value to the combined opposition in reducing the number of the BJP seats in the Hindi speaking states. The BJP’s total seats have to be kept under 180 if the opposition alliance including the Congress want to have a smooth ride after the Lok Sabha poll. If the BJP on its own crosses 200, it will be very tough for the Congress and its allies to stop Modi from his second term because flush with huge funds, the BJP has batter capability of post election bargaining with the vacillating allies and the parties like TRS.
Former BJP leader and central minister Arun Shourie said some months ago that the Opposition parties must pledge to ensure they put up one common candidate against the BJP in every constituency. This is desirable but may not be objectively possible for political logistics in different states. Rather the formula mentioned by the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is far more practical. Congress will be the leader in the states where it is fighting the BJP as the major party. It will have adjustments with the smaller parties but finally the responsibility will be with the Congress as the leader. But in the states, where the regional parties are the rulers like West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, the regional parties naturally will not leave space to the Congress in the name of anti-BJP alliance and there the fights between the regional ruling party and the Congress can take place in Lok Sabha poll, but the understanding will be to be a part of anti-BJP alliance in post-poll situation.
Even under this two-track approach, there is a possibility of a common Opposition candidate in about 400 plus seats leaving about 143 seats out of the total of 543 seats. If a total unity of the Opposition parties is made possible against the BJP in 400 seats, there is every reason to believe that the Opposition should be able to gain more than 272 seats from this 400 figure and the seats from the other 140 seats where triangular fights might take place, will be additional. The Opposition need to remember that 31 per cent was the vote share Modi polled at the height of his popularity in 2014 and he is today much less popular and the Opposition’s starting percentage is 69 per cent if they have one common candidate against the BJP. As the 2014 Lok Sabha figures show that Modi became PM after 2014 poll because the BJP won 90 per cent of the seats in the states that contribute 60 per cent of the Lok Sabha strength. If the Opposition combines in three states — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra apart from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — that will be the end of BJP rule.
All depends on how the saffron leadership can meet the challenge of the united Opposition in the Hindi-speaking states. In southern states, apart from Karnataka, the BJP has not much strength in other states. In Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the total number of Lok Sabha seats are 102. In 2014 poll, the BJP won four seats out of which in two seats, it had an alliance with Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. Now, it might lose those two seats without its alliance with TDP. The BJP will try to get one or two seats in TN but that is not certain yet as the DMK led by Stalin is on upsurge and the AIADMK is so faction ridden that the BJP might not get any electoral advantage even if it aligns with the ruling AIADMK.
For the Lok Sabha elections, the Opposition, especially the Congress has to do two things — first, the Party’s election manifesto must reflect the aspirations of the masses, especially the young, unemployed and the farmers, and it should form the core of the common minimum programme of the anti-BJP front, and second, the Congress must learn to act as first among the equals among the Opposition parties and treat the smaller parties with compassion and dignity so that the anti-BJP front can be sustained on a long term basis. (IPA)
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