Why aren’t the non-NDA parties able to gather under one roof? What’s the incompatibility about: brittle egos, clash of temperaments, turf battles in provinces, graft charges under probe or contesting ambitions for the high chair in New Delhi?
At one level, poor coordination by the Congress outside Parliament has undermined short-term prospects of unity. The NDA has given its rivals enough reasons — including shoddy post-demonetisation management — to coalesce. But the principal parliamentary Opposition’s proclivity to move without adequate consultation provoked some of its present and erstwhile allies — such as the JD(U), the Left and the NCP — to deliver retributive affronts.
A conscious effort to set up a common minimum agenda could help break the impasse. The onus for it will have to be on the Congress. Its diminished legislative presence and shrinking national base must make it desist dictating terms. Co-option rather than self-projection could be the key to constructing a broad political front with a representative steering panel to devise strategy to corner the BJP-led alliance.
But will that happen? Nothing’s undoable in politics. Things fall in place when a bigger entity stoops to conquer. Unlike coalitions in power, there are no high pedestals in the Opposition space. Not especially when the battle is for capturing popular perception.
The spectre of a divided Opposition hurts all — the pretenders to power and people desirous of change. The message that goes out — as is now happening — is that there’s no durable alternative to the ruling combine.
One major reason for Narendra Modi’s stunning 2014 victory was his success in presenting himself as a strong alternative to the UPA leadership. The psychologically-mowed Congress boosted his campaign by giving him a veritable walkover, not fighting for even an honourable defeat. The party’s vote dipped below 20%; the BJP grabbing simple majority on the strength of a mere 31%.
It is election time again with five state assemblies, including UP and Punjab, headed for polls in early-2017. That’s another reason for an anti-BJP formation taking time to emerge. The SP and BSP have high stakes in UP, making difficult for either party to accept the Congress’s centrality at the national level despite its meagre presence in the key state.
If the BJP loses in UP, the party that gets majority or emerges as the single largest, would wield greater weight in the proposed front. The Congress cannot, therefore, take for granted its primacy in the Opposition space.
Akhilesh Yadav is on record telling the Congress that they can work together if his father Mulayam Singh is accepted as the PM candidate, with Rahul Gandhi as his Deputy. Similar ambitions are attributed to Nitish Kumar and Mayawati.
The best deal the Congress can cut with them is by proposing a collective leadership model for the envisioned front; without making it mandatory, of course, that it will turn into an electoral alliance in 2019. For that bridge is still some distance away.
Vinod Sharma is the political editor, Hindustan Times