OPINION | The message from Opposition’s Kolkata mega rally
The opposition parties had a critique but did not offer an alternative political programme that it would implement if voted to power.editorials Updated: Jan 21, 2019 08:31 IST
A range of opposition parties came together to address a mega rally in Kolkata on Saturday. In a way, this is just another step in a political process that kicked off many months ago. Some of these parties have been coordinating in Parliament; allying with each other in states; holding regular consultations; and lending their support to farmer protests. But the scale of the Kolkata rally and the show of strength represents a leap in the way they plan to frame the 2019 election.
They had a common target: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in general; and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief, Amit Shah, in particular. The election was presented as a binary — of the BJP alone on one side with the rest of the country on the other. The allies also had a robust narrative, which centred on the government’s failures of economic management and its treatment of institutions.
So despite their specific political histories, the Opposition parties were telling Indian voters that the continuation of the BJP in power would be a threat to Indian democracy and the Constitution; and it would further imperil livelihoods of the young and the poor. As elections approach, expect to hear more of this from the Opposition even as the government works to convince the electorate that its record has been credible.
But three shortcomings came across at the Kolkata rally. One, the Opposition had a critique but did not really offer an alternative political programme, an alternative agenda that it would implement if voted to power. Without this, converting disillusionment against the regime into any attraction for the Opposition will be difficult. Two, it was clear that there exist contradictions among the same parties which shared the stage.
The event was shepherded by the Trinamool Congress, and attended by the Congress, which is a local rival. It saw both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party share the stage with the Congress, which they have not included in the UP alliance. But the most obvious weakness, which the BJP will tap into as campaigning begins, is the absence of a common leadership.
Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati are both PM contenders and have not hidden their ambitions; the Congress, if it crosses a threshold, may want to retain leadership; and several leaders from smaller parties believe they can — like HD Deve Gowda in 1996 — emerge as compromise candidates. The Opposition has made it clear that the question will be addressed only after the elections. But the voters may want assurance before, especially if the election turns presidential.
First Published: Jan 21, 2019 08:07 IST