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Opposition’s plan for 2019 Lok Sabha elections: State tie-ups now, national pact later

Even as the Congress is in power in just four states, it is the principal Opposition powerhouse in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Kerala.

india Updated: May 24, 2018 23:28 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
2019 Lok Sabha elections,BJP,Opposition
Opposition leaders pose for photojournalists in Bengaluru after Kumaraswamy was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka.(Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

The gathering of Opposition leaders in Bengaluru on Wednesday to celebrate the swearing-in of the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government quickly turned into a platform to discuss plans for 2019. Across the political spectrum in the non-Bharatiya Janata Party camp, the broad agreement is to focus on state-specific, pre-poll pacts and sew up strategies against the BJP as a precursor to a post-poll national alliance.

The approach, as detailed by several leaders present in Bengaluru, will also obviate the need to discuss sticky issues — such as the identity of a consensus prime ministerial candidate.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi summed up the thinking behind the proposed strategy. “Prevention of split of votes holds the key for success. In triangular contests, the BJP has won only because of division of votes. Submergence of egos, creation of a mega coordination committee with sub-committees for micro-management should be formed,” he said.

Both Bahujan Samaj Party head Mayawati and Trinamool Congress chief Banerjee are believed to harbour prime ministerial ambitions. Ahead of the Karnataka polls, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said he could be a candidate for the position if his party had enough seats in the Lok Sabha.

“We spoke about how Karnataka has shown a way to tackle the BJP. We have to fight collectively. Wherever one party is strong, others must rally around it,” West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said over the phone on Thursday.

On Wednesday, she even shook hands with Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury — a rare moment in their mutual history. When she asked Yechury about his well-being in Bengali, Yechury retorted in the same language: “You know what is happening with my party in Bengal,” referring to the recent panchayat polls in which the Trinamool strong-armed its way to total dominance.

Yechury also emphasised the need for a state-specific approach to oust the BJP from the Centre. According to people present in the discussion of opposition leaders on Wednesday, he told Congress president Rahul Gandhi and a few others how late CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet used to say, “Let us go from region to region to maximize seats.” Gandhi, these people added, told Yechury that they would meet up soon to take forward the plans for 2019.

Even as the Congress is in power in just four states, it is the principal Opposition powerhouse in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Kerala.

The people present at the event on Wednesday also said the leaders discussed how the Samajwadi Party (SP) and BSP came together in Uttar Pradesh and the BJP had to bite the dust in the bypolls to two Lok Sabha seats in March. They pointed to the warmth of the greetings between United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and BSP chief Mayawati . At one point on Wednesday, they added, Gandhi asked someone to make way for Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh. Singh’s candidate is backed by the SP, the BSP and the Congress in the upcoming bypoll to the Kairana Lok Sabha seat from Uttar Pradesh.

Analyst Shiv Vishvanathan said, “What we saw was festivity. Everyone standing together doesn’t mean they are united. But I agree this could be the beginning of something new but for that, they have to come together on different issues...”

The BJP didn’t think much of the bonhomie between opposition parties, nor of a possible grand alliance.

“We are already fighting those parties in different states,” BJP’s media cell chief and Rajya Sabha member Anil Baluni said. Do you think (RJD leader) Lalu Prasad will make any difference in Tamil Nadu or (Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.) Chandrababu Naidu in Uttar Pradesh? It’s a joke.”

Talks of a united front to take on the BJP have been gathering momentum in recent months. The formation of a JDS-Congress government in Karnataka has, apart from adding to this, has also ensured the Congress remains part of the equation. West Bengal’s Banerjee, who was talking of a non-Congress, non-BJP club, made it clear that the Congress must also play a role. “I have never said Congress has no space in the federal front. There are areas where the Congress is powerful. They should take the lead in those areas to defeat the BJP,” she said. People familiar with the matter in the TMC added that although she wants the Congress to take on the BJP is certain states, she is not open to Congress’s leadership in a federal front.

According to people present at the function, Banerjee had long chats with Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav and others.

The galaxy of the Opposition leaders was also keen to send out the right signal from the platform. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and former Jharkhand CM Babulal Marandi wanted to know what the common message could be. Yechury told them to tell people that they have gathered after “foiling the efforts of BJP to kidnap democracy by forming government even after losing election and for the first time, the winning combination got 56.6% of people’s votes in the state.”

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who recently broke away from the National Democratic Alliance, held a separate meeting with Banerjee and the two are believed to have discussed plans for 2019.

First Published: May 24, 2018 23:26 IST