For opposition parties trying to come together, a `remove Modi’ message alone won’t work

On paper, if all opposition parties come together, they have arithmetic on their side for 2019. But besides the visible desperation, the opposition has not been able to articulate is their common platform is

opinion Updated: Jun 07, 2017 16:51 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times
Narendra Modi,Sonia Gandhi,Congress
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi with Janata Dal (U) leader Sharad Yadav, Samajwadi Party leader and former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, CPI leader D Raja and RJD leader Jaya Prakash Yadav on way to a rally in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. (PTI)

India’s opposition parties are very busy.

As the Narendra Modi government celebrated its third anniversary, Congress president Sonia Gandhi hosted a lunch for opposition leaders. Seventeen parties — including those at war with each other like the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, and Trinamool and Left in West Bengal — agreed to coordinate inside and outside parliament, strategise for the presidential elections together, and work towards a common front in 2019.

Over the past week, these efforts shifted south. Rahul Gandhi, Nitish Kumar — who missed Sonia’s lunch, Omar Abdullah, Sitaram Yechury and others travelled to Chennai to greet Muthuvel Karunanidhi on his birthday. Rahul and the other UP ka ‘ladka’, Akhilesh Yadav, also spoke at a rally in Guntur. Lalu Prasad has called a mega opposition rally in Patna in August.

What has triggered so much action?

The opposition unity efforts come not because of sudden affection for each other — but pure and simple desperation and the instinct for survival. Three years after his election, Narendra Modi remains India’s most popular leader by a long stretch. The UP win has consolidated this. Demonetisation made him a leader of the poor. The opposition has recognised that Modi is no ordinary politician; if he stays on in power, the rules of Indian politics may get entirely rewritten; and individually, they do not have the strength, resources, nationwide reach and capacity to take him on.

But if this impulse for opposition unity is obvious, what are its prospects?

On paper, if all opposition parties come together, they have arithmetic on their side for 2019. Do remember that Modi still has less than 50% vote share in key battleground states. The Bihar Mahagathbandhan model has the strength of numbers in other settings. For instance, if Akhilesh, Mayawati and Congress unite in UP, and carve out a Jatav-Yadav-Muslim unity, BJP is in trouble.

But politics is not just arithmetic.

In an increasingly presidential-type contest, the electorate wants to know who the leader is much before the elections. The opposition parties may share a cup of tea, but to get any of them to accept another leader as the pre-eminent face before elections will be a challenge. Will everyone accept Rahul Gandhi? Will Rahul — or even Mamata —accept a Nitish? It does not help them that none of them can mount a challenge to Modi nationally at the moment.

A faceless opposition will be no match to Modi.

Two, besides the visible desperation, the opposition has not been able to articulate what is their common platform. Modi won on a mix of hope and resentment. The opposition is confused. It does not want to play up the secular-communal debate for fear of losing Hindu votes; it does not have a cogent economic message despite the jobs crisis. The electorate may not be satisfied with only a remove Modi message.

The era when votes of one party are easily transferable to another is long gone. Each citizen often thinks independently. Arithmetic on paper will neither translate on the ground as smoothly nor is it adequate. Amid all the action, the opposition needs to do some hard reflection.

First Published: Jun 07, 2017 16:48 IST