Column | State-level equations of parties hinder broad opposition unity

Mamata Banerjee
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee arrives to meet Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi. PTI

Love triangles always create multiple complications in life always. They are also the source of rich material for film and television directors to tap into so that they get the big family audiences. But in politics, hate triangles involving three parties are more as seen in state after state. In every multi-party state, the BJP and the Congress comprise two angles of the triangle, while the third is made up of a regional party. The BJP, which is strongly entrenched in power at the centre, has been relentlessly going after ruling regional parties in states like West Bengal, Delhi, and Telangana, through corruption and money laundering cases as well as strident political attacks.

Constraints of major parties

Proponents of opposition unity are demanding that opposition parties irrespective of their differences should condemn the Enforcement Directorate's questioning of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi or the raids on Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia as political witch-hunt by the Narendra Modi Government. But opposition parties have their own compulsions against each other. Many opposition parties, especially those having some understanding with the Congress, joined the condemnation of the questioning of Sonia and Rahul, but the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its MPs stayed aloof.

When Sisodia was raided over his controversial liquor policy, the Delhi unit of the Congress celebrated that the party was the first to accuse the Arvind Kejriwal Government of massive corruption and favoritism, by disregarding rules. Similarly, as the BJP led by Union Home Minister Amit Shah is launching an intensive campaign against Telengana Rashtra Samithi Chief Minister K Chandrashekara Rao, the Congress state unit is saying plague on both your houses, as it wants to be an effective alternative in the state's politics.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Cm Manish Sisodia. File photo: Manorama

The Trinamool Congress which had dreams of replacing the Congress as national alternative even boycotted the recent vice-presidential elections only because the opposition nominee was Congress leader Margaret Alva.

State-level compulsions

Similar is the case when the state governments harass one of their opponents. This also happens states with four-cornered hate equations also. In Tripura where the CPM, Congress and Trinamool Congress are fighting against the ruling BJP as well as amongst themselves, there is little attempt at ground-level coordination.

In West Bengal, the BJP, CPM and Congress complain bitterly against misuse of police by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee against their leaders and cadres, but they don't come together, though the CPM and Congress did have an electoral understanding. While the Congress and the CPM share a good rapport at the national level, there is intense three-way rivalry of parties in Kerala. Yet there are also allegations of behind-the scene romance as CPM accuses the BJP of being the B-team of the Congress, while the Congress rebuts saying there is of a secret understanding between the CPM and the BJP.

NCP President Sharad Pawar with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after a meeting at his residence, in Mumbai, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Photo: PTI

Expect more bickering

The mutual bickering will continue in many states till the Lok Sabha election which is about 20 months away. There is also quiet among despair in those hoping for a non-BJP government in 2024 that the lack of opposition unity will be the biggest asset for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his bid to win a third successive election.

The Congress — which is in alliance or in adjustment with major opposition parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) (in Bihar); DMK (in Tamil Nadu), the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (in Jharkhand); as well as the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena (Thackeray faction) (in Maharashtra) — is also being blamed for not taking the initiative to build broad opposition unity, with the single-point agenda of defeating the BJP. But it is more easier said than done, as the Congress high command is under intense pressure from state units not to have truck with the TMC (in West Bengal and Tripura), Janata Dal (Secular) (in Karnataka), Aam Aadmi Party (in Delhi and Punjab), TRS (in Telangana), YSR Congress and Telugu Desam (in Andhra Pradesh), to name a few states.

Internal strifes in Congress too a factor

Hate triangles are not only there among parties, but also within a party like the Congress. The resignations of Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma, who are the senior leaders of the 'G-23' pressure group as chairmen of the the Congress election campaign committees in Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, are examples.

Citing neglect and humiliation, Sharma also articulated his ire against Gandhi siblings Rahul and Priyanka. Describing his 51-year-old career in the party as one of sacrifice, the former Union commerce minister said he was a co-owner of the party and not a slave. His remarks as well as those made by another G-23 member Kapil Sibal (who recently quit the party), showed the distrust of the rebels with the coteries of Rahul and Priyanka. The inner circles of the two siblings always do not see eye to eye. The resignations of Sharma and Azad also mean the distrust with the rebel group will only intensify at a time when the Congress is about to elect its president.

Opposition blame Modi of trying to distract nation with CAA and NRC
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad, left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren and others after an Opposition leaders meeting. FIle Photo: PTI

Lessons from the past

Political realism dictates that more than any opposition unity or common prime ministerial candidate of the non-BJP parties, the big question is whether Modi would be popular or unpopular with the voters in may 2024. Unpopularity defeated prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee despite there being no single alternative against these prime ministers.


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