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Can a rainbow coalition of disparate opposition forces challenge BJP in 2019?

Can a rainbow coalition of disparate opposition forces challenge BJP in 2019?

By Souvik Ghosh / IBNS | @indiablooms | 29 Dec 2017, 08:16 pm

How fast political fortunes of major political forces change in India? Well, quite fast if 2017 is any indication. The year had started off with a bumper harvest for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, but ended with a pyrrhic victory for the party in its citadel Gujarat.

True the BJP has still emerged victorious in Gujarat fighting anti incumbency to form a government for the sixth term in a row, but 99 seats  are not something the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo had ever bargained for.

Along with giving a soft warning to the ruling BJP (both in the state and at the centre), the election result on Dec 18 injected a belief in the Opposition that the all powerful Narendra Modi can also be challenged.

The poll result has undoubtedly struck a chord among the opposition parties as Gujarat witnessed a resurgent Congress led by Rahul Gandhi.

But a silent comeback in Gujarat in terms of more seats cannot give the luxury to the Congress to think of completely stalling the Modi wave.

For Congress, it seems it is still an insurmountable task to overthrow the Modi government all alone in 2019 Lok Sabha as the country's oldest party actually failed to win a single election last year.

If Gujarat election gave a message that Modi can also be hurt, the 2015 Bihar poll had proved that NaMo can also be defeated where BJP's dream of capturing the state was crushed by a "Grand Alliance" formed by congress, RJD and JD(U) though now Nitish Kumar has joined ranks with Modi.

But the question lies whether a collective unity will equally be successful at the national level that various political parties like Left, Trinamool Congress have started to pitch to the voters. 

West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, one of the early proponents of a 'Unified Opposition', tweeted immediately after Gujarat poll aiming at defeating BJP in 2019 nationally.

"I congratulate Gujarat voters for their very balanced verdict at this hour. It is a temporary and face-saving win, but it shows a moral defeat for BJP. Gujarat voted against atrocities, anxiety and injustice caused to the common people. Gujarat belled the cat for 2019" she tweeted.


The CPI(M) too spoke in favour of a secular front keeping 2019 in mind.

But considering the diversity of political parties in India, is not the United Opposition  a day dream?

The first challenge to the opposition parties is they will have to come together at a  platform irrespective of their ideologies and equations at the state level.

It would be extremely surprising to see how Mamata stands beside Sitaram Yechury or Samajwadi Party supports its arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party.

If it happens, Narendra Modi should not be spared from giving a bit of credit. After all, it is Modi's mass popularity that would see the stangest of bedfellows in the united Opposition.

Political analyst Amulya Ganguli, however, believes that united opposition can be a reality. "There have been successful experiments in Kerala. Congress and Samajwadi Party fought an election together in Uttar Pradesh as well," he says.

State politics can emerge as a hindrance to the formation of a rainbow coalition. It is true Mamata, Sitaram, Akhilesh, Lalu Prasad are all crying to stitch an alliance but will not their state politics be at stake with such a coalition of conflicting interest?

After sharing stage at the central level, undoubtedly it would be tough for the Left to fight against the alleged misrule of the TMC government in Bengal or challenge Congress in Kerala.

Even if they mock-fight in the respective states for political contention, the BJP would certainly leave no opportunity to take the advantage by alleging political opportunism against the opposition parties.

In the similar manner, it would be uncomfortable for Arvind Kerjiwal's Aam Aadmi Party to support Congress as the Delhi CM came to power in 2012 by fighting Sheila Dikshit.

Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty feels the political parties will come together to tackle bigger threats.

He said: "CPI(M) will certainly form the united Opposition since BJP is a threat to the Left in Kerala and Tripura. In West Bengal, there will be no problem as Left or Congress have absolutely no organisation at the moment in the state."

Probably the biggest and toughest challenge to the United Opposition will be their own conflict of interests.

When the regional parties will come along with Congress, individual political gains will come into play. The Opposition with multiple tall leaders along with Congress President Rahul Gandhi needs no spark to begin a civil war.

Leaders like Rahul, Mamata, Sitaram, Mulayam, Lalu Prasad will certainly be involved in a bid to become the face of the rainbow coalition.

Trinamool, which has currently 34 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, being one of the consistent supporters of a collective Opposition, would certainly leave no chance to project its chief Mamata as the face of a BJP alternative.

Lalu Prasad led RJD, who has won maximum number of Assembly seats in Bihar in last state election and being a mass leader, won't miss the gala chance to express his own aspirations to become the PM candidate.

Though Mamata or Lalu are way more experienced and matured than Rahul as a politician, the Congress President is expected not to give a free pass to either the TMC supremo  or Lalu Prasad in the run for the PM.

This is substantiated by Rahul's address to the students of University of California, Berkeley, on his visit to the US in 2017, where then Congress Vice President said he is ready to become the Prime Ministerial candidate in General Election 2019.

Ganguli believes if United Opposition is formed then its face will surely have to be Rahul Gandhi. "I think Congress will have to be given the first place. Congress is a bigger party and it has an acceptability nationally. So the leader will have to be from Congress and not any regional party."

The conflict seems to be inevitable as TMC MP Derek O'Brien, in a recent comment on NDTV, pitched  Mamata's name to become the face of a unity front if at all it happens.

"There are lot of experienced leaders in the pact with a lot of credentials, credibility who are tried and tested, fought people's movements for three-four decades. If one thinks that I am hinting to Mamata di's (Mamata Banerjee) credentials, of course I am. Look at her credentials...." Derek said.

Echoing the words of Ganguli, Chakraborty said: "Mamata Banerjee has no importance at the national level. It is Rahul Gandhi who will have to lead the United Opposition."

Corruption has been one of the vibrant issues in Indian politics of late. Several political parties have been pulled up by the central agencies over alleged involvement in corruption.

Be it TMC or RJD, the image of the political parties have been tarnished as some of their top leaders even had to serve in jail temporarily. It would be quite interesting to see how CPI(M) which is so vocal against the alleged corruption in Sarada, Narada and Rose Valley by the Trinamool, would share house in a bigger coalition.

Ganguly recognises this as a problem for the Opposition. "But the parties will find a way out for their own interests. It all depends on how much BJP is a threat to the parties" he said.

The political opportunism and ditches are not very uncommon in India. Even if several political parties pledge to walk united, there remains high chances of spoil sports.

Not very far ago, one of the anti-Modi faces, Nitish Kumar, who fought with the Congress and arch-rival RJD to defeat the BJP, switched sides giving a shock to his ally partners.

It was just few hours that Nitish-led JD(U) needed to reunite with Narendra Modi citing a corruption issue against  Lalu scion Tejashwi Yadav.

Akhilesh may have come to Kalighat residence of Mamata in Kolkata to discuss political moves at national level in what he termed a courtesy call, but it is still  fresh in memory of the the TMC supremo how Akhilesh's father Mulayam ditched the Bengal CM over Presidential election in 2012.

Months ago, Congress too skipped the joint rally called by several Opposition parties in Patna after Nitish aligned with the BJP stating that Congress is no exception to the ditch-politics.

We cannot deny the 2017 Presidential and Vice Presidential elections were examples where 17 to 18 political parties came together to field a joint candidate, but in the 2019 General Election, the stakes would be much higher.

Moreover a common narrative is also all the more important for the Opposition to derive.

When the person to be fought is Narendra Modi, who sets agendas in every new election, the Opposition needs to tighten themselves to carve out a proper road map if at all they want to put a brake on Modi's chariot.

Chakraborty feels the derivation of an alternative narrative is possible. "The scope is there. Narendra Modi's failure to fulfill the promises itself can become an alternative narrative to the BJP.'


Can a rainbow coalition of disparate opposition forces challenge BJP in 2019?

By Souvik Ghosh / IBNS
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