Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes four years in office on Friday. While he gets ready for the final lap before seeking a second term, non-BJP opposition parties have sounded the poll bugle from Bangalore. The convergence of top leaders from 16 opposition parties at the swearing-in of HD Kumaraswamy as Karnataka chief minister on Wednesday has a huge message to the electorate, the BJP and its mascot, Narendra Modi. The show of strength at Bangalore Vidhan Soudha reminds one of the coalitions that were part of the Janata Parivar against the Congress party in the mid-’90s.
Several political commentators termed the turnout at Bangalore as a big photo opportunity to scare the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Some hard thinking would have definitely gone into the exercise of getting all onboard with the Congress occupying centre-stage among opposition parties keen to take on Modi. The political import of this cannot be underestimated. The diverse political groups, ideological formations and leaders standing together on the dais had one thing in common: they wanted the BJP government at the centre and in the states to be voted out.
If this coalition picks up momentum, there is no reason why it cannot put up a fight against Modi and the NDA. The Bangalore show by the opposition forces was the biggest after the anointment of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president and the first major public appearance of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in a while. After having hogged the headlines, the hard work will have to begin. The leaders concerned will have to sink their differences, manage contradictions in states and, at the same time, bring in more partners. Among important regional leaders who did not attend Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in at Bangalore were Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal, Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of the National Conference and K Chandrasekhara Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti who has been a big votary of the federal front. None of the half a dozen DMK and AIADMK groups were represented at the gathering either.
What needs to be worked out is national level engagement between parties that are opposed to each other in states. For instance, the Congress may have to join hands with Mamata Banerjee despite their differences in West Bengal. There was overt alliance building too —when Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati and Sonia Gandhi embraced on the dais, for instance. There are, of course, questions already on the longevity of the prospective alliance. For instance, what would be the equation between the BSP, Samajwadi Party, Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh in Uttar Pradesh? Will former NDA ally N Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party not appear at odds with the Congress while fighting the latter in Andhra Pradesh? How would the Left parties and IUML align with the Congress after having been at loggerheads in Kerala? Will Rao of TRS fit into the opposition camp, as Congress is the opposition party in Telangana? Having traded abuses till recently, will Arvind Kejriwal and the Congress leadership coexist in Delhi?
One way to overcome these contractions is to leave the states to the respective regional parties while the Congress evolved as the focal point for all anti-Modi forces at the national level. If the anti-BJP alliance works, the stage will be set for a Lok Sabha election that will essentially be between Modi versus all. This would make the electoral battle fierce. Meanwhile, there is some truth in the argument that the opposition has fallen into Modi’s trap to draw the battle lines much before the elections.