On Wednesday, May 23, all eyes were glued to the Karnataka oath-taking ceremony. The opposition displayed an unusual strength and unity in Karnataka. The pictures of opposition parties coming together created ripples in national politics and became the biggest talking point in the national media.
As all the political ‘natak’ (drama) in Karnataka finally settled down and HD Kumaraswamy took oath as the Chief Minister, there was a strong message being sent to Delhi from the assemblage behind him. The oath-taking ceremony was attended by several opposition leaders – a development that could plant seeds for a broad-based anti-BJP platform before the Lok Sabha polls next year.
With the Modi wave continuing even after the thumping 2014 victory and claiming state after state for the BJP, this seems to be the only way for the Congress and the regional parties to stay afloat, or even relevant. The experiment of opposition unity worked recently in Uttar Pradesh, with a BSP-SP alliance defeating the BJP in its bastions of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in the assembly bypolls earlier this year. The bypolls proved to be a turning point in UP politics after the BJP’s victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Assembly polls.
Thanks to their success in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls, the BSP and SP are contesting the upcoming Kairana bypolls together. While the Congress stayed away from the BSP-SP alliance during the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls, it has joined them for the Kairana test. Mayawati and Akhilesh attending Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in together implies that the alliance between the old rivals remains intact for now.
Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee was in a belligerent mood as she landed in Bengaluru. “Jo hamse takrayega, chur chur ho jayega (Whoever dares to fight with us will be decimated),” she said with TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu by her side. The West Bengal CM said that a swearing-in is an important event for democracy and an opportunity to strengthen regional parties.
One of the most striking scenes was the coming together of bitter rivals TMC and CPI(M) at the event. CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury shaking hands with Mamata can’t be good news for the BJP at all. And just like the BSP and the SP, if the TMC and CPI(M) unite or even if they undergo some political understanding in elections, then the BJP’s road to power in Bengal would become a distant dream.
The BJP is already having a hard time with its allies. TDP has parted ways with the BJP and the latter’s tussle with Shiv Sena is also out in open. The Akalis have been out of power in Punjab, and the PDP is always an unstable ally for the BJP in Kashmir. In all possibility, the picture of opposition unity at Karnataka is going to give sleepless nights to BJP in the near futuree. Hence, apart from all the political drama which surrounded the Karnataka election, the biggest takeaway from this election is that it has united the fragmented opposition to come together on a single stage, keeping aside all their old bitter rivalries and differences, to fight against a formidable BJP together.
But, the opposition also needs to focus and work hard on its natural strengths if it wants to give a tough fight in the 2019 elections. The first task would be for each party to ensure its own support base and then to build local state-level coalitions. Strong regional leaders and cadres, loyal caste arithmetic and a strong grip on the roots on their respective state’s culture, language and ethnic identity are crucial for fighting the BJP in the 2019 elections. Otherwise, such show of strength will be reduced to mere photo-ops and PR exercise.