HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony at Bengaluru was expected to be a watershed moment in the millennial politics of India for two reasons. One, for the first time, constituents of the much-discussed “United Opposition” showed up on the political stage. Two, despite being the major alliance partner, by acquiescing to JD(S) and settling for a Deputy Chief Minister, the Indian National Congress (Congress) has politically ceded to regional forces across the length and breadth of India.
Admittedly, the objective of this union at Bengaluru, less than twelve months before the General Elections 2019 is two-fold. One, to communicate to the BJP that its spectacular electoral performances have not been able to faze out the energy of opposition parties. Two, to reach out to their traditional vote-banks and cadres, whose motivation and conviction have repeatedly been challenged by the Modi-Shah juggernaut. As India heads into a vivacious political year, it is only becoming to assess the impact of the rainbow coalition on the BJP, on the members of the coalition themselves and on the electorate.
The United Opposition is a bitter-sweet reminder of the Grand Alliance that was stitched up in 1971, to halt Indira Gandhi’s victory lap. On the one hand, her motley of opponents including old Congress, the Jana Sangh, the Swatantra Party, the Samayukta Socialist Party, Jana Sangh, and Bhartiya Kranti Dal cried “Indira must go”. On the other hand, she cried “poverty must go, disparity must diminish, injustice must end”. Like the Grand Alliance which could only boast of having a common hatred for Indira Gandhi, the only commonality within the United Opposition is its common dislike for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
I am afraid, just like the Grand Alliance, the United Opposition is also destined to meet the same fate, primarily on account of lack of alternative story to offer to the electorate. While the opposition will talk about how mercilessly Modi has murdered democracy and thus attempt to create an atmosphere of dread and dismay within the minority communities, the astute cadre of BJP will invest time in reaching out to voters and build an on-ground consensus. Imagine the euphoria on roads when the Prime Minister will fold hands, and appeal for votes – “Main kehta hoon garibi hatao, who kehte hain Modi hatao”. It is rather regrettable that BJP mastered Indira’s politics far better than her own party.
It is only naïve and unjaded politicians who will believe that the United Opposition, by sheer virtue of common resistance to Modi, will be able to bruise BJP, let alone make a dent in 2019. If it takes everyone in the business to beat a single competitor, clearly the latter has a lot going for him.
As mentioned above, multiple members of the United Opposition have nothing in common, save their agenda to put a brake on BJP in 2019. All leaders are fiercely competitive, and it is wishful thinking that any of them would agree to follow the other. This is essentially a coalition of equals who will not cede power or position for the team. While Akhilesh Yadav refused to comment on Rahul Gandhi’s PM candidature, Mamata Banerjee categorically said that she was present to support HD Kumaraswamy and not Congress. Before even estimating the modalities of the United Opposition, one is forced to question its very viability. With regional leaders brimming with national aspirations and a grand old party struggling to be the “sutradhaar”, my immediate apprehension is whether this team can sustain under the same roof till 2019 General elections. I suspect, the rainbow coalition will be plagued by a spectrum of individual goals, and crumble under its own weight.
It is undeniable that perception and messaging dominate political outcomes. It is immoral optics when the Congress or Samajwadi Party in their bid to defeat Modi and not necessarily govern the nation, appropriate brazen mis-governance by signing up with Mamata or share the stage with outdated left ideologues like Sitaram Yechury. The coalition, blinded by its prejudice has seemingly compromised its ethics and ideology – all for an individual. The underlying current of this coalition itself is resistive, not conducive. Even the coalition is called United “Opposition” and not a “Coalition”. Unless this team moves on from the negative end of communication, laced with caustic criticism of an individual to a healthy approach of highlighting governance lapses and provide solutions, it is unlikely that this rainbow of leaders will cut any ice with the voter. In fact, by aligning with certain forces, parties stand to lose some of their otherwise loyal supporters.
One of the high points of the 84th Plenary Session of Congress was, where Rahul Gandhi drew the Mahabharata analogy. He compared Congress with Pandavas and the BJP with Kauravas. Less than two months ahead, this analogy stands on its head. Let us not forget that Pandavas were guided by Krishna alone, while Kauravas lost despite the assorted brain-pool comprising of Drona, Ashwatthama, Jayadratha, Kritavarma, Shalya, Sudakshina, Bhurishravas, Bahlika, Shakuni, Bhagadatta and so on.