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United Opposition front? Why it is important to fix the cracks first

Though calls for a united opposition against the BJP in 2024 polls are getting louder, there are several ifs and buts around the Congress' role

Opposition protest, Parliament

Ashish Tiwari

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Over the past week, the fractious opposition has been seen banding together over various issues -- from opposition MPs wearing black to protest the Centre over the Adani group issue to resoundingly criticising Rahul Gandhi's disqualification from the Lok Sabha and 14 non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parties petitioning the Supreme Court alleging the arbitrary use of law enforcement departments.
 
Though the parties stress the ever-present unity in the opposition camp, political observers maintain the latest show of solidarity is among rare instances, and don't see this evolving into a united front against the BJP by the Lok Sabha election next year.
 
According to political scientist Suhas Palshikar: “Right now, there is no possibility of non-BJP parties coming under ‘one umbrella’ because they do not agree on who will hold that umbrella. At the state level, many parties find Congress as their rival, so, naturally, they will have reservations about joining hands with it.”
 
As political parties close ranks around the grand old party, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav said that the Congress should take a back seat where regional parties are strong. “One thing is clear, we have said it earlier also, wherever regional parties are strong they have to be in the driver's seat, the Congress people should understand this," he recently said. This follows a similar comment by the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav, who said that the Congress should keep the regional party forward and then fight the elections, and "only then can we win against the BJP".
 
But political analyst Sumanth C Raman doesn't see much depth in such talks. He said "the myth of a divided or united opposition does not matter", as is the case in the upcoming state elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, where regional parties do not have a strong presence. “And in some states where regional parties are the dominant force, this idea of them joining hands with Congress does not hold water,” he said.
 
Still, Palshikar said that if the Congress has a good showing in the upcoming Assembly elections, the chances of it anchoring an opposition front, however loose it may be, becomes realistic.
 
Congress National Spokesperson Supriya Shrinate told Business Standard: "The fact that opposition parties came in support of Rahul Gandhi shows that non-BJP parties are very well together... There will be instances when we’ll (Congress) step back a little, and instances where we will want a larger share, but the reality is we’ll fight the elections together.”
 
Echoing Shrinate’s comment on the opposition unity, Rajiv Ranjan Prasad, Janata Dal (United) spokesperson, said: “I’m sure some parties will be a major irritant in the formation of a united front, but coming together to fight the BJP is inevitable.”
 
Praveen Rai, a political analyst with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, thinks otherwise. "Talks of a Congress resurgence after the Bharat Jodo Yatra turned out to be nonsensical after the party lost badly in Tripura, even after aligning with the CPI(M)," Rai said. “At the state level, regional parties have their turf to protect, so the Congress may have to keep its ambitions of being the bigger brother aside,” he added.
 
Key regional parties, such as the SP, Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Aam Aadmi Party, have stressed maintaining a distance from both national parties and have extensively spoken about a non-BJP, non-Congress opposition front. Earlier this month, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that the TMC would go it alone in the 2024 general elections.
 
Labelling such attempts as non-starters, Raman said any non-Congress front has no chance of success "simply because they do not have the muscle to win the elections on their own."

While the Congress is yet to pitch itself as the leader of any opposition front, Jairam Ramesh, party general secretary, said no opposition is possible without the Congress. "The Congress will have to play a central role in it," Ramesh told PTI.
 
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin also rejected the idea of an alliance without the Congress. “An alliance without the Congress should be rejected, as it would not succeed. I humbly request all the political parties opposed to the BJP to understand this simple electoral arithmetic and stand united,” he said, addressing a public meeting organised to mark his 70th birthday celebration.
 
Such calls before the election are just meetings of minds and nothing more, and this does not mean there is a division in India’s opposition. "It is just that the opportunity hasn’t presented itself," said Manuraj Sundaram, DMK spokesperson.

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First Published: Mar 28 2023 | 2:51 PM IST

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