New Delhi: Opposition leaders (R-L) Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and TMC MP Derek O'Brien at a press conference, in New Delhi, Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. (PTI Photo/Kamal Singh) (PTI2_4_2019_000243B)
On Wednesday, February 13, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will hold a protest rally against the Narandra Modi government at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. An array of anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders are expected to attend the rally. This will be the latest in a series of protests held by opposition parties against the BJP government at the Centre.
Opposition unity has strengthened over the past few weeks and is likely to further solidify. However, its electoral benefits might be limited — particularly if the Congress is kept out of the equation.
On January 19, the unity of anti-BJP parties was tested when Trinamool Congress (TMC) hosted what it called a mega rally in Kolkata. With 20 opposition parties, including the Congress, attending the rally the anti-BJP grand alliance proved a point to many of its detractors that a Mahagathbandhan should not be taken lightly.
On February 11, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) held a protest in Delhi against the central government for not fulfilling its promise to grant the special category status to Andhra Pradesh. Here also opposition parties turned the protest into a show of strength.
These protests and many more to come prove one point — no longer can the grand alliance be laughed off as a self-contradicting political theorem. If initially, about a year ago when the idea was being floated, it appeared vacuous, in the last few months opposition unity has gathered momentum. This has mainly happened after the assembly polls to five states in December, where the Congress formed governments in three Hindi-heartland states. The BJP won none of the five.
Regional parties in the opposition space agree on two aspects: One, the BJP must be defeated and, two, they must stand together to achieve the first objective. The disagreement is in including the Congress in this space and this is a major weak point.
Most parties are ready to join hands with the Congress, but the TMC, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the Biju Janata Dal and AAP do not want to have truck with the grand old party.
Shows of strength help in developing a better understanding between opposition parties which would help in a post-poll scenario. However, such support has little electoral benefits for most of the regional parties. For example, AAP support would not mean much for the TMC in West Bengal as would TMC support for the TDP in Andhra Pradesh or for the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.
From a national perspective and when purely looked at arithmetically, the maximum number of seats a non-BJP, non-Congress party can win is 42 — provided Mamata Banerjee’s TMC wins all the seats in West Bengal. In UP, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, both the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are contesting 38 each.
So, while a federal front (of anti-BJP, anti-Congress parties) might appear formidable, to look at it as an electoral behemoth would be an overestimation.
It is here that the importance of Congress as a national party must be recognised. With a pan India party network and a good chance in many states, the grand old party cannot be side-lined. Even if the party was to marginally improve from its present 45 seats, it would be the largest non-BJP party. Many surveys show that the Congress will do way better than 2014, and further buttresses its place in the grand alliance.
Thus, for a non-BJP government to come to power in May, it is essential that the Congress is a part of it. A year ago such a statement would have been considered wishful thinking or even outlandish. If today it is in the realm of possibility, credit must go to Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
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