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    View: No united front for Congress-led Opposition as BJP rolls out plans ahead of 2024 general elections

    View: No united front for Congress-led Opposition as BJP rolls out plans ahead of 2024 general elections

    View: No united front for Congress-led Opposition as BJP rolls out plans ahead of 2024 general elections
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    By KV Prasad   IST (Published)


    The elections to the office of the President and the Vice President demonstrated the uncanny ability of the BJP leadership to get the equation right. Presidential polls and with the NDA set on a course to elect its choice as the Vice President, also showed the deep differences within the Opposition as it tottered to put up a collective face. For the present, the fractious nature of the Opposition is evident and parties opposed to the BJP need to undertake serious course correction to alter perceptions as a credible force to challenge the governing coalition.

    Opposition at the national level as a collective is truly broken. In taking on the principal opponent in Bharatiya Janata Party, combined Opposition displays a lack of imagination, and its fractious ways exacerbate inherent contradictions. An instance of these factors manifested in the recent election to the office of the President of India and another one is in the works when Members of Parliament vote for the Vice President.
    The outcome of the vice presidential poll is not in doubt. The governing National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the BJP enjoys great comfort of numbers in the electoral college consisting of 780 MPs voting to elect the next Vice President. The BJP and its allies have 462 members and the number is set to go up with support from others for the NDA candidate Jagdeep Dhankar. In comparison, parties in the Opposition could count 141 MPs and that too suffered a setback as the Trinamool Congress announced its 32 MPs will abstain.
    Abstention by itself is a legitimate political tool available to party (ies) that prefer not to take a stand either way. Yet, by deciding not to vote in this election it indirectly assists the NDA since the strength of the Electoral College comes down which in turn lowers the simple majority mark.
    The TMC claimed that opposition leaders did not consult party president and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banjeree before declaring Margaret Alva as the combined candidate. The charge was countered by others even as Margaret Alva, a former Union Minister and once a colleague of Mamata Banerjee in the Congress, played down the division.
    That the development occurred after the TMC chief took the lead in finalising Yashwant Sinha as the joint Opposition candidate in the presidential poll is intriguing. In a matter of few days from attempting to bring around unity among the Opposition and testing political waters ahead of the 2024 general elections, the TMC took an about turn. Reports indicated that since the CPI (M) played the Sherpa in navigating the candidature towards Alva, the TMC could not have endorsed it.
    What prompted TMC to wreck the fragile Opposition especially as the party relations with Jagdeep Dhankar during his tenure as the West Bengal Governor encountered turbulence. Reports emanating from the state hinted at a possible rapprochement between the TMC and Dhankar. A picture in circulation on social media this month showing Mamata Banerjee and Jagdeep Dhankar in a meeting added to the political grapevine of a tacit understanding.
    These back-to-back elections to the top two constitutional posts of the country brought to the fore challenges before the political leadership of parties opposed to the BJP in rallying around and exhibiting solidarity. With Congress in a state of retreat, there are several regional parties vying to occupy the vacuum, and TMC effort during the presidential poll was seen in this backdrop.
    Ironically, two decades ago Banerjee who was once part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government quit the alliance when the going was good. It led to one founding member lamenting at the move by the TMC Chief as casting away a well-set relationship. To use a cricket analogy, it is like a well-settled batter throwing the wicket away.
    For the past few years, she worked with regional leaders to build a coalition that can take on the BJP in respective states of strength and then pool resources at the national level. Such a classic theoretical scenario last presented itself in 1996 when the United Front government worked up a majority. Since then coalitions have been driven by the two large national parties, the Indian National Congress and the BJP.
    The BJP is expanding its political base and working steadily to become a catch-all party with a robust pan-India presence. The party under PM Narendra Modi and its presidents are in firm control of the political direction and keep resetting the course with training sights on returning to office at the Centre in 2024 general elections.
    In order to force the pace, the BJP identified several seats where the party lost, earmarked constituencies, and began preliminary work. The aim is to better the 1984 record of the Rajiv Gandhi Congress which won 404 of the 542 Lok Sabha seats. Add to this groundwork are the subtle moves to expand its social base. Besides bringing forward communities, the selection of a tribal woman for President and a Jat for Vice President should be seen in the context of altering the social dynamics in the party’s favour.
    This is a major challenge for any regional party which is constrained by the geographical boundary of the state while attempting to expand its reach and sphere of influence. For instance, Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K Chandrasekhara Rao appears keen to till the ground by offering a national alternative to the BJP. By all accounts, the move is a solo effort and KCR abandoned his earlier plan to assemble a Third Front. The Aam Aadmi Party's stupendous success in Punjab rekindled the ambition of the party and its convener Arvind Kejriwal. The party is working on a plan to upset calculations in the next round of assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
    Disparate Opposition moves have not succeeded in even arriving at any common meeting ground. It stops at the gates amid the interpretation that these are nothing more than 'anti-Modi and anti-BJP'. The Opposition has not been able to galvanise support on issues that are of concern and cut across considerations of caste and community. Attempts to hold the government accountable in Parliament or force its hand on say an issue like price rise, have been feeble.
    The Opposition is yet to kindle trust among people and battle the perception of practicing nepotism, promoting dynasty and tapping the voter offering a grander vision to deliver something refreshingly different and not more of the same thing.
    — KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. Views expressed are personal.
    Read his other columns here
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