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Challenges galore as Opposition seek common ground 

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Challenges galore as Opposition seek common ground 


Drawing up a roadmap for the country that is different from the experiences during the BJP-led government is easier than convincing the electorate about its efficacy. Nonetheless, a majority of the opposition parties appear determined to find a path.

Challenges galore as Opposition seek common ground 
The Opposition parties in the country, to be specific of those who are in disagreement with the policies and programmes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are exploring work on one platform in preparation for the 2024 general elections.
Nineteen of these parties at a virtual meeting organised by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday decided it is time for a collective effort and confront the humongous political challenge before each of these organisations and the country in the form of the BJP.
Governing the country since 2014 at the Centre and in several states, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues have been in the pole position for the past seven years. Barring a periodic flourish in assembly polls, there are no major challenges on the horizon. Yet, the opposition nurtures hope.
Buoyed by the recent ‘’success’’ in retaining ranks during the recent monsoon session of Parliament, the majority of these parties are enthused that common ground could be found to work together in taking on the BJP-led government under PM Modi. Can the parliamentary opposition unity be replicated?
There is a principal difference in the approach of the BJP as against the rest. For the past seven years, the party has been in a constant state of motion through events and programmes crafted to make it visible in various parts of the country.
It is designed to allow its leaders to acquire a profile through policies and interactions with people. The Jan Ashirwad Yatras currently underway is one such instance. During these journeys newly–appointed Ministers in the Modi Council of Ministers are touring states they represent.

One of the common grouses during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) days was governing at the Centre was the near absence of Ministers and leaders in party offices.
At party workers’ meetings, the loudest cheer always went up when central leaders underscored the need for making themselves available to Karyakartas. Back in 2005, Sonia Gandhi suggested Ministers take time off during official travels to states and spend time at party offices. The BJP on the other hand has a roster for Union Ministers to be present at party headquarters regularly.
The Opposition leaders especially the Congress have shown little enthusiasm to pit its leaders to counter the BJP attacks on the ground. Beyond the ritual skirmishes on television debates in studios and joining issues on social media sites, the absence of senior Congress leaders’ presence during a public protest is too conspicuous.
Part of this listlessness can be attributed to the state of drift the party is in since the resignation of Rahul Gandhi as its president two years ago. Uncertainties following the COVID-19 pandemic further accentuated the lack of comprehensive decision making in the party. Sporadic bursts in announcing appointments affecting a change of guard, adds to a public perception of a serious internal struggle.
What are the challenges that the Opposition needs to overcome to make a combined bid against the BJP?
One is to convince workers/cadres to work together; two, willingness to cede ground to another party in the opposition in a state or states according to respective strengths; three, sort out the issue of leadership both in the Congress and the Opposition; and finally, come up with a national alternate vision.
The imperative of staying together and rising above the priorities of different parties would be tested during the plan to organise public protests together all over the country during the last 10 days of next month. The leaders realise that working together would first require a spirit of accommodation and jointness among its workers.

There are some practical problems that do not require any great imagination. For instance, how will the workers of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Left parties work together in West Bengal?
Similarly, is it possible for the cadres of Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM)-led Left Democratic Front to stage a joint demonstration or organise a strike in the state?
The causes articulated in the joint statement are common yet it would require an extremely imaginative approach in demonstrating unity against the BJP government and its policies. The easiest way, for the time being, is to hold such protests separately and hope people hear a rhythm in such an exercise.
Way back in 1996, when the Congress was to take a call on supporting the United Front government at the Centre, most MPs confronted then-president P V Narasimha Rao, how can the party face people after having contested against the parties now in the coalition.
Eventually, the idea of keeping the BJP out of the governance structure on ideological grounds overrode all other compulsions.
Between now and 2024, the parties in opposition would have the opportunity to test their wares and jointness during assembly polls. These elections should enable leadership to fine-tune strategy and come up with a cogent tactical plan. An ideal direct contest taking on the BJP may be elusive.
The suggestion of TMC president and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee to put aside the issue of leadership for a later date may be politically pragmatic but given the increasing tendency of personality-driven politics dominating elections, this approach is not without a serious drawback.
A national alternate vision idea mooted by Rahul Gandhi is one approach to convince people why the combination is best suited in present conditions.
Drawing up a roadmap for the country that is different from the experiences during the BJP-led government is easier than convincing the electorate about its efficacy. Nonetheless, a majority of the opposition parties appear determined to find a path.
—The author is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal. Click to read his other columns
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