Opposition in India remains warring factions with daggers out

The leadership of Congress is not the divine right of any individual: Prashant Kishore

By Hector Kenneth Kumar

From C Rajgopalachari’s Swatantra Party to Lohia inspired Smayukta Vidhayak Dal in the late 1960s, opposition parties in India have remained incessantly factions warring among them, till they united against all odds in 1977 under the leadership of Jaiprakash Narayan and manage to jumble up a non-congress government which lasted around two years.

The ambition of Charan Singh got better of veteran Morarji as Indira Gandhi went on to win the next general election with the slogan of, “Garibi Hatao”. Jan Sangh was part of the coalition as Jaiprakash Narayan decided to do away with more than 25 years of political “untouchability” of the right-wing factions after the murder of Mahatma Gandhi.

The disunity of opposition benches remains the same today. The difference is that right-wing BJP is today at the helm while congress and others – some of whom claim to carry the flag of the legacy of Lohia, are the warring factions trying to dislodge it.

Today, the situation is far removed from the days when Mamata came knocking on Sonia Gandhi’s door after the Pegasus scandal in July. Now, Mamata does not even get an invite to an opposition strategy meeting called by Sonia Gandhi.

Moreover, Mamata Banerjee has thrown her hat in the ring firmly to cobble up a coalition that could challenge the might of the Modi-Shah duo at the national level. Moreover, she is projecting herself as an option for disgruntled in Congress and for the other regional players beyond the Hindi heartland, particularly in North-East.

“The Congress leadership is not the divine right of any individual,” quipped Prashant Kishore, who is now chief strategist for Mamata Banerjee and TMC. He has already shown his skills in TMC’s strategy in poll-bound states like Meghalaya and Goa.

Despite these moves, Mamata is yet to get an endorsement as the fulcrum of opposition unity. The Shiv Sena, which is part of an alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra, would rather prefer the GOP while the wily octogenarian Sharad Pawar is keeping both sides guessing.

The reason for the distrust is ambition and not ideology.

Though reluctant to take the reign of Congress for the second time, Rahul Gandhi has never denied his ambition for the top job while “street warrior” Mamata Banerjee is fancying 2024 as her chance to make a comeback at the national level.

The vote share of Congress continues to ebb away but it still remains the only opposition party with a pan-India presence and the ability to check the BJP. In the 2019 election, Congress got 19.7 percent of the pan India votes. It was around ten percent lesser than 2009 when it returned to power with a vote share of 29 percent.

The grand alliance with “UP Ke Ladke” Akhilesh Yadav was short-lived and today they are fighting among each other more than they are preparing to take on “Upyogi” saffron monk Yogi Adityanath.

A recent C Voter survey shows BJP ahead with a projected 40 percent vote share with the SP close behind with 34 percent while the Congress is estimated to manage just 7 percent of the chunk.

On one hand, the opposition parties in UP are vying for the pie of Dalit-Muslim-OBC votes against the BJP’s aggressive majoritarianism while on the other hand, Rahul Gandhi has suddenly decided to preach, “Who is real Hindu?”. In a marked departure from his father, who was dubbed “Maulana” Mulayam, Akhilesh Yadav chose to start off his campaign with a visit to Ayodhya. The “soft Hindutva” of Congress and others clearly concede the space for Asaddudin Owaisi whom they accuse of being a “B-team” of BJP.

Clearly, BJP has changed the contours of politics in contemporary India and opposition parties are not been able to find a concrete strategy against the BJP let alone countering its propaganda machine. Shockingly, they are not been able to stand firm on the ideology they have been standing for since independence.

From Arvind Kejriwal to Mamta Banerjee has shown that BJP is not unassailable in states. But at the national level, Congress has failed to lead from the front while Modi continues to play to win.

(Hector Kenneth Kumar, a Chevening Scholar – 2001, is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. Twitter: @hk_365)


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