Can a Grand Alliance stop Modi-Shah juggernaut?
Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
The extent of the BJP’s fresh victory in Uttar Pradesh has unnerved the Opposition. Their hopes that the BJP’s impressive win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections (winning 71 of the 80 seats in the state) was not a one-off show.
After the 2017 Assembly results, some political leaders have started realising that sewing up pre-poll alliances is the only way to challenge Narendra Modi in the next elections. A section of Congress leaders have acknowledged publicly that coalition is the need of the hour as the party alone cannot take on Modi. For regional outfits such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) or even BJP ally the Shiv Sena, the emergence of a stronger Modi is seen as a threat to their very existence.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi perhaps had a premonition of the outcome, and drove down to meet Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on the eve of the election results – a clear signal that he was ready to work with the leader he once found uncomfortable to deal with.
Inaugurating the NCP office in Ahmedabad last week, Pawar gave an unequivocal call for a grand alliance of all secular forces against the BJP. However, the Opposition faces a peculiar issue – the problem of plenty. And naturally, the question as to who will lead the coalition will come up. Several regional satraps – Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee – also fancy their chances for a shot at the top post and may be unwilling to accept any other leader. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, too, has never hidden his ambition.
The Congress believes that Rahul Gandhi has the “legitimate central space” to be the challenger to Modi in 2019, a clear indication that it was unwilling to cede the leadership role to regional leaders. A prominent Opposition leader said the need of the hour was a grand coalition as was witnessed in Bihar in 2015 when arch-rivals Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad came together along with the Congress to stop Modi.
In Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appeared to be pitching herself as a challenger to Modi. In an interview to a Bengali news channel, Mamata said she was being targeted by the RSS and the BJP because they wanted to confine her to West Bengal.
What is quite clear is that the regional leaders have to keep aside their egos and agree on a credible face to take on Modi in the next Lok Sabha elections. There appears to be a broad understanding that coalition is surely the way forward for survival of the collective Opposition.
No doubt, Banerjee flagged the lost opportunity in Uttar Pradesh where the SP and the BSP fought separately leading to division of votes. An analysis of the UP election results showed that on 198 of the 325 seats won by the BJP and its allies, the winning margin was less than the sum total of the votes polled by the SP and the BSP. In other words, UP could have seen a Congress-SP-BSP government had the pre-poll alliance materialised. “We need to have a direct fight between the BJP and a united Opposition in at least 300 Lok Sabha seats. Only then Modi can be kept below the 200 mark. As of now, he appears set for a second term in office in 2019,” a senior Opposition leader said.
A section of BJP allies, who feel threatened by Modi’s aggression, too are ready to go with the Opposition, sources in the Opposition say. Their predicament was aptly summed up by a regional leader. “We are ready to turn our back to the BJP, but whom do we look up to.”