Regional parties versus BJP: message from Kolkata rally

Analysis

The gathering at the Kolkata rally both in terms of the number of people present to hear and leaders addressing it is impressive given the reality — the ambition clashes — of regional satraps.

That 2019 is a fight more between regional parties and Narendra Modi-led BJP, with the Congress getting into backseat driving, is the loud and clear message from the United India Rally hosted by Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.

The Congress, which sent its lawyer-spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi and its Leader of Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, tried to fit in somewhere in the Modi versus all discourse as Opposition leaders repeatedly dismissed the BJP’s questions on leadership saying it will not focus on who would be the leader now — a call that can be taken later.

The gathering at the Kolkata rally both in terms of the number of people present to hear and leaders addressing it is impressive given the reality — the ambition clashes — of regional satraps.

When Rahul Gandhi addresses the Congress’ 'Jan Aakansha' rally at Gandhi Maidan in Patna on February 3, comparisons are bound to be drawn as his party has also invited Opposition leaders across the spectrum.

The selection of Patna as venue is symbolic as the Congress is veering round to the view that in 2019, there will be two Opposition alliances fighting against the NDA — the one Federal Front of non-Congress regional parties and the other led by the Congress. Bihar is a classic case, where the Congress is in alliance with dominant partner RJD and Hindustan Awam Morcha to take on the NDA with Nitish Kumar’s face in the state.

In Uttar Pradesh, which sends the maximum number of MPs to Lok Sabha (80), the SP, the BSP and the RLD forged an alliance against the BJP keeping the Congress out of it. Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats and is the fourth on this count after Maharastha, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats and West Bengal, which has 42.

The Congress has already sewn up an alliance with the NCP in Maharashtra while in West Bengal, it is still contemplating choosing between TMC and the Left as the latter can accommodate it in much more number of seats than Mamata's TMC.

The Kolkata rally was not attended by Sonia Gandhi or Rahul. Instead, Sonia chose to send a message saying the rally marked an important attempt to galvanise leaders across the political spectrum and wished it success even as she trained her guns on the Modi dispensation.

The event, which gave an opportunity to the BJP to paint the Opposition as a faceless grouping of parties with conflicting ideas and identities, in a way also takes away the Modi versus Rahul discourse for the next Lok Sabha polls, which is again a double-edged sword for the Congress.

There is a view in Congress that 2019 is not so much about pre-poll alliances than post poll and if the BJP can somehow be restricted to 150 and Congress could reach near to it, the latter will find it easier to get allies.

Sensing that 2019 is not 2014 and Modi wave alone is not going to help the BJP contain the impact of alliances, the BJP has off late started citing how its first prime minister successfully led alliance governments in the past.

A number of the regional parties, which vowed to uproot the Modi regime in the Kolkata rally, had allied with the BJP in the past — be it the host of the rally TMC or National Conference from Jammu and Kashmir or both Samajwadi Party and BSP from Uttar Pradesh. N Chandrababu Naidu was an ally in the Modi government till March this year.

The good thing for the Congress is that JDS Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, whom it propped to form the government in Karnataka after failing to get numbers, has taken a categorical stand against the BJP at the rally. Kumaraswamy had in the past tied up with the BJP as well.

But politics is not always a repeat of possibilities. One thing is clear, 2019 is wide open and both Congress and BJP will have to aggressively woo the regional parties to come to power.

In remarks that could be interpreted as pitching for a prime minister from among regional parties, Mamata while hailing former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, underlined that he was “not an accidental prime minister”.

The Accidental Prime Minister is a political biopic on the tenure of former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who headed the UPA-I and UPA-II governments, and was replaced in 2014 by Narendra Modi when the BJP decimated the Congress, reducing it to a mere 44 seats in the Lok Sabha.

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Regional parties versus BJP: message from Kolkata rally

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