The mega rally of 23 opposition parties from across the country in Kolkata on Saturday may have conveyed the message of the willingness of the parties to take on the BJP as a united force in the coming Lok Sabha elections. In the past few months, several political leaders have tried to form an alliance and some symbolic stands have been made, as at the swearing-in of the Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka in May. But it was for the first time that 25 leaders from 23 parties made a public resolve to join together to oust the BJP from power at the Centre. They also decided to make it a one-on-one fight against the BJP in all the constituencies. It was Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee who was the driving force behind the show and the rally. The parties have made a point, but this does not go beyond making a statement of intent.
Many of these parties are unlikely allies, and some of them have been adversaries. Yet others have common or complementary support bases. Some are so distant and separate that they cannot help each other. Many have very different socio-economic bases and ideological persuasions. Many of them have in the past allied with the BJP. What brings all of them together is a common desire to defeat the BJP. They have many compelling issues to raise in a campaign against the Modi government, like the farmers’ distress, lack of jobs, oppression of weaker sections like Dalits and minorities, the weakening of institutions, the undermining of the rule of law and the spread of hatred and social divisiveness. But while telling the people of the defects and dangers of the Modi government, they also have a responsibility to tell them what they represent and assure the nation that they can provide a viable and dependable alternative.
There are leadership issues. There will be problems about seat sharing. Local issues may make working together at the state level difficult for some parties. Joining hands just on the basis of a negative platform and caste arithmetic and other narrow calculations in order to only win elections is not good for the country and democracy. The opposition parties and their alliance must come up with a vision and a positive agenda for the country. Coalition politics demands a common programme for all parties of the alliance. They have accused Prime Minister Modi of destroying institutions and the economy and fomenting communalism. What will they do to restore institutions, improve the economy and to strengthen secularism? The alliance should spell out the answers when they go to the people.