Back-to-back victories in K'taka and Himachal have proved that the Cong still has the strike power to defeat the BJP
One of the first meetings of the Opposition parties with the widest participation is being called in Patna by Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar on Friday with a view to creating a common platform and setting a common agenda for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. While there are one too many models for the Opposition to adopt, the pattern that emerges is that it is for the Congress to take the lead and accommodate the regional forces if it is seriously planning to give the National Democratic Front led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi a serious chase.
The primacy of the grand old party in the Opposition platform is unquestionable today because of two reasons. Back-to-back victories in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh have proved that the Congress still has the strike power to defeat the BJP and dismantle its double-engine theory. Moreover, the party has got trustworthy allies committed to it in major states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bihar and Jharkhand. The Bharat Rashtra Samithi, led by Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who had earlier proposed a front without the Congress, has started showing signs of exhaustion; sceptics suggest that the party, which has to fight the Congress in the Assembly elections later this year, could even have a broad understanding with the NDA. The two eastern satraps, Naveen Patnaik of Odisha and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh, are anyway unlikely to join the Opposition bandwagon.
The Congress, on its own or with long-term committed allies, has a formidable presence in states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. The party has very little electoral presence in states such as Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal where it has a love-hate relationship with the Samajwadi Party and the Trinamul Congress, respectively, while it will engage the AAP in Delhi and Punjab in a direct fight.
The Opposition parties have several compelling reasons to come together and various leaders have already spelt them out. Some of them are common while some are state-specific. The BJP’s use of Central investigative agencies against Opposition leaders has most of them petrified. The incessant assault on Opposition governments in the guise of “Operation Lotus”, in itself an affront to the very idea of democracy, offers a major reason for a joint fight. The undermining of federal principles of governance — the latest being the ordinance brought to deny the Delhi government its constitutional powers — is also a concern.
It is up to the Congress to address these issues jointly and severally. The AAP has already threatened to walk out if the Congress does not address its concerns on the Central ordinance seeking to control the administration of services in Delhi. The Trinamul Congress and the Samajwadi Party could be a part of the Opposition platform depending on the ability of the Congress to make an offer which they cannot refuse.
A common strategy and platform which ensure that a single candidate is fielded against the NDA in all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies is imperative if the Opposition were to enter the field with some confidence. The Patna conclave could very well clear the grounds for it.