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The mirage of opposition unity

The 2023 political season has kicked off with Assembly elections in three north eastern states. The BJP, with its allies, has retained power in all three states - Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. It has a majority on its own in Tripura while it is in alliance with bigger regional parties in Nagaland and Meghalaya. 
Top BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others are touting the election results as a big victory for the party, but the claim is only partially true. In Tripura. the party’s strength has come down by about ten seats to 33 out of the total 60. Another feature of the Tripura results is the rise of a tribal people’s party, the Tipra Motha Party, the TMP, which won 13 seats. The Left and the Congress fought together winning 14 seats.
In Nagaland, the BJP won as a junior partner in the coalition led by the NDPP. In Meghalaya, fighting alone, the BJP could win two seats of the total 60.  Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s party, the NPP won 26 seats. The Congress could win only five seats, down 16, compared to the 2018 elections. About a dozen of the Congress legislators defected to the Trinamul Congress a few months back. But despite trying its best, the Mamata Banerjee led party could win only five seats in the state.The TMC drew a blank in Tripura and Nagaland.
The north east elections have again focused attention on the possibility and need for opposition unity to check mate the BJP and allied forces in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The ruling dispensation and many of its supporters in the media are saying that there is no real challenge to the BJP in the foreseeable future. The opposition is disunited and is hardly in a position to put up a credible fight.
Then there are voices in the opposition who think that the time is ripe for putting up a united fight against the BJP. Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal United leader Nitish Kumar has been in the limelight, claiming that the BJP could be reduced to less than a hundred seats in the Lok Sabha if the opposition parties unite effectively for next year’s general elections.
The Congress, its spirits uplifted after the massive response to the Bharat Jodo Yatra, has been putting forth the view that it alone can lead the opposition forces.
But there are many claimants among the non Congress parties for leading the opposition camp. They are not coming out right now with their claims and perhaps are waiting for the right time to put forward what they believe should be their due.
The Trinamul Congress failure to make a mark in Tripura and to come one up on the Congress-Left combine has already resulted in the party declaring that it will fight the Lok Sabha elections on its own. This is so despite its becoming clear that the division of opposition votes partly helped the BJP squeeze out a narrow victory in the Assembly election in the state.
Apart from the Trinamul Congress, there are parties like the Aam Aadmi Party and the BRS(formerly TRS), which are unlikely to become part of any opposition alliance in which the Congress plays a leading role. The Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party may also not be part of an alliance anchored by the Congress, though they have been in partnership with it in the past.
The Congress is treading cautiously on making moves for a united opposition perhaps because it is aware of the complications involved.
Ultimately, it appears that a broad based coalition approach may not work. It will be difficult for both the Congress and the AAP to have an alliance in states where they are in direct opposition like Delhi and Punjab. Being part of a national coalition may not be acceptable to the Aam Aadmi Party, which wants to expand its footprints in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka primarily at the cost of the Congress.
The same is the problem for the K Chandershekhar Rao’s BRS, which is in direct conflict with the Congress in Telangana. There are other parties like the BJD in Odisha, which think they can protect their interests without being part of any alliance.
As things are, it may be too much to expect a broad based national coalition to take on the BJP in next year’s general elections. But if the Congress works to enter into an alliance with like minded national and regional parties, a working arrangement can perhaps be achieved. A limited Congress led opposition alliance is within the realms of possibility. It may be better than aiming for the moon.

(Writer is a political analyst)


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