VENKATESH KESARI | 24 MARCH, 2017

Opposition's "Grand Alliance" Awaits Rahul Gandhi's Return, BJP Pulls Out All Stops for 2019


NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah emerged from the recent Assembly elections sounding the bugle for the Lok Sabha polls 2019. A BJP-RSS meeting soon after started giving shape to the strategy for the general elections, with a focus on states where the BJP has very low figures such as Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu as per Shah’s initial statement.

The Opposition, on the other hand, has gone into hibernation with not a single meeting of any consequence being reported from the political parties that had been in the fray, but could not form the governments in Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Goa. As a senior Congress leader, “we have not had a single chintak baithak till date, so all is good!”

That all is not good is evident from the silence in the Opposition camp with political leaders having little to share by way of activity. There are levels of confusion that some hope, might be sorted out after the Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi return from the US where the former is for medical reasons. But while many in the party insist that the vice president cannot be replaced without major chaos, all are agreed that he cannot be the Prime Ministerial candidate for 2019.

Whether any of the leaders, so vocal to reporters, will be able to bell the cat inside the room remains to be seen. But there are strong views that one, the Opposition needs to get together in a grand alliance to defeat the BJP if at all, and that two, this will not be possible if Rahul Gandhi insists on staking claim ---as was hinted and said during the UP campaign---for PM.

Sources said that in 2003 Sonia Gandhi was able to forge the United Progressive Alliance only because she made it fairly clear that she was not eyeing the top post necessarily. She indicated this at a press conference in Mumbai on 29 December 2003 shortly after a public rally at the Shivaji Park. After this she had a series of meetings with key leaders of the DMK, Nationalist Congress party, Telegana Rashtriya Samiti, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Lok Janshakti party. This alliance brought the UPA to power in 2004 with the Left parties extending support from outside. Despite the pressure to which she almost yeilded Sonia Gandhi emerged out of a conclave at her residence late at night to announce Dr Manmohan Singh as the UPA candidate for PM.

Congress leaders now swerving to the ‘retain Rahul Gandhi” view now claim that a similar basic strategy will open the gates for the Congress to play a lead in forging a new alliance for 2019. Currently, all the Opposition parties have gone indoors waiting for developments within the main Opposition party that is steadily losing ground to the BJP. Congress seniors are certain that if Rahul Gandhi makes it clear that he will not be looking at the PM post, most Opposition parties will respond positively to efforts for a grand alliance.

Currently Janata Dal(U) chief and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is currently in alliance with the Congress and the RJD is seeming non-responsive but the “game will change if we make it clear that we want a PM from the regional parties.” The sources are of the view that such a move by Rahul Gandhi will attract other political parties to the alliance including the DMK, Trinamool Congress party, and even Mayawati.

Interestingly, the BJP-RSS has taken note of this possibility in their strategy meeting and are moving towards countering this with a direct appeal to the Dalits and the lower castes, as well as a consolidation of the rest with a 'Ek Mandir, Ek Shamshaan, Ek Talaab' slogan that basically promises the Dalits equality. This comes from the BJPs success in wooing sections of the Dalit voters away from the BSP and Mayawati in the UP elections, despite the incidents of violence such as Una where Dalits were stripped and flogged, and the earlier suicide by Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student in Hyderabad Central University.

The difference is that the BJP-RSS has started work for 2019 while the Opposition continues to be in a state of complete disarray with even rhetoric these days subdued. Despite decrying him both from within and outside the Congress, all now seem to be waiting for Rahul Gandhi to return and pick up the threads that are so knotted together that he might get too entangled to be of much help.

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