Despite Karnataka, opposition unity is still a far cry on the battleground

There is renewed buzz in opposition circles about unity to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019, following the failure of the BJP to gain power in Karnataka despite being the single largest party after the recently held State election.

The belief that a united front can successfully contain the BJP juggernaut is not new, but it has not been translated on the ground yet on a major scale. This is largely because opposition unity has been prevalent more at talk circuits than on the electoral battlefield. Even in Karnataka, the two parties which came together and thwarted the BJP’s bid to power, joined hands after the election and after having fought bitterly against each other. So, this is the first point: Are we looking at post-poll alliances as a way out to checkmate the BJP in 2019? If so, then we must expect a recipe for political instability and subsequent casualties to effective governance.

The second point is the status of the Congress in any sort of coalition — pre-poll or post-poll. In the Karnataka case, the party had to swallow its pride and offer the Janata Dal (Secular), which finished a distant third in the election, the pole position. HD Kumaraswamy of the JD (S) will be the Chief Minister with fewer than 40 MLAs in a House of 224, backed by the Congress with a little less than 80 Legislators.

How long can an arrangement last, with the Congress having the upper hand and smarting from the fact that despite being the larger party of the two, it would be subservient to the JD (S)? If this is going to be the general narrative as far the national party is concerned in the coming months in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election, it would clearly mean the Congress is prepared to play the subordinate role. In such a situation, it’s difficult to understand how the Congress expects to revive itself nationally, even as it seeks to wrest power from the BJP.

The third point is that regional parties, that have been confabulating for some time, will be more determined to craft an alliance by keeping the Congress out, or at best asking the Congress to be partners but in a less than dominant role. That would mean Congress president Rahul Gandhi accepting the leadership of a regional satrap at the national level. it may be recalled that, when Rahul Gandhi in the course of the Karnataka election campaign, declared himself as the prime ministerial candidate, there had been a flurry of unfavourable reactions from most major regional parties. The final point is the fallout of a failure of the Karnataka experiment. If the Congress-JD (S) coalition were to run into trouble as a result of inherent friction — which most assuredly exists, as it did between the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar — the Congress will be the bigger loser, and the larger game plan of opposition unity will suffer major damages.