Setbacks to BJP notwithstanding, opposition unity remain a mirage

There has been expected glee in the rival camp over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) defeat in the two Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh. Both Phulpur and Gorakhpur were prestige seats previously held by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshava Prasad Maurya, and the defeat thus rankles even more.

Clearly, many things went wrong for the BJP and the party needs to introspect. The results have served to raise hopes among the opposition of a united front to take on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the coming general election, scheduled for April-May next year. This may be the right occasion for such expectations to soar, but the prospect of opposition unity is far from clear. This is more so given that there appear to be two strands — and divergent ones — of unity. The first is an attempt to forge a united opposition to the BJP sans the Congress, and the second is a Congress-led united front.

Most regional satraps are reluctant to be part of a coalition that is led by the Congress with Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial choice. These regional leaders are strong entities and they have tasted success over the years by positioning themselves against the Congress. This would include the likes of Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu, K Chandrashekhar Rao and Mamata Banerjee. Interestingly, even those parties that are seen to be willing to be part of a combine helmed by the Congress are not fully committed to working under Rahul Gandhi. This is one reason why, after a meeting recently convened by Sonia Gandhi of various opposition parties, there was no declaration of a coalition leadership’s name. The Congress, aware that it is a ticklish issue, has said that the leadership matter was secondary for now; the primary aim is the defeat of the Modi-led BJP.

Previous similar formulations based on the distaste of a leader and short on broader developmental agendas and policies had failed to work. Various parties had come together in the shape of the Janata Dal with the sole purpose of defeating Indira Gandhi, but they could not remain together once they came to power. The Jan Morcha-led National Front Government of VP Singh assumed power after running a concerted campaign against Rajiv Gandhi, but could not remain in power for more than a year. The fear of Narendra Modi may get opposition parties together, but that is no sure recipe for success.