By: Nitya Chakraborty
NDA candidate Droupadi Murmu has taken over as the first tribal-origin President of India after causing big cracks in the opposition. The election of the Vice-President is due on August 6. BJP candidate Jagdeep Dhankar is set to win comfortably as the NDA supporters have majority in the Electoral College. Moreover, the Trinamool Congress, despite having a total of 35 MPs in both houses of Parliament, has announced its decision to abstain from voting for the opposition V-P candidate Margaret Alva, saying that the party was not properly consulted before selection.
Where does the opposition stand now vis-a-vis the BJP juggernaut? Many commentators are already talking of opposition irrelevance in the context of fighting BJP, and especially, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will once again be the mascot of the party and the Sangh Parivar in the coming state assembly elections, as also in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Though that seems probable, but the history of Indian elections has not been a straitjacket and ground situation changed fast in the last year before the Lok Sabha poll a number of times.
Let us look at the strengths and weaknesses of both the opposition and the BJP at the moment. Let us start with the opposition first, focusing on the Congress party. The grand old party is under siege by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has been interrogated twice for long hours by the Enforcement Directorate(ED) in the National Herald case, related to alleged money laundering. Further interrogations will continue. A chargesheet will be made ready once the interrogation is over. ED has the right to arrest Sonia Gandhi if the consideration turns extreme. This is going to have its impact, exacting both physical and psychological toll, on the ailing Congress president who is now 75, and suffering from post-Covid complications. Her son, Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi has been interrogated by ED a number of times and further questioning might take place again.
What is the timing? The Congress has heavily lost in the last round of state assemblies elections earlier this year, including losing power in Punjab to the Aam Aadmi Party. Now, the next round of state assembly elections in 2022 are due in Himachal and Gujarat in November-December. The Election Commission may prepone it to October this year even to suit the interests of BJP. Only three months are left. Where is the preparation of the Congress? Yes, Congress has selected poll in-charges for both the states, but the campaign is yet to be launched, big meetings yet to be held. Now, Congress has no central leader excepting Rahul Gandhi. But he is bogged down in the ED case, and the harassment will continue as part of deliberate strategy of the Modi government.
What about the other parties? In Maharashtra, with the Eknath Shinde-BJP ministry taking over, the NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s primary focus now is to save NCP in his state. The Mumbai Corporations elections are due in September this year. This will be followed by local bodies elections. Pawar will have no time to operate nationally for forging opposition unity. His political survival depends on NCP’s strength in Maharashtra. With Uddhav Thackeray engaged in a battle to retain his base in Shiv Sena, the future of the alliance in Maharashtra remains uncertain. Even if the MVA exists in the state, the seat sharing will be a problem, as NCP and the Congress may not agree to the demands of Uddhav on the basis of his earlier strength. For Pawar, it is important to give full-time attention in the state taking into account the coming elections, including the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.ED has already confiscated properties of his deputy Praful Patel and his nephew Ajit Pawar is under ED scanner. Pawar’s cup of woes is full. His battle now is solely focused on retaining NCP strength and protecting his protégés from forthcoming ED attacks.
In Jharkhand, the Modi government is using the same weapon to ensure the break-up of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-Congress coalition. While JMM voted for the tribal-origin presidential candidate, now the 15th President of India, Droupadi Murmu, but in VP election, the JMM is committed to vote in favour of the opposition candidate, Margaret Alva. JMM is under tremendous pressure by ED. Chief Minister’s aide has been raided, and Damocles’ sword is hanging over the JMM supremo Shibu Soren. Jharkhand is the only state now in the country where the Congress is in coalition with a regional party. Indications suggest that Modi-Shah will like the JMM to dump the Congress and align with the BJP by the year end, if not before.
Now, about Trinamool Congress and its Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. TMC’s decision has nothing to do with any signal to the BJP, as some commentators mention. This is a pure ego problem. Still ten days are left for the VP election on August 6. A cordial phone call by Sonia Gandhi to Mamata to assuage her feelings will clinch the issue. Mamata wants recognition as the leading figure of opposition. She deserves it. Pawar and Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin should also talk to her and persuade the TMC MPs to vote for Margaret Alva.
But the latest developments regarding the arrest of the state education minister Partha Chatterjee, has made her position suddenly difficult. He is known to be very close to the CM. So the opposition leaders will continue to attack her on this huge haul of Rs. 20 crore from Partha’s aide Arpita Mukherjee’s residence. Mamata has delinked herself and the TMC from Partha’s actions but more investigations are on and many new information will be coming to the fore, embarrassing Mamata and the TMC government in its second year of its third term.
The net effect of this is that Mamata henceforth will be forced to focus solely on her state, giving little time to national politics. She will chiefly work on sweeping the coming elections to panchayats early next year, followed by Lok Sabha polls in 2024. Prashant Kishor (PK) is still advising her through I-Pac which has an agreement with TMC till the next assembly elections in 2026. All booth-level planning for panchayat polls are being made ready. Mamata has set a target of getting 40 seats out of 42 from West Bengal in next Lok Sabha elections. She wants to play her due role in the post Lok Sabha elections scenario, thanks to the strength of the TMC MPs in the house.
In fact, right now, for opposition, that is the best possible option, taking into account the ground political reality. Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin is the only opposition leader who is comfortable in his turf now. Even the LDF government of Kerala is under Modi scanner. Efforts are on to activate ED more in the so-called gold smuggling case involving Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Both the Congress and the BJP are agitating against the Kerala CM on this issue. BJP may not gain much politically exploiting the issue, but Congress can benefit and this Congress-LDF war in Kerala will have impact on the cordial relations between the Left and the Congress at the central level. That is what the Modi-Shah duo desires. They want to delink the Left from Sonia Gandhi at the central level.
Overall, each non-BJP party will have to fight its own battle on its own turf and meet the challenge of the BJP. In Telangana, TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao will fight both the BJP and the Congress; in Andhra Pradesh, Jaganmohan Reddy, who is supporting BJP on most issues, will also be fighting BJP and the Congress in 2024 polls. In Odisha, BJD head and CM Naveen Patnaik will also be fighting the Congress and the BJP. In Bihar, Tejaswi Yadav of RJD will lead the anti-BJP front, while in Uttar Pradesh; SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav will lead the combination against the BJP. In Delhi and Punjab, AAP will be fighting both the Congress and the BJP.
But the most important role will have to be performed by the Congress in the states where it is the main party contesting against the BJP. The states are Himachal, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and to some extent Karnataka. The Congress high command has to work on alternate plans for mobilizing leaders of the top and middle rank, irrespective of whether Rahul Gandhi is available or not. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has coined a new slogan for 2024 – “Dynasts Mukt Bharat”. This is meant to attack all regional parties which are centred on families. Congress leadership has to show that the137-year-old party has still the grit and determination to go into battle against the BJP without active participation of the Gandhis. (IPA Service)