Towards a saffron hat-trick

M G Radhakrishnan


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BJP supporters celebrate party's win in Tripura and Nagaland elections | ANI

As every exit poll predicted, the BJP or its allies won three more states. Parties opposed to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), like the CPI(M), Congress or Trinamool Congress, have got hit again. BJP’s special “Focus-Northeast” with a three-fold increase in financial allocation for big infra projects and the 50 odd- rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the region have ensured the saffron bloom despite the dominance of Christianity in many states there. A triumphant Modi has now announced, a “Focus Kerala” project to win over the minorities there too as he did in the northeast. It is a different matter that the NDA governments have not done anything for Kerala’s development in the last decade, just as yet though Modi and Amit Shah have been talking about “catching Kerala” for some time.

Yet, the latest results have also proved that the BJP juggernaut is not unstoppable, as was thought until recently. But the only way to stop the saffron wave is a united opposition. The CPI(M) would have made a historic return in Tripura in alliance with Congress but for the emergence of a new party, Tipra Motha Party, led by the ex-royalty that split non-BJP votes. The 20% vote share lost by BJP and CPI(M) -10% apiece- compared to 2018 was pocketed mainly by the TMP. In Meghalaya, TMC, which has barely entered there, made a decent show.

Although a united opposition is the way for eclipsing BJP, it continues to appear most vexed issue despite the oppositions's existential crisis. Neither Congress gives up its grand delusion that it is the chosen party to lead, nor the regional opposition parties dispense with their inflated egos to see other parties on an equal footing. AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge expressed the Grand Old Party’s delusion in so many words at its recent Plenary in Raipur. But a week later Kharge climbed down from his high horse at Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin’s birthday celebrations in Chennai, intended as a grand conclave of the opposition. The 80 year-old veteran also indicated that the question of the prime minister candidate was less important than opposition unity. His explanation followed the National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah chiding the Congress for dreaming about prime ministership before even winning the election. Stalin also expressed the sentiment forcefully by saying it was not so much his birthday meet as the birthday of a united opposition. Thus the Chennai conclave raised the chances of a possible rainbow coalition on the horizon with Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Tejashwi Yadav of Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) joining hands with Stalin and Abdullah.

MK Stalin during his 70th birthday celebration prorgamme | ANi

But then, what explains the absence at Chennai of the eight non-BJP parties in power in different states who could have given the meet much more gravitas? Conspicuously absent were nine Chief Ministers- Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan of CPI(M), West Bengal’s Mamta Banerjee of Trinamool Congress, Telangana’s Chandrasekhar Rao of Bharat Rashtra Samiti, Andhra’s Jagan Mohan Reddy of YSR Congress, Bihar’s Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (U), Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal, Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha or Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab’s Bhagwant Mann of Aam Admi Party. This is although parties like the CPI(M) or TMC are Stalin’s allies. (even many of DMK’s local allies also were absent who said they weren’t invited).

The reason is simple. Most of these regional ruling parties have Congress as the main enemy in their respective states. Their very raison d’etre is their antagonism towards Congress. Only CPI(M) could leapfrog over the opposition from its only ruling unit in Kerala to forget its kushti and have dosti with Congress in West Bengal and Tripura. These eight parties, which dominate eight states, joining hands with the three others, which are the second largest in their states, along with Congress and allies in power in 4 states, could have posed a significant challenge to the NDA in 2024. But the chances for a post-Emergency alliance seem a chimera even now with just a year remaining for polls. Neither there is a Jaiprakash Narayan who would command respect across parties. Both Mamta and CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechuri have also dismissed any plans for new coalitions for 2024. CPI(M)’s Kerala unit is reported to press for a rethink on the alliance with Congress on the backdrop of Tripura results.

In such a situation, what will happen in the last semi-final elections scheduled for some other states by November or the grand finale of 2024? As of now, nothing changes the present political scenario. NDA will likely win most states and complete a hat-trick to return to power at the centre for the third time in a row.

85th Plenary session of Congress in Raipur | ANI

Nothing signalled more of the Opposition’s bleak future was the AICC’s 85th Plenary Session at Raipur held a week earlier. Though “anything is better than nothing” in the hemorrhaging Congress, the much-hyped plenary hardly showed any sense of urgency as a party readying for an existential electoral battle in 2024. Besides the mushy images of Sonia Gandhi’s farewell-sounding speech, Rahul’s hugging and kissing his mother and Priyanka's beatific smiles, etc., what Raipur basically witnessed was a re-assertion of the Gandhi family’s sway in the party riding over the growing rumblings. Giving up AICC Organising Secretary KC Venugopal’s promise on January 1 that CWC would be elected at Raipur, Kharge was entrusted to nominate all the 35 members which also violates the party constitution. Also quietly dumped was Rahul Gandhi’s own promise made at the party’s Chintan Shibir at Udaipur last May to implement “One Family, One Post.” Rahul had even said that the party would implement this, notwithstanding the opposition from his comrades like Venugopal. It needs no punditry to understand that every authority delegated to Kharge meant all the reins remained solid within the family.

Rahul's Bharat Jodo Yatra in Banihal | PTI

In fact, even though Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra was appreciable, based again on the “anything was better than nothing” theory, its actual objective also appears to establish the family’s sway in the party. It would be miserably myopic to imagine that yatra’s decent success and its media coverage would be at least remotely enough to match the BJP’s electoral machine, which is already in all cylinders 24X7 across the country. A senior leader who attended the Plenary told this writer that it was the most inane and uninspiring AICC session he has ever attended. “Like a religious meeting or the BJP’s Jai Seetaram slogan, everyone was chanting Bharat Jodo, most of the time. There was no sign of any preparation to face the 2024 elections”.

Indira Gandhi with Morarji Desai

Apart from amendments to the party constitution like the increase in reservations for backward castes, minorities, women, youth, etc, and calls to make health a fundamental right, swearing to fight BJP’s assaults on the constitution or its crony capitalist ways, Raipur failed to offer any remarkable alternative narrative to the NDA. It has been repeatedly proven that a mere anti-Modi/BJP platform would cut no ice with the voters, especially when BJP’s communal politics enjoys hegemony. Yet, Congress and its think tanks continue to be in a deep stupor. Please read the following to recall when Congress’s thinking power was alive and kicking at its past sessions.

July 1969. The Bengaluru AICC session. Congress party was inching towards its biggest split in history. The dominant faction in Congress, called the “Syndicate,” led by party elders like Morarjee Desai, were all out to finish Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The battle raged between the two camps over the country’s new presidential candidate. While Indira proposed the Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram, the Syndicate’s choice was Sanjiva Reddy. The Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) overruled Indira by nominating Reddy by four votes to two. Indira knew she was losing the battle. Yet, to meet the eventuality, Indira had worked out a completely out-of-the-box strategy, all worked out by her most trusted Kashmiri confidante and scholar-diplomat, P.N.Haksar. Aware that Indira could not assert herself in the CPP numerically, the leftist Haksar had formulated an ideological offensive that would help her leapfrog over the party leadership and emerge as a darling of the masses. Indira’s first significant step in her famed leftwing agenda, the bank nationalisation, was mooted at the Bengaluru AICC. Two days later, Indira asked Desai to quit the Finance portfolio because he opposed the bank nationalisation. Four days later, Indira told the nation through All India Radio that she nationalised 14 banks by a presidential ordinance and proclaimed her commitment to the poor people of India above everything else. The rest is history. Though the Congress party expelled the Prime Minister herself, Indira soon proved the ultimate winner thanks to the groundswell of popularity gained through her agenda. Indira’s Congress(R) won a landslide win in the next general elections held in 1971, winning 325 of the 520 Lok Sabha seats, though later all her Garibi Hatao pretensions were proved only a gimmick to win her immediate battles.

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