With the 2024 Lok Sabha election just a year away, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has set the ball rolling with a discreet effort to bring Opposition parties together without ruffling feathers like the previous attempts of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekara Rao or West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The DMK leader’s speech was at a meeting of Opposition parties on Monday (April 3) by the All India Federation for Social Justice, an outfit Stalin launched in 2022, to discuss the issue of social justice as part of efforts to keep non-BJP parties engaged on matters with a bearing on the country.
The choice of the All India Federation for Social Justice banner to rally the Opposition against the BJP proved to be a successful recipe, as reflected in two important outcomes of Stalin’s keenly watched move.
First, representatives of most Opposition parties slammed the BJP unequivocally for its alleged anti-reservation stand. Second, and more significantly, the usual nemesis of Opposition unity, the ‘who-will-lead-the-opposition-conundrum’, did not spoil the broth.
As the evening melted into the night at the New Maharashtra Sadan, just a stone’s throw away from India Gate and the Capital’s corridors of power, Stalin seemed to have emerged stronger on the national political horizon.
Not only did the image of the DMK supremo get further strengthened as a reliable partner in the Opposition alliance, but the buzz at the All India Federation for Social Justice event also reflected the view of most Opposition leaders that DMK can act as the elixir needed to sink rifts among regional satraps and pan-India parties like the Congress and the Left. The magic of social justice was so evident that there was no iota of dissonance over the implementation of reservation or clashing demands from various social groups. The focus was rather on the BJP’s alleged moves to undo the established principles of reservation.
Under One Platform
The Congress, NCP, Left parties, Bharat Rashtra Samithi, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Aam Aadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, IUML, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and National Congress — virtually the entire spectrum of Opposition — lauded MK Stalin for the initiative and even called for more such meetings.
The DMK’s allies in Tamil Nadu — Viduthalai Siruthaigal and MDMK — were also present. By making Dravidar Kazhagam general secretary K Veeramani’s speech a key highlight of the event, Stalin also made sure that the discourse stayed rooted to social justice. When Mamata Banerjee met Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav recently, political circles in Delhi were gossiping overtime about Congress being left out of the opposition fold. Ditto for Chandrasekara Rao’s meeting with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. That no such negativity erupted from the social justice event is seen as a big credit to Stalin.
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With the DMK supremo also planning to host the much-awaited conference of south zone Chief Ministers in Chennai, the event is seen as a preliminary step in gearing up for a greater role in national politics.
Stalin does share good rapport with Kerala Chief Minister Pinayari Vijayan and good communication with Telangana Chief Minister Chandrasekara Rao. Therefore, south zone Chief Minister’s meeting could be a good opportunity to establish the DMK supremo as the voice of Opposition in South India which remains a formidable challenge to the BJP.
‘King maker’ Stalin
While several Opposition leaders have hinted that Stalin could be a Prime Minister candidate of the united Opposition, DMK leaders close to the chief minister feel he is more inclined to the role of a kingmaker.
Before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Stalin openly declared that the DMK supported Rahul Gandhi as the Opposition’s Prime Minister candidate. However, a nuanced approach may be the need of the hour this time around to keep the anti-BJP flock together.
The success of Stalin’s role as a statesman bringing the Opposition together could still face several challenges in handling the mercurial Mamata Banerjee, the ambitious Arvind Kejriwal, or the outspoken Chandrasekara Rao.
A widely acceptable Prime Ministerial candidate like Nitish Kumar may make the DMK supremo’s task simpler, but there is no clarity on the Bihar chief minister’s game plan. Also, the Congress is not likely to give up on either being the leader of the Opposition or pitching Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister candidate.
Assembly polls crucial
The outcome of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattishgarh, Telangana and Mizoram Assembly elections may decide how Opposition parties bargain with each other in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP has emerged strong in the first round of Assembly elections held this year in the North-Eastern states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. In addition, the happenings in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha during the second part of the Budget session have made many Opposition parties realise that they are facing an uphill task.
Compulsions like the CBI and Enforcement Directorate cases against opposition leaders have also played a catalysing role. Under such circumstances, the impact of Stalin’s nuanced gambit will be watched keenly for months together by not only those in the Opposition camp, but also the BJP that is eying yet another victory in 2024 under the Narendra Modi banner.