Delhi ordinance, Parliament building debate help Oppn close ranks, mull anti-BJP alliance

Monday’s meeting between Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, assumes significance owing to a few recent developments that have now provided more reasons to disparate Opposition outfits to combine their electoral and existing legislative strength against the Narendra Modi government

Kharge, Rahul and Nitish
While Nitish Kumar has been driving the Opposition unity discussions with other regional parties, the Congress has been leading the discussions with its present allies such as the DMK, JMM, NCP and Shiv Sena (Uddhav-faction)

Talks for building a broad federal electoral alliance of like-minded Opposition parties against the BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls are “on track” and these outfits are expected to finalise a time and place for protracted discussions on the unity blueprint “within one or two days”, leaders from the Congress party and the Janata Dal (United) said, on Monday (May 22).

The announcement, made jointly by JD(U) national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh ‘Lalan’ and Congress’s organisational general secretary KC Venugopal, came after Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge at the latter’s 10, Rajaji Marg residence in New Delhi. “A vast majority of the Opposition parties will be attending the meeting. We will finalise the date and place in a day or two,” Venugopal said.

The venue of the proposed joint Opposition meet, is likely to be Patna, as suggested by Mamata Banerjee during her discussions on the matter with Kumar a month ago.

Also read: Why Karnataka Cabinet’s swearing-in exposed the fragility of Opposition unity


Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also participated in the discussions; the second such meeting between these leaders in the past two months. RJD leader and Bihar’s deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav was also supposed to attend the meeting but dropped out as he was recovering from a bad bout of stomach infection.

Taking strength from Karnataka win

Kumar has been driving the Opposition unity discussions with other regional parties that have unresolved concerns over the role that the Congress party will play in any such federal front. The Congress leadership, on the other hand, is leading the discussions with its present allies such as the DMK, JMM, NCP and Shiv Sena (Uddhav-faction), among others.

Monday’s meeting, however, assumes significance owing to a few recent developments that have now provided more reasons to disparate Opposition outfits to combine their electoral and existing legislative strength against the Narendra Modi government.

The Congress party’s impressive victory against the BJP in the Karnataka assembly polls has boosted the morale of the broader Opposition bloc, which sees the mandate as sign of a waning ‘Modi mania’. The Congress had sought to leverage the Karnataka win to regain its centrality within the Opposition by inviting top leaders of all like-minded Opposition parties to the swearing-in ceremony of the Siddaramaiah government at Bangalore’s Kanteerava stadium on May 20.

However, the line-up of leaders from 18 like-minded political parties at the ceremony also ended up exposing the fragile nature of Opposition unity, as reported by The Federal earlier, due to the Congress’s faux pas of not extending an invitation to rival satraps such as AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal and BRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao and partly due to equally formidable Opposition leaders like West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav either giving the event a complete miss or deputing inconsequential emissaries to stand in for them.

What brings the Opposition together

The partial success of the Congress’s Bangalore jamboree notwithstanding, what seems to have given more reasons to the Opposition to unite are two decisions taken by the Modi government over the past week that have riled its political rivals.

The Centre’s NCTD ordinance to override the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench verdict which, on May 11, bestowed executive powers on the Delhi government over the contentious issue of who – the Delhi government or the Centre, through Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor – controls Services (bureaucracy – its transfer and postings, etc.) within the national capital territory, has kicked up a storm of protests by sundry Opposition parties.

Also read: Opposition stalwarts throng Karnataka swearing-in, some keep away

A similar, though more pronounced outrage, has been triggered by the Opposition over the Centre’s decision to have Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurate the new Parliament complex, on May 28, instead of extending this honour to President Droupadi Murmu – the highest constitutional authority of the country.

Though Opposition leaders acknowledged that even though the two issues have no direct bearing on how talks for a federal electoral alliance must proceed, they said these would potentially allow Opposition parties to launch a joint assault at the BJP on issues of constitutional morality, federalism, respect for constitutional positions and, tangentially, even social justice.

A day before his meeting with Kharge and Rahul, Kumar had met Kejriwal when the latter, according to sources, urged his Bihar counterpart to “ask the Congress and other Opposition parties like Naveen Patnaik’s BJD to oppose the ordinance”. Kejriwal is also directly reaching out to Opposition leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, seeking support of their respective parties against the ordinance.

Balancing act with AAP

Sources privy to the discussion between Nitish Kumar, Kharge and Rahul Gandhi told The Federal that the Congress, which otherwise has no love lost for the AAP, has agreed to “strongly protest” against the NCTD ordinance when it is brought to Parliament in the form of a Bill for discussion and passage in the monsoon session. However, while having Congress criticised the Centre’s ordinance as being a “vindictive” measure that “undermines principles of federalism” and is “brazenly violative of the Supreme Court’s verdict”, the party also does not wish to be seen as doing the AAP’s bidding.

For Kumar, reducing the trust deficit between the Congress and the AAP is a major challenge. The Congress has lost its electoral bastions of Delhi and Punjab to Kejriwal and is also smarting under the recent defeat of its candidate in the Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll – a seat that fell vacant after the demise of Congress’s Santokh Singh Chaudhary – to the AAP. Between these two states, there are 20 Lok Sabha seats (seven of Delhi and 13 in Punjab) where the absence of a united Opposition front (Congress+AAP) would directly play to the advantage of the BJP or the Shiromani Akali Dal, which could renew its alliance with the saffron party anytime.

The Congress’s problem is that its Delhi and Punjab units are stridently opposed to any truck with the AAP even though Kharge and Rahul, say sources, had assured Kumar that they would “overlook concerns of our state units if an alliance with AAP is based on mutual respect and can effectively translate into electoral losses for the BJP”.

Torn between its own political interests in Delhi and Punjab, on one hand, and the challenge of containing the BJP on the other, the Congress finds itself in a dilemma on coming to the AAP’s aid. This was evident on Monday when party veteran Anand Sharma indicated at the party’s official briefing that his party was opposed to the ordinance but was soon contradicted by Venugopal, who tweeted that the “Congress Party has not taken any decision on the issue of the Ordinance brought against the SC judgment… It will consult its state units & other like-minded parties on the same”.

Also read: Congress announces Opposition meeting after Nitish meets Kharge, Rahul

Venugopal’s statement also betrayed the complications that the Congress faces in going all out to extend an olive branch to Kejriwal, who has frequently and viciously critical of the Congress leadership. “The party believes in the rule of law and at the same time does not condone unnecessary confrontation, political witch-hunt and campaigns based on lies against political opponents by any political party,” Venugopal said.

Dilemma over boycotting Parliament building inauguration

A leader who was present at the Kharge-Kumar meet also told The Federal that there have also been “preliminary discussions” on whether like-minded Opposition parties should boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building.

“It is still premature to say whether this will happen because different parties have their own legitimate concerns over how a boycott would play out in the public and whether doing so would allow the BJP to twist the reality to its advantage by raking up familiar tropes of national pride and colonial hangover. If a boycott is agreed upon, the grounds have to be explained very clearly to the people to ensure that our reasons find greater resonance on the ground than whatever it is that the BJP will say,” the leader said.

The Congress, which has consistently slammed the construction of the new Parliament building and the wider Central Vista as nothing more than a “vanity project of the Prime Minister”, has slammed Modi and his government for “not inviting the President to inaugurate the new Parliament even though she is the Head of State and, as the highest constitutional authority of the country, is one in whose name Parliament sessions are convened and legislative business approved”.

Though not explicitly, the Congress also wishes to drive home the point that at both events concerning the new Parliament – the laying of its foundation stone in December 2020 and now the with the forthcoming inauguration – the BJP had exposed its anti-Dalit and anti-tribal mindset, besides its sycophancy over Modi.

Also read: Delhi ordinance: Cong to consult like-minded parties before taking call on opposing bill

Anand Sharma told reporters that it was “unfortunate” that the foundation stone of the new Parliament was laid by Modi by ignoring then President Ramnath Kovind, a Dalit, “who should have been given that honour” and that the same slight was now being made against President Murmu, “a tribal and a woman”.

Opposition leaders who have, of late, been trying to build an electoral plank of social justice to take on Modi’s Hindutva pitch in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, believe that boycotting the inauguration of the new Parliament by emphasising that the proposed event was an “insult heaped on Dalits and Tribals” by the Modi government could protect them from a predictable blowback by the BJP on the pitch national pride. However, with less than a week left before the inauguration, the Opposition is also aware it has little time to build its narrative should it agree to boycott the event.

Nonetheless, Kumar, say sources, is hopeful that these developments of the past few weeks would collectively give the broader and hugely fractured Opposition added fodder to close ranks and, ultimately, discuss the ambitious plan of a federal electoral alliance against the BJP.