Next Opposition meeting
The first similar meeting of Opposition parties was held in Bihar’s Patna on June 23 | File photo: ANI/Twitter

Patna conclave done, Nitish now faces mega challenge of keeping Opposition together

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The first conclave of opposition parties held in Patna on Friday (June 23) heralded the return of the coalition as 17 national and regional parties unanimously resolved to fight the 2024 Lok Sabha elections together under one umbrella to take on the BJP.

By all accounts, the opposition meet came up as a successful exercise as the parties decided to thrash out their minor differences and shape up the politics and policies in their next meeting to be held at Shimla on July 10 or 12. The return of a non-BJP coalition on the pattern of previous United Front or United Progressive Alliance became amply clear, but its balance of power remains undecided.

Also read: Patna meet: 17 Oppn parties resolve to fight unitedly to defeat BJP in 2024 LS polls

AAP-Congress feud needs quick resolution  

Though Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal attended the meet along with Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann and others, he clearly said that unless the Congress publicly denounced the ordinance promulgated by the Centre to take control of governance away from the elected government, it would be difficult to be part of any alliance that includes the Grand Old Party.

The Congress has to take the call before the next meeting of the opposition parties if all the non-BJP opposition parties have to be taken on board to fight the Narendra Modi government. However, Kejriwal along with leaders of all the participating parties appeared on the same page and determined to extirpate the BJP as part of their “BJP-mukt Bharat” campaign.

Strong galaxy of leaders 

The presence of a galaxy of leaders of the regional and national parties at the conclave displayed the potency of the likely opposition campaign against the BJP. Its success can be gauged from the fact that the opposition parties, which were hitherto drifting in different directions before and after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, appeared combative and belligerent against ‘undemocratic and authoritarian policies’ of the BJP.

The conclave had the presence of top leaders of opposition parties such as Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Sharad Pawar, Mehbooba Mufti, Hemant Soren, Farooq Abdullah, D Raja, Sitaram Yechury, Dipankar Bhattacharya and others.

Watch | Patna opposition mega meet: Optics or credible outcomes?

It was decided to get on board other like-minded parties and fence-sitters, especially Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in the days to come.

Seat-sharing formula need of the hour

Ever since the exercise of opposition unity was started by Nitish Kumar, the first instance of opposition unity was displayed when altogether 20 parties boycotted the inauguration of the new Parliament building. Nitish Kumar, who snapped ties with the BJP in August 2022, had held discussions with several leaders of the opposition in the last few months to cobble up an alliance.

Although the opposition leaders appeared united in their fight against the BJP, the issue of leadership was put on the backbench to be discussed and taken up only after the 2024 Lok Sabha election results. “None of us are bothered about this issue at the moment. Our priority is to fight together and remove the BJP government at the Centre,” said the Bihar chief minister.

With regional satraps having their own stakes in their respective states, their present concern is to sort out the inter-party contradictions among different political parties in different states. They will work on forging a perfect seat-sharing formula in each state and on over 400 out of the 543 parliamentary seats in the country. The leaders will take up state-wide issues to arrive at a seat-sharing formula acceptable to all.

Watch | PM in US, Opposition in Patna; will Modi’s political rivals checkmate him?

Given the social combination nourished by different political parties in different states, if they arrive at a near-perfect seat-sharing formula, the opposition alliance has the potential in terms of votes to trounce Narendra Modi government and defeat his Hindutva agenda.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi emphatically said after the meet that the leaders attending the conclave stood united on common ideology. “We have minor differences among ourselves but we will work with flexibility to thrash out the issues,” he said.

What is Nitish’s ‘multi-pronged’ strategy? 

The core philosophy of seat-sharing will be ‘sacrifice of their individual interests’ and accommodation of allied parties. The seat-sharing in West Bengal will be tricky as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has been fighting the Congress and the Left alliance led by CPI(M) simultaneously. However, the TMC had said that the party would support the Congress where it is strong in the 2024 elections.

The crafty leader that he is, Nitish has planned a multi-pronged strategy involving conciliation among the national and regional stakeholders in different states. The strategy being mulled over by Nitish and others is to ensure that one opposition candidate is fielded against the BJP on as many of the 543 Lok Sabha seats as possible. It will be imperative on part of all the other opposition parties to deploy their resources in support of the coalition candidate.

Also read: AAP distances itself from anti-Nitish poster in Patna, claims ‘conspiracy’

Nitish is working on the premise that the BJP, which has 303 seats in Lok Sabha, is bound to face substantial losses in Bihar, Jharkhand, Delhi, Punjab and West Bengal while in other cow-belt states the tally of the saffron outfit is set to face a considerable dent.

More challenges along the way

But is the one-against-one formula on most of the Lok Sabha seats feasible? Given the longstanding political rivalry among Congress, TMC and the Left in West Bengal, Congress versus AAP in Delhi and Punjab, hostility between Congress and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and Congress’ antagonistic relationship with regional satraps down the Deccan, it appears to be a thorny proposition for Nitish and other leaders of the unity move.

As of date, Nitish has emerged as the point man of the “Bhajapa-mukt Bharat” mission and succeeded in thawing the cold relationship among different opposition stakeholders, hitherto having diametrically opposite viewpoints. The Congress too has agreed to walk the extra mile to accommodate others in the larger interest of the opposition unity.

Still, Nitish has a massive task ahead of bringing together Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Telangana Chief Minister and Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader KCR as well as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and YSRCP chief Reddy.

Looking back, Nitish has a record of pursuing his ambitions vigorously and eventually succeeding in his endeavours. This time, the sceptics will have to wait and watch the turn of events in the run up to the 2024 polls with Nitish assuming the role of the anchor of the coalition.

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