The already crowded opposition space in the country has now got one more contender for a seat at its high table.
The spectacular victory of the Delhi-based Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab has catapulted its leader Arvind Kejriwal to the national stage. He now joins his other counterparts like West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray and K Chandrasekhar Rao of Telangana Rashtra Samithi in aspiring for a larger political role.
The ascendency of the regional satraps has also meant the effective marginalisation of the Congress in the opposition camp. As a national party, it was expected that the Congress would be the anchor of any future anti-BJP formation. But the grand old party’s continuing slide and its virtual disappearance from large parts of the country has weakened its position. It does not have the necessary clout or the numbers to claim the leadership role of a joint opposition grouping. If it is compelled to join the anti-BJP front, (to keep communal forces at bay), it will have to do so on the terms set by the other players in the field.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee set her eyes on a national role after she notched up her third victory in the assembly polls last year. As a first step in that direction, she went on a poaching spree and enrolled several disgruntled Congress leaders to the Trinamool Congress and decided to try her luck in the Tripura civic polls and Goa assembly election. Her aim was not necessarily to win seats, which she realised would be an uphill task in states where she has no base or organisation, but to increase the vote share of the Trinamool Congress to enable it to attain the status of a national party. At the same time, Mamata Banerjee has touched base with other opposition leaders and suggested a meeting of non-BJP chief ministers.
However, the Trinamool chief has been beaten in this game by Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. While other regional players are confined to their respective states, the AAP leader is the only one who has won a second state. Like Mamata Banerjee, Kejriwal’s primary aim was to join the big league by elevating the AAP to the position of a national party. As the Thursday election results show, he has done so in style. Not only has the AAP registered an emphatic victory in Punjab but it has also picked up two seats in Goa. Though it will take him some time to emerge as an alternative to the Congress, the result should worry other regional players who now have another competitor in him.
Meanwhile, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao or KCR as he is called has also thrown his hat in the ring. He has also been reaching out to other regional satraps in an effort to form an alternative national political front to the Congress and the BJP. KCR has been in touch with Mamata Banerjee, had a telephonic conversation with Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, met his son Tejashwi Yadav and also called on Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K.Stalin in Chennai. Left leaders made it a point to call on KCR when they had their party meeting in Hyderabad recently.
Though Mamata Banerjee and KCR would prefer to leave the Congress out of this equation, Sharad Pawar is of the firm view that an alternative political front cannot succeed without the Congress as its main pole.
This is not the first time that opposition parties have attempted to come together on a common platform to take on the BJP, but their efforts have hit a stumbling block in the past. State-level rivalries and turf wars invariably come in the way as political parties are unwilling to concede space to another party. For instance, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party will find it difficult to work together. Similarly, the Left parties and the Trinamool Congress will not join hands given that they are pitted against each other in West Bengal. Moreover, the proposed anti-BJP national front will be a half-way house as chief ministers like Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Reddy are unlikely to sign up because they prefer to keep their options open.
This fragmentation in the opposition ranks is good news for the BJP which can look forward to an easy ride in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP would prefer to have the Congress as its main rival as it gives the saffron party an opportunity to keep the focus on Rahul Gandhi and project him as a non-serious politician. But the BJP is not unhappy dealing with regional satraps either. These leaders are generally driven by their state interests and can be mollified with additional funds or a coveted project.
Either way it is a win-win situation for the BJP.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal)