Despite the Covid woes that befell the country, the MOTN deems the Opposition’s performance average and sees merit in them uniting to take on Modi
Rahul Gandhi and Opposition leaders from 14 parties after the breakfast meeting of MPs on August 3 (ANI photo)
During the monsoon session of Parliament, there were at least three joint meetings of the floor leaders of Opposition parties—including a breakfast hosted by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi—to chalk out a common strategy to corner the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government on the alleged state-backed Pegasus snooping scandal and farmers’ protests. A general sense of despair among the people, triggered by the Covid pandemic and its impact on the economy, seems to have given Modi’s rivals fresh hope of piercing the cloak of electoral invincibility around the BJP. What fuelled this is also the drubbing the saffron party got at the hands of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress in the West Bengal assembly election earlier this year.
In public perception, as reflected in the August 2021 edition of the india today Mood of the Nation (MOTN) poll, this bonhomie among the Opposition parties could evolve into a structural entity. Nearly half of the respondents believe an Opposition alliance is possible to challenge the Modi-led BJP at the Centre. For most of the Opposition leaders, this possibility is critical, not just for their own electoral/ political survival but for the survival of democracy in India. “Disappointments with the ruling party will obviously translate into people looking for an alternative,” says Manish Tewari, Congress Lok Sabha MP. “If the alternative is the current constellation of Opposition parties, it is only a matter of time that public opinion slowly starts coalescing around it. Once the fundamentals are settled that the constitutional idea of India needs to be protected from this unprecedented assault by the NDA, then the rest is a matter of getting the mechanics right.”
But mere unity may not be enough for the Opposition to take on the Modi juggernaut. The narrative must move beyond just criticism of the prime minister. During the second wave of the pandemic, people were anguished with the systemic failure of India’s healthcare system but found little merit in the Opposition’s campaign against the Modi government—more than 50 per cent respondents believed the Opposition criticised the government just for the sake of it. That has not dampened the spirit of the Opposition camp, though, as most believe they have enough time and ammunition to build a momentum against Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha poll. “The nation’s worry is surely not about Opposition unity. The citizens are collectively seeking answers to some hard questions from the prime minister. The tough questions are on national security (Pegasus), economy, jobs, price rise and farmers,” says Derek O’Brien, parliamentary party leader of Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the Rajya Sabha.
While the TMC has been at the forefront of uniting the anti-BJP parties, the sustainability of such an alliance will depend on the role the Congress assumes, for only the grand old party has a national footprint. With nearly 60 per cent respondents rating the party’s performance as average to very poor, Congress must get its house in order fast. Its leaders believe they are up for the challenge. “In state elections, wherever we were pitted directly against the BJP, our party has either won or at least put up a tough fight. With the current mood in the country, I’m sure the Congress and other Opposition parties will be able to build on the momentum and defeat the BJP in coming elections,” says Manickam Tagore, Lok Sabha MP and member, Congress Working Committee.
What may come as a big relief to Congress and its first family is that a larger share of respondents—46 per cent, up from 35 per cent six months ago—believe the Gandhis are indispensable to the party. That may cement Rahul’s position within the party as the undisputed leader—he still remains best suited among Congress leaders to revive the party—but he may not be the unanimous choice to lead the Opposition alliance. Mamata Banerjee’s recent visit to Delhi was a subtle assertion of her national ambition. Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal has stayed away from Opposition meetings Rahul has convened. Both Kejriwal and Mamata are front-runners among the non-Congress leaders to lead the alliance, as the MOTN poll suggests. Congress leaders, however, rule out any competitive politics among the Opposition. “Nobody is hankering for the leadership,” says Jitendra Singh, CWC member and All India Congress Committee general secretary. “There is no democracy left in this country. So, all leaders, including Rahul Gandhi or Mamata Banerjee, are together in their endeavour to protect the democratic values and institutions in India.”
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