The Opposition is by and large united in seeking Narendra Modi’s ouster as prime minister, but it is disunited when it comes to finding a credible and viable alternative to him. Therein is the trump card for the BJP. This vital aspect was made claer during the Bharat bandh or nationwide shutdown on September 10.
Many important party chieftains see Rahul Gandhi as an upstart who is not up to the task of leading the Opposition. Telangana Chief Minister and Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) chief K Chandrashekhar Rao went to the extent of calling Rahul the ‘biggest buffoon’ in the country. Others were more circumspect and glummer but subtly conveyed their non-acceptance of Rahul as Opposition nominee to fight a formidable Modi.
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In the key battleground of Uttar Pradesh, it was significant that it was not a Congress-led or Rahul-inspired Opposition that steered the bandh but a Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine that fought on the same issues of petrol and diesel price hikes and the sharp fall in the value of the rupee.
The Congress-led campaign in the rest of the country on the same issues was similar only in content but the leadership of the movement was clearly distinctive. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress was conspicuous by its absence from the movement, tokenisms aside.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tried to explain it away as being of no consequence but the cold reality was the division in the Opposition ranks despite all the pretensions to the contrary. That Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati are not on the same page as Rahul was all too clear.
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Likewise, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal with Mamata Banerjee at the helm steered clear of Rahul-led campaign on the same issues, sending out the subtle message that they were not on board with Rahul as leader. Mamata would rather project herself as leader or support Sharad Pawar for leadership rather than Rahul who she holds in contempt.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi first indicated that it would not be part of the bandh but later sent a representative to register a token presence without putting its full weight behind it. It did not march under the Congress banner but instead chose the CPM march to join in, clearly reflecting that it is not on board under Rahul’s leadership.
What rankled Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was the apparent snub from Rahul when the latter desisted from calling him up for support on the no-confidence motion against the Modi government in the last session of Parliament.
As for Chandrashekhar Rao, he has already debunked Rahul in strong terms and it needs no messiah to predict that he would not vote for him as Opposition nominee to challenge Modi.
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Rao is in fact a step beyond the others who lack faith in Rahul. He could well tie up with the NDA in the event of the BJP requiring his party’s support after the Lok Sabha results are out. The Congress tie-up with the TDP for the Assembly elections has, if anything, further cemented his relations with the BJP.
The Congress party knows only too well that announcing Rahul as the joint Opposition’s challenger to Modi could put off many parties that are now with the Opposition. That is why the leadership question has been deferred until after the elections to the Lok Sabha. That this could put off a section of voters is predictable but the Opposition has to see which is the lesser evil and clearly, not declaring the nominee for prime minister to challenge Modi may well prove to be less damaging. But not having a clear challenger to Modi could weaken the Opposition’s challenge.
The dice is indeed loaded against Rahul in the leadership stakes in the Opposition though it is difficult to appreciate who else is there in the Opposition to don the mantle of Modi’s challenger.