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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 28 New Delhi July 2, 2016

Opposition Parties struggle to form an Alliance to Stop the BJP. But how to find a Leader?

Friday 1 July 2016, by T J S George

impressions

In politics one party’s shukradasa depends on another party’s shanidasa. The stars are so propitious for the BJP these days that other parties are struggling to figure out how they can re-position the planets in order to survive. Since the planets are a-political, they may have no objection in giving all players equal oppor-tunity. But the saying is “half by me, half by God”. Who is to do the by-me half that will persuade the heavenly bodies to do the rest?

Forget the Congress. When the obvious stared it in the face, it stood dumb. The octogenarian Tarun Gogoi had created an anti-incumbency tsunami in Assam with three consecutive terms. Himanta Biswa Sharma, half his age and functioning as the de facto Chief Minister, called for a change to win the election. The High Command remained numb and dumb. Sharma joined the BJP and the rest was history. In Kerala Oommen Chandy insisted on nominating his tainted friends as candidates. The High Command told him not to. Chandy then threatened that he would not contest either. Whereupon the High Command went numb and dumb and the rest was history. Forget the Congress. It doesn’t even seem to know what’s going on.

Which way then should the planets look? The silver-lining is the realisation by almost all players that they should get together on the principle that unity is strength. The BJP itself embraced this principle and tied up with all sorts of regional groupings. The other parties know that any alliance they form cannot be led by the Congress. Even the more sober Congress leaders recognise this though no one will speak out due to the High Command culture that rules them.

So who will lead the alliance? At Mamata Bannerjee’s swearing-in, the assemblage of non-Congress leaders was impressive enough to make many dreamers dream. Nitish Kumar, Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal and Farooq Abdullah sharing happiness with Mamata was indeed an unusual spectacle. But a closer look shows that the dreamers don’t have much to dream about.

Two important personages were conspicuously absent—Jayalalithaa and Mayawati. Among those present, Farooq is no longer relevant and his dynasty is faring no better than the one in Delhi. Kejriwal is a question-mark, his position as Delhi Chief Minister continuously compro-mised by a scheming BJP and his bonafides put in doubt by his early associates. Akhilesh Yadav is a reminder of the dangers that grip Indian politics. He is only a figurehead, his father running the show with antediluvian ideas of power, celebrating his birthdays like an emperor of yore and not hesitating to appoint convicted associates as Ministers. Nitish Kumar has the ambition to become a national leader and has some of the qualities required. But what is his administrative calibre when he is unable to end lawlessness in Bihar? Nor has he made his presence felt in Punjab or Maharashtra or the South. He does not have an all-India visage.

Of those assembled in Kolkata, the star was Mamata Bannerjee herself. Her stint in Delhi, especially as Railway Minister, made her known across the country. But her record as Chief Minister has been marred by whimsicality, favouritism, authoritarianism and refusal to accept responsibility for lapses on the law and order front. Will the second term she has won with an overwhelming majority help her see the opportunity that stares her in the face—the opportunity to project her as a leader with the potential to grow beyond West Bengal? She can make a serious bid if she listens to experts. A few speaking engagements in other States will generate interest on a large enough scale because of her image as a grassroots leader. She will also have to respect the sentiments of other leaders.

Her biggest problem will be to work out any kind of understanding with the Congress. The last election saw the Congress joining hands with Mamata’s sworn enemies, the Communists. A few days ago Rahul Gandhi said openly that the alliance with the Communists should continue. Which highlights the conundrums of the moment: Who is the Congress’s principal enemy, Mamata’s Trinamul or the BJP? Who is the Communists’ principal enemy, Mamata’s Trinamul or the BJP?

Who is Mamata’s principal enemy, the Communists or the BJP?

When conundrums keep the Opposition divided, the BJP nestles comfortably with the Assam Gana Parishad and the Akalis and the Kerala SNDP. The BJP’s shukradasa looks set to continue because the Congress’, the Communists’, the JDU’s shanidasa looks set to continue.