On the occasion of Martyr’s Day, West Bengal Chief Minister (CM) Mamata Banerjee urged the opposition parties to unite against the Union Government, emphasising that the parties should “forget about self-interest and save the country, save the states and the federal structure.” The virtual address, which was attended by the representatives of different opposition parties, focused on the developments in national politics and criticising the COVID-19 management strategies of the Union Government. One can find several such instances where the opposition parties, irrespective of their ideologies, joined hands to invoke motions against the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after the debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. In the light of the latest allegations with respect to the use of the Pegasus software and potential snooping done on political leaders, journalists and various government officials, what we witnessed is the Opposition bench equivocally standing against the Treasury during this monsoon session of the Parliament.
There have been signs of a consensus among various political parties for a united opposition front, especially after the setback they faced in the 2019 Parliament Elections. Apart from Mamata Banerjee, Congress President Sonia Gandhi had convened virtual meetings of CMs of the non-NDA ruled states; Sharad Pawar had made several initiations towards this by constantly engaging with the opposition leaders over virtual and non-virtual meetings; K Chandrasekhara Rao, MK Stalin and even Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena are among the few leaders who called out for the need of a united opposition. The monsoon session of the Parliament has led to the demonstration of a united front by the opposition parties with Rahul Gandhi calling on a meeting for the development of a joint strategy for the rest of the session and tackling the Pegasus spyware issue and fuel price hike. Members from the Shiv Sena, NCP, Trinamool Congress, RJD, CPI, CPI-M and Samajwadi Party attended this meeting. Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh further stated in an interview with the Times of India that opposition unity is limited to the House, wherein parties submitted a joint memorandum on the farm laws and COVID-19 management, but there have been discussions among the opposition parties at the leadership level. This unity, however, is yet to be crystallised into a pre-poll alliance among the various parties. These incidents along with the recent meeting of election strategist Prashant Kishore with Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi, if read together, reveal the opposition’s road towards 2024 but in a nascent state.
The anti-CAA protests that sprang across the country during the early 2020 was the first time when we saw the opposition parties coming together for a cause and mobilising people’s sentiments against the ruling government. The agitations against the controversial farm bills and the alleged unconstitutionality behind its passing led to another situation where different political parties broke their ideological shackles to come together as a league. Further, the draft EIA notification 2020 and IT regulations 2021 were among a few policy measures by the Centre that invited the ire of a united opposition. The Centre–state disputes in connection with the delay in the provision of GST compensation is another such incident where the non-NDA states rallied to raise their grievances. The last on the list was the initial vaccine policy of the Union Government, where 50% of the vaccine procurement was entrusted to private players. With the intervention of the Supreme Court this has come down to 25% procurement by private players, which is again being questioned by many of the opposition parties demanding ‘free universal vaccination’. What they lack in this context is the political will and leadership to sustain and stitch together these agitations to a nationwide movement.
Looking back at history will lead to a similar situation from the late 1970s, where a divided opposition fought against the mighty Congress government under the then Prime Minister (PM) Indira Gandhi. The picture is quite similar except the absence of a prominent national figure like JP Narayan, who could gather the scattered opposition parties under a single umbrella to collectivise and sustain various political movements until it reached the intended target of a national revolution. There are many veteran leaders, like Sharad Pawar, who can fit into the shoes of JP, but it becomes a tedious task when the dilemma of personal interests over collective interests sets in. However, the greatest roadblock that the opposition faces in India is its history of formation of coalition governments with regional parties alone. India has had a string of such coalition governments, notably in the first elections after the National Emergency in 1977. Morarji Desai from the Janata Party became PM then but he was unable to sustain his government for more than two years as the coalition partners withdrew their support. With the Congress being the only opposition political party with a nationwide presence and at the same time being the weakest link in the chain due to its internal issues, a rough terrain is up ahead for the opposition forces on the road towards 2024.
Image Courtesy: ANI
This article is written by Goutham KA, Associate, Projects at CPPR and Intern Srishti Sinha
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.