Congress in way of an unified opposition.

BJP trump card: Pushed to show its hand on Rahul, divided Opp will fold

Opp remains too divided to come under single umbrella; Rahul casting largest cloud

Prashun Bhaumik | New Delhi | 27 March, 2023 | 11:20 PM

From CPM to AAP, BRS to TMC, to even Congress's allies, the contradictions are too many, and distrust with Congress too high, for a 1977-like upset, believe most BJP leaders.

Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as an MP following his conviction in a 2019 criminal defamation case and sentencing for two years has brought almost all Opposition parties together against what they call the BJP’s “vindictive politics”. This quick forging of forces has prompted the BJP leadership’s counter, with the defaming-OBC card and an aggressive nationwide campaign against the Gandhis’ “disrespect to institutions both on Indian and foreign soil.” But the party is not unduly worried about any real threat to its dominance.

The pessimists among the BJP strategists cite the 1977 elections in which the Congress led by the mighty Indira Gandhi was toppled by the Janata Party group, and are all for caution and taking precautionary measures. But many in the party rule out a serious fallout, for the simple reason that, for all its proclamations, the Opposition remains too divided to come under a single umbrella – with Rahul himself casting the largest cloud over this.

The latter faction is sure that Rahul is no Indira Gandhi and once the dust raised by his disqualification settles, regional aspirations and contradictions between the Congress and these parties would resurface.

Take the case of the CPI(M), which is the main rival of the Congress in Kerala, but was one of the first parties to come out vociferously against Rahul’s disqualification as a Lok Sabha MP. However, since it can’t be seen as too cosy with the Congress, the CPI(M) is trying to walk a tightrope projecting its stand as more against the “dictatorial” BJP government.

With the BJP trying to make inroads in Kerala, the CPI(M)’s campaign recently has been centred around the Congress being not strong enough to take the party on. Also, it believes Rahul should be at the front of the anti-BJP forces in the country and should have fought from a state where the BJP is strong, like in the north, or Karnataka at least.

BJP leaders do not see the reaction of Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, the first leader to come out in support of Rahul after his conviction, as any evidence of a long-lasting friendship either. The AAP’s animosity towards the Congress runs too deep, the two remain in direct contest in Delhi and Punjab, and the AAP is conscious of the fact that the Congress did not join other Opposition parties in protesting against the arrest of Manish Sisodia.

While the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) too has given a pause to its rivalry with the Congress following Rahul’s disqualification, leader and Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao is expected to be the first to storm out should the Congress show any signs of taking the centre stage. Rao or KCR is nursing grand ambitions of his own of leading an Opposition alliance against the BJP, plus the Congress remains its prime rival in Telangana. Outside the state, the BRS has expressed support for the JD(S) in Karnataka, a coalition that certainly won’t help the Congress’s cause there.

Another party that holds the key to any anti-BJP front’s performance is the Trinamool Congress, which is no friend of the Congress either. As the BJP stalled Parliament insisting on an apology from Rahul for his alleged anti-India remarks in London, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee went so far as to suggest that the BJP was deliberately targeting Rahul as making him the face of the Opposition suited the BJP’s purpose.

The TMC is particularly bristling since the Sagardighi Assembly bypoll, in which a Congress-Left joint candidate wrested an old TMC stronghold, dominated by Muslims.

BJP leaders point out that even the Congress’s more steadfast allies such as the RJD and NCP are seeking a larger share of the pie than the depleted Congress in their respective state units, of Bihar and Maharashtra. Same is the case with the JD(U) in Bihar and DMK in Tamil Nadu, which are the senior partners in their relationship with the Congress in the two states. Any projection of Rahul would not go down well with any of them.

Another ally, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction, has already distanced itself from the Congress over a statement by Rahul against Savarkar. It did not join an Opposition protest march on Monday.

In the joint plea that 14 Opposition parties submitted in the Supreme Court last week, accusing the NDA government of misusing the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, they argued that together they represent 42.5 per cent of the votes cast in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 45.19 per cent in various Assembly polls. Besides these 14, several smaller parties like the IUML, RSP etc have also joined protests against the BJP over the Adani issue in Parliament.

Though it does not take time for the wind to change in politics, the BJP knows that as of now there is little chance of coherence or longevity among this Opposition coalition. And that remains its best bet.

Courtesy Indian Express