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Frightened by Modi Juggernaut, Opposition Tries to Unite For Survival

A month is long enough in politics to overcome a defeat but the opposition parties are struggling to cope with the Assembly poll results, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, because the Modi juggernaut seems unstoppable, at least not before the 2019 general elections.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18pallavighcnnibn

Updated:April 11, 2017, 12:19 PM IST
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Frightened by Modi Juggernaut, Opposition Tries to Unite For Survival
National Democratic Alliance leaders at a meeting at Pravasi Baratiya Kendra in New Delhi on Monday. PTI photo
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New Delhi: A month is long enough in politics to overcome a defeat but the opposition parties are struggling to cope with the Assembly poll results, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, because the Modi juggernaut seems unstoppable, at least not before the 2019 general elections.

Attempts are being made to put up a united fight against the BJP.

On one hand, serious introspection is likely at Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with senior party members over dinner on Tuesday; on the other hand, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Bannerjee warmed up to leaders across party lines during her Delhi visit.

In Room No 4, which is TMC office in parliament, several opposition leaders met over chicken cutlet and tea on Monday. In this small room, tucked away in a corner, a recipe for opposition unity was being experimented with. Among her many other talents, Bannerjee is said to be a great cook. This time, she is perhaps working on the most complicated dish.

Bannerjee first met Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel. A while later, she met Nationalist Congress Party’s Praful Patel, and then Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik. She also met AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.

Uniting Opposition is like cooking a dish which often goes wrong because of contrasting flavors. It would require a master chef to balance the ingredients and make something good out of it.

But as Modi moves from one electoral victory to another, the Opposition’s survival itself is at stake. Even Congress, which had hoped that the 2014 verdict was a one-off case, has been shaken by the UP results and Tuesday’s dinner is being seen as a moment when Sonia Gandhi will again take the lead to save the grand old party from being marginalised.

According to sources, Sonia Gandhi had sent Azad and Patel to reach out to Bannerjee, hoping that the bitterness of the West Bengal polls, when the Left and Congress tied up to contest against TMC, would be forgotten.

Earlier last week, Rahul Gandhi met Left leaders like D Raja, where they agreed on the need for unity ahead of the 2019 polls.

Things are not going to be easy. After demonetisation, the Opposition is trying to flaunt its unity on the issue of alleged tampering with electronic voting machines (EVM). But like demonetisation, the Opposition may lose out in the battle of perception and people may see them as bitter losers questioning the ground or the pitch, even worse, the umpire which in this case is the Election Commission of India, a highly respected institution.

On demonetisation, Modi had successfully conveyed this argument to people that only the corrupt were opposing the move, which was against black money.

The bigger question now is, can the Opposition ever be united? In the last Lok Sabha polls, the effort to cobble up a united front had collapsed. Individual egos, ambitions, regional contradictions and changing equations make a national grand alliance nearly impossible.

Sources close to Mamata say that she is disappointed with Nitish Kumar, whose swearing in ceremony she had attended, because he has not committed to such an alliance at national level. Some political analysts believe that Kumar may stay away from any pre-poll alliance in 2019 polls.

One of the biggest points of contention in the Opposition is who gets to be the face of such an alliance? Mamata clearly wants to take the lead. But then why should the Left support her? Why not Mulayam Singh Yadav? Mamata is already aiming for the “young boy” Akhilesh, who she feels may be more malleable.

The other problem is, Congress itself. Why would the national party agree to fight under a regional player? After the UP debacle, many within the Congress feel that the party cannot piggyback on smaller parties without selling its self-esteem.
But these are tough times, and tough times often melt hardened egos. As a senior Congress leader puts it, “it’s no longer a matter of choice, but a compulsion. Now, we have to fight Modi together”.

On Monday, all the allies of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) met at a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and announced: “we all agreed to accept and fight under the leadership of Modi in 2019.” This may sound obvious, but rings alarms bells in the Opposition’s ears.

As Mamata ended her Delhi tour, serving chicken cutlets to her visitors, she and the rest of the opposition leaders have begun work on preparing a winning dish. Will Mamata be the master chef this time? Or will the dish called opposition unity turn cold prematurely?

| Edited by: Ashish Yechury
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