Pataliputra parleys to just meet and greet
The success of any electoral alliance is precariously linked with the seat-sharing formula. Fortunately, barring Congress, none have footprints beyond their states.
If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, repetition is the repertoire on the most insincere stage of Indian politics. It was at a massive student rally in Patna on June 5, 1974, that social revolutionary and Opposition paterfamilias Jayaprakash Narayan called for Sampoorna Kranti against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial domination. On that fateful day, on the dais with JP was a young Bihari firebrand named Nitish Kumar. Almost half a century later, is the jaded but not faded Nitish flattering himself by imitating his mentor? He wishes to launch a similar model to oust Narendra Modi, a leader even mightier than Indira. Bihar’s habitually side-switching chief minister has invited dozen-odd leaders from the Congress and regional parties to hammer out a feasible action plan for a BJP-Mukt Bharat. Setting aside their ideological conflicts and ambitions, Opposition superstars such as Mamata Banerjee, Hemant Soren, Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal, Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar and M K Stalin, along with the shrunk Left leadership, will draw up the Out with Modi Map 2024 at Nitish’s behest. It’s for the first time in a decade that such a powerful phalanx of leaders who control over two-thirds of Lok Sabha seats would sit together to save, first, their own futures and later protect democracy from inching towards “dictatorship”. The vital issues on the table are three.
1. Who will be the leader?
Despite the coiled serpent of ambition stirring restlessly in their bosoms, no Modi toppler wannabe is ready with an answer in public. Prominent amongst the Patna 2.0 krantikaris are Nitish himself, Rahul, Mamata, Pawar, K Chandrashekar Rao and Kejriwal. Nitish, aka Munna, who has pitched himself as the alternative to Modi twice, seems to be adopting the sanyasi metric. He shrugs off any desire to be PM though his sponsors project him as the country’s singular unifier without a corruption or dynasty taint. Nitish is the only political leader whose public stature has risen inversely to his party’s performance. He is the only neta to become CM eight times by shifting his political loyalties and amending his ideological convictions. He sang the Modi Chalisa when the PM’s star began to rise. He abused him when he thought Modi was poised to fall. Nitish’s current objective is to keep aside the leadership issue till after the elections. But they would accept Rahul as their Prime Minister candidate only if the Congress becomes the single largest party with substantially more MPs than the combined strength of its allies. Hence, it must win at least 140 seats, if not more. Otherwise, it will be open season for the Opposition. Who knows, another Gujral or Gowda may rise like a paper phoenix from the ashes of personality clashes.
2. Who will fight how many seats?
The success of any electoral alliance is precariously linked with the seat-sharing formula. Fortunately, barring Congress, none have footprints beyond their states. Today’s Pawar-Nitish strategy is to maximise direct contests against the BJP. However, each of the 20 Opposition parties involved in the Patna Parleys wishes not only to retain its state electoral base but also to expand elsewhere as a stronger regional party or acquire a national tag. AAP, BRS and AITMC, which have national aspirations, would bargain for more seats in the alliance. However, all parties are on board with the one-seat allocation principle. There will be no friendly fire in seats already won. For example, TMC will contest all the seats it won in 2019. The Congress currently has 49 members in the lower house. Candidates who came second to the BJP, too, could benefit. The excessive expectations of Congress are the catch. While the unity talks are proceeding on the assumption that the Congress should contest around 325 seats leaving the rest to allies, it is unlikely to yield much ground since it has been wielding dominant influence in over 300 seats since 1998. Its colleagues can’t force it to give up any seat in Karnataka, MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. The BJP is in power thanks to the 125 seats it wrested from the Congress. Modi’s success or failure in winning a third term depends solely on the Congress’s performance. Buoyed by its massive Karnataka triumph, the Congress hopes at least to double its current Lok Sabha tally to 106 MPs next year. Problems will arise in West Bengal, Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Punjab and Delhi, where other Opposition parties are in the reckoning and will demand more. Barring Kerala, where the Left and Congress will face off as usual, the seat-adjustment formula for other states is almost finalised. The Congress will go it alone in Andhra, Telangana and Karnataka. The Opposition’s biggest challenge is to grab the lion’s share of UP’s 80 seats. With BSP’s marginalisation, a direct fight between SP and the BJP looks inevitable. However, Congress still has a substantial vote bank in most constituencies and will spoil the party if it puts up too many candidates. Akhilesh has been advised to behave magnanimously by conceding at least 20 seats it won in 2009 to the Congress. Whatever the outcome, the BJP will face a direct fight in almost 450 constituencies, with the Congress leading the Opposition charge, followed by Akhilesh, Mamata, Stalin and the Left.
3. What would be the agenda or a slogan?
Modi Hatao is so yesterday. United by the fear of the ED and haunted by desertion, the Patna participants have decided to arrive at a common minimum programme. Rahul’s Bharat Jodo concept will be the fulcrum of the Opposition’s election battle-Lana. Various opinion polls have shown that unemployment, inflation and law and order are today’s contentious issues. Rising communal disharmony has acquired centre stage in some states. An important Opposition plank will be cultural and social integrity: the plea to oppose the BJP’s imposition of a standardised cultural matrix on states to dilute India’s diversity. Sab Ka Bharat, Shant and Surakshit Bharat (Peaceful and Prosperous India for All) sums up the unifier’s spin. The Opposition unanimously feels that the local BJP leadership has almost vanished in most states. A section of the party feels Modi’s charisma and road shows are no longer converted into a decisive favourable swing like in Karnataka. Any feasible consensus cemented during the Patna Parleys could offer a respectable fight to Modi and his mighty machine. But the Spirit of 1977 may not reincarnate because there is more diversity than unity amongst the partners. The cohesiveness forged by JP was scattered in the treacherous winds of alliance contradictions. The Pataliputra rendezvous is unlikely to erase that scary scare from the past.
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