As the NDA government completes three years at the Centre, options for Congress are limited except for the fact that it can position itself as a rallying point for the Opposition unity to take on the rampaging “Brand Modi”.
The Presidential election slated for July-end throws up an opportunity and going by the current trend, the Congress has embarked upon the path to provide leadership, as majority of regional satraps have so far stuck to the ritual of visiting the 10 Janpath abode of Sonia Gandhi.
If all goes well, the country will see a formidable united Opposition candidate to take on the ruling BJP’s nominee. Victory or loss in the Presidential poll may not be of great consequences for the Opposition, but a united campaign may catapult the Congress as the core of forces staging a fight-back against the ruling BJP. It can make 2019 contest quite meaningful.
Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samajwadi Party
The Uttar Pradesh giants will take some time before they recover from the electoral shock defeat. Instead of being positive to recover their lost ground, the Samajwadi Party needs to put its own house in order, and Bahujan Samajwadi Party requires measures to neutralise the impact of demonetisation.
BJP with a historical mandate appears to have gone overboard by installing Yogi Adityanath (a Thakur), in the Lucknow saddle, who has alienated the formidable Brahmin lobby and BJP’s traditional vote base among the non-Yadav OBCs. Muslims are feeling isolated and political irrelevance, and Dalits are looking for political re-assertion. The Saharanpur, Moradabad, Samli and Sambhal districts have shown samples of caste churning.
Under such circumstances, SP-BSP could see an opportunity to break the fragile Hindu caste unity, which propelled the saffron surge at the Centre and in the state. The process has begun with Dalits at the district level starting to look for fresh leadership under BSP. Even Muslims have shown inclination towards aligning with the Dalit forces. This leaves little option for Akhilesh Yadav’s SP but to have an alliance with the BSP to ensure a formidable challenge to the BJP in 2019.
Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United)
Bihar still appears to be the weakest link in the grand Opposition unity. The BJP at the Centre seems to have sensed it well and thus has activated Central agencies against RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his family members. This in a way also helps Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) as a vulnerable RJD gives ample room for Kumar to manoeuvre well to prolong his rule in the state.
Lalu, a staunch Sonia Gandhi loyalist, has recently made no bones about his intent that at any cost he would ally with the Congress. However, instead of taking on the BJP, Lalu Prasad, given the situation he is caught in following the income tax raids, is fighting a survival battle.
With Nitish announcing his decision to withdraw from the Prime Ministerial race in 2019 and also deciding not to field his party candidates in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections even after making strong initial overtures, it seems he’s content with his current role in Patna. In the political circle, talks are also doing the rounds that he might turn out to be a knot in the Opposition unity if BJP throws up party stalwart L K Advani as the official candidate in the Presidential election.
Biju Janata Dal
Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik will complete four consecutive terms when the state goes for Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2019. That anti-incumbency is taking monstrous proportion seems evident with dissent in the ranks of the BJD hitting the headlines. Patnaik decimated the Congress in the state, but his worry is the saffron rise, as the BJP, barring the coastal parts, made substantial gains in the recent panchayat elections.
Patnaik seems unnerved that BJP chief Amit Shah has no reservation in importing leadership in regions where the saffron outfit is weak. Shah is eyeing disgruntled elements in the BJD to pole-vault to power in Bhubaneswar.
With BJP training guns on Patnaik, BJD—which was seen as part of the NDA-plus due to its softness to Modi—is hinting at moving closer to the Opposition. Though Patnaik met his West Bengal and Bihar counterparts, his rabid anti-Congressism makes him a fence-sitter in Indian politics.
With the CBI baying for blood in the chit fund and Rose Valley scams, Trinamool Congress is wary of the party leaders netted by the investigative agency. With the CBI heat rising against the TMC leaders, Banerjee also has to worry for the fact that West Bengal is the top most state in the list of Amit Shah for the expansion of the BJP. The recent by-election has dropped enough hints that the BJP is emerging a challenger in the state despite lacking credible local leadership in the state.
With the BJP on her home turf, Banerjee has gone on an overdrive to challenge Modi in 2019 by reaching out to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other influential leaders. The TMC is also seen bonding well with the Congress in both the Houses of Parliament. The TMC-Congress alliance in the state, besides a formation of a large Opposition front, is the talk of the town.