The rally held by the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) in Khammam earlier this week was a mini conclave of Opposition leaders. On stage, besides BRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao, were chief ministers Pinarayi Vijayan, Bhagwant Mann and Arvind Kejriwal, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and CPI general secretary D Raja. Missing from the show were Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav, Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin. Congress, banking on the Bharat Jodo Yatra for a political revival, was not invited. TMC, which fancies itself as a potential leader of a non-BJP, non-Congress front seems more focussed on the Northeast where assembly polls are due next month. Clearly, a united Opposition front or a broad non-Congress, non-BJP third front looks distant at this moment.
For now, be it BRS or TMC or JD-U, the focus seems to be on acquiring political capital for the party or party chief rather than building a cohesive political coalition. For instance, the Khammam rally turned out, more, to be a BRS rally with the few Opposition leaders on stage serving as props for boosting KCR’s national claims. The TMC may seem better placed in realising its national ambitions since it has emerged as the main opposition party in Meghalaya. The battle for Shillong is likely to feature multiple players, with the BJP and Congress separately battling the regional titan, Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party. In Tripura, the CPM and Congress have been trying to build a united front that also includes the dark horse, the Tipra Motha, against the ruling BJP. The only coalitions that have a settled look are the anti-BJP alliances in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Bihar, which are headed by regional groups which also seem to recognise the national footprint of the Congress. That said, many of these regional leaders fancy themselves as potential prime ministerial candidates in the event of a fractured mandate in 2024.
What binds these leaders is the fear of an ever-expanding BJP that has taken over the pole position held by Congress in the past. The BRS, for instance, has turned a strident critic of the Modi government because the BJP has become its main rival in Telangana. Unlike the National Front in the 1980s and United Front in the 1990s, the federal front of 2023 is more of a work in progress with no single party in a pivotal position. Regional ambitions and agendas drive its constituents, the search for a common ground is still on.