Minutes before Parliament begins every morning, the Congress’s social media handles unfailingly share video clips showing top leaders of various Opposition parties huddled around Congress president and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, brainstorming strategies to hold the government accountable on the floor of the House.
The idea, of course, is to project a united face of the Opposition, as its leaders face a series of corruption cases pursued aggressively by the government’s investigating agencies ranging from the CBI to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), in one state after another.
संयुक्त विपक्ष की मांग है- अडानी महाघोटाले में JPC बनाई जाए।
इस मांग को लेकर आज विपक्षी दलों की बैठक कांग्रेस अध्यक्ष व राज्यसभा में नेता प्रतिपक्ष श्री @kharge के चेम्बर में हुई। pic.twitter.com/c3gSsR4kve
— Congress (@INCIndia) March 20, 2023
It is another matter that one does not even have to scratch beneath the surface to spot the cracks in the “we stand united” narrative. For instance, Trinamool Congress, the second largest Opposition party in Parliament after the Congress, has been regularly skipping the meetings at Kharge’s chamber.
The TMC has taken a different stand on the issue of the allegations against the Adani Group, saying that instead of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe, as the Congress is demanding, there should be a Supreme Court-monitored investigation.
Earlier, neither the TMC nor the NCP signed onto a joint letter by the Opposition to the ED Director demanding a probe into the Adani row. “The letterhead need not have been that of Kharge’s,” said a senior TMC leader, remarks that indicate the extent of the growing strain in the ties between the two parties since 2021, when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee first questioned the very existence of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
“The Congress party needs to make up its mind. You will be friends with the Left in Tripura, in West Bengal, and that’s your choice. In Meghalaya, before the election, you will level allegations on how bad the TMC is. The leader of the largest party in the Lok Sabha will make wild charges… The TMC is very clear that you cannot have separate rules,” TMC Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien said on Thursday.
On Sunday, Banerjee made the rancour far more evident by reportedly telling her party workers during an internal meeting that “Rahul Gandhi is the BJP’s biggest, you very well know what, I don’t need to spell out the rest… That is why the BJP is turning him into a hero of the Opposition camp.” The hint was at the BJP’s targeted assault on several fronts against Rahul in recent days.
A TMC leader, however, said not much should be read into such statements, and that Rahul too had in the past said things such as that Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi were alike.
“But despite that, Mamata tried her best to unite the Opposition ahead of the 2019 general elections by holding meetings, mega rallies. Even after her 2021 victory in Bengal, during her first visit to Delhi, she met Sonia Gandhi. But she kept waiting for the Congress to take the initiative. Also, the Congress needs to understand that its leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (the party’s West Bengal chief) cannot go on a rant against a three-term CM every day, like she is some upstart,” added the TMC leader.
And it’s not just the TMC. By going on an offensive against Rahul over his remarks in London on the state of democracy in India, the BJP has brought to the fore the discomfiture of others too in the Opposition, including those turning up at Kharge’s chamber, over the constant spotlight on the Wayanad MP.
For example, the Samajwadi Party. While SP Rajya Sabha MP Ram Gopal Yadav was present at the joint press conference of the Opposition on the Adani row on Monday, the party and Congress are drifting apart, with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav losing no occasion to take swipes at the Congress.
Just like the SP, the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party and Bharat Rashtra Samithi at Kharge’s meetings is no marker either of Opposition unity. An AAP MP said, “We have already announced that we will contest the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Our chief Arvind Kejriwal has been saying in all his speeches how the BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin. But we will not make forays in states where the regional parties are dominant. What does this indicate?”