Updated: July 4, 2022 7:48:26 pm
June was a tumultuous month for the Opposition. First, while Rahul Gandhi’s grilling by the Enforcement Directorate gave the main Opposition party, the Congress, an opportunity to cry hoarse, it found little resonance among the public. This was followed by the nominations for the presidential elections that exposed the chinks in the Opposition camp. But the bolt from the blue came from Maharashtra – halfway into the ruling coalition’s term, the BJP played a masterstroke, taking the Congress and NCP unawares and knocking out the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena.
But the trials of the Opposition, which is facing an existential crisis of sorts, are far from over. The decision to field Yashwant Sinha as its presidential candidate exposed the limitations of the Opposition camp in terms of political thinking, imagination and strategy. Now the leading lights of the Opposition will have to sit together to decide on a candidate for the Vice Presidential elections.
But not just the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP, almost every Opposition party is bruised. The Samajwadi Party and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) suffered shock defeats in the Lok Sabha by-elections, forcing them into silence. The Samajwadi Party has, in fact, dissolved all its organisational units after it lost its erstwhile bastions of Azamgarh and Rampur to the BJP. Besides, the Congress lost a near certain Rajya Sabha seat from Haryana.
The Trinamool Congress is in a spot over the BJP’s decision to field Droupadi Murmu, a member of the Santhal tribal community, as its presidential candidate – the Santhals have a sizeable presence in West Bengal’s Jangalmahal region that’s spread across four districts with five Lok Sabha seats and nearly three dozen Assembly segments.
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Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee had earlier questioned the Congress’s dominance by taking the lead in convening a meeting of the Opposition leaders to decide on the candidate for the presidential elections. The Congress, which does not share a good equation with many of the Opposition leaders, including Mayawati, Arvind Kejriwal and K Chandrasekhar Rao, did not have much of an option but to play along grudgingly.
But the embarrassment of Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah and then Gopal Krishna Gandhi publicly rejecting the Opposition’s overtures and then the spectacle of the parties scrambling to settle for Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP veteran, made for poor optics and exposed the lack of imagination in the Opposition camp. With the NDA fielding Murmu, a tribal, the enthusiasm among the Opposition parties over the elections seems to have quickly died down.
The BSP, JD(S) and the Shiromani Akali Dal have announced their support for Murmu. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which is in power in Jharkhand in alliance with the Congress, is set to follow suit. The AAP is in a dilemma. There is a sense in the Opposition camp that the BJP has outsmarted each one of them. And Banerjee herself has gone on to say that Murmu could have been a consensus candidate had the NDA reached out to the Opposition.
Amid all this, the Opposition parties will have to now decide on their strategy for the Vice Presidential elections this fortnight. The last date for submitting nominations is July 19. The parties are yet to even begin talks. The big question now is, will the Congress take the lead to find a consensus candidate? Or will it remain passive and let others take the lead? That the NDA candidate will win is a foregone conclusion. The BJP alone has numbers above the half-way mark.
There are more questions staring these parties in their faces. Will the Opposition now wait for the BJP to announce its nominee? And do they have a surprise name in their quiver to outwit the ruling party, at least for the sake of optics? And more importantly, will the Opposition remain united? Will parties like the AAP, BSP, Akali Dal and JD(S) stand with the rest of the Opposition?
And what will Shiv Sena MPs do? Will the Shiv Sena parliamentary party also split? The Sena has 22 MPs — 19 in Lok Sabha and 3 in Rajya Sabha. The first indication of the mood of the Shiv Sena MPs — whether they will remain with Uddhav Thackeray or switch over to the Eknath Shinde camp — will become apparent in the presidential elections later this month. And it is not just the Sena. The Congress is apprehensive that there could be cross voting in favour of Murmu by its MLAs in states such as Odisha.
The challenge for the Opposition is unending.
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