A day after leaders of six Opposition parties — Rahul Gandhi (Congress), Mamata Banerjee (TMC), N Chandrababu Naidu (TDP), Sharad Pawar (NCP), Arvind Kejriwal (AAP) and Farooq Abdullah (NC) — discussed the idea of a national pre-poll alliance with a common minimum programme for the Lok Sabha elections, contradictions emerged in the Opposition camp with the Left parties wondering whether a national alliance would be practical.
There was confusion within the Congress itself, as the party leadership has always maintained that it is in favour of strategic, state-specific tie-ups.
Within 24 hours of the announcement, AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Congress has “more or less ruled out an alliance” with his party. The BSP, which was not part of the huddle at Pawar’s house on Wednesday, went a step ahead, with party chief Mayawati saying the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh and the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh are both examples of “state terror”.
“While the BJP government has made a mockery of the stringent sedition law to end freedom of speech, the Congress government in MP is following the path of the previous BJP government and has slapped NSA against Muslims arrested on charges of cow slaughter…,” she said.
Senior Congress leaders also expressed surprise over the new formulation and said it is still a “fluid situation”. “It is broader issues focused more on post-election. Pre-election, we already have an understanding with the NCP, National Conference. No understanding has been reached in West Bengal and Delhi. Bengal looks unlikely because Mamata has poached our MPs,” a senior leader told The Indian Express.
In UP, the SP and BSP have announced a seat-sharing pact, leaving just two seats for the Congress. The Congress has announced that it will field candidates from all the 80 seats.
Congress leaders have maintained that a national alliance would give the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi an opportunity to frame the 2019 battle as them versus a ragtag coalition. “He has already framed that debate. Perhaps the thought among the Opposition leaders was that we may as well fight together. But I don’t know how the seat-sharing in states like Delhi and West Bengal will be worked out,” said an Opposition leader.
Seat-sharing to common ground, an uphill task
While the leaders of six parties have announced their intent to forge a national pre-poll alliance and draw up a common minimum programme, working out the details, especially seat-sharing, won’t be easy. The parties will have to overcome the huge trust deficit in order to forge a meaningful understanding. For now, their opposition to BJP is the only binding factor. For Congress president Rahul Gandhi, it will also be his first test of leadership in negotiating a pre-poll alliance — in the past, he has often said that the sentiments of state units will be given weightage when it comes to tie-ups.
The Left, which has been the pivot of Opposition unity efforts in the past, wondered whether a pre-election national alliance was workable. “The issues that come up on the agenda after the elections depend on which parties are getting together to form the alliance. That has been the practice all along for the last three decades. What we have been saying is that work out tactics at the state level to pool the maximum anti-BJP votes, then decide on formation of the government post-elections,” CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury told The Indian Express.
“They can make efforts. There is no harm in trying to make efforts. But it can only materialise post-elections,” Yechury said. The Left was not part of the meeting at Pawar’s residence — Left leaders, SP and BSP had attended a dinner earlier.
Sources said TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu broached the topic of a national alliance and common minimum programme when leaders of 21 Opposition parties met here earlier this month to discuss the EVM issue. According to sources, some of the leaders, including those from the Left, discouraged him then.
“I don’t know how far this is going to be practical and realistic… Because what kind of coalition will emerge, what will be the composition of that coalition, the numerical strength… everything will have to been seen only after elections,” said senior CPI leader D Raja.