Pawar takes the lead to bring a disparate crew together to take on the BJP. Will he succeed?
When a national leader with political antennae as sharp as Sharad Pawar decides to take the lead in forging unity among Opposition parties that don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues and wherein personality conflicts are rife as the only feasible way to take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, it says something about the state of play on both sides of the political spectrum. It is proof, if any were needed, of the unrelenting onward march of the BJP under the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah leadership team which has scaled new electoral heights over the past few years and is an, albeit backhanded, compliment for the very formidable nature of the challenge they represent. For the Opposition, on the other hand, it represents the last realistic chance for a combined effort to put up a strong electoral fight in the next General Election.
The fact that it is Pawar who is doing the initial running to get Opposition parties on the same platform is significant. Not known to dabble in unrealistic scenarios or have ambitions above his electoral station, as it were, given his Nationalist Congress Party has only a handful of MPs as he himself told his supporters who fancied him as Prime Ministerial material, the veteran has obviously sniffed an incipient anti-incumbency against the BJP in the political winds. But, equally, he seems to recognize that the Prime Minister’s popularity and the BJP’s ascendancy is no fluke and only mathematics, as in a very high index of opposition unity, and not chemistry, given the Opposition cupboard is pretty bare when it comes to a charismatic leader with pant india appeal, will cut it for the Opposition come 2019.
And that is where his problems begin. While his “March to save the Constitution” in Mumbai on 26 January drew limited response, the assurances he seems to have got from leaders of ‘like-minded parties’ has put a spring in his step and he has spent the past week speaking to, in no particular order, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, Mamata Banerjeeof the Trinamul Congress, 0 Raja of the Communist Party of India, Sharad Yadav of the breakaway Janata Oal-United, Hardik Patel, Ram Jethmalani and representatives of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, and Rashtriya Janata Oal. Next on the list, apparently, are the Biju Janata Oal, Aam Aadmi Party, Janata Oal-Secular, OMK and smaller parties from across the country. But already, the Congress, of which he was once a part, has started worrying about Pawar’s ‘ambitions’ and whether his acceptability as the leader of a combined Opposition in 2019, were it to succeed in dislodging the NOA, would dent Rahul Gandhi’s chances for 2024. More on point, one can only imagine the confusion among the ranks, say, of the BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh, the TMC and Left in West Bengal and other such delicious ironies which will in effect open up the entire political space to the BJP as the single pole of Indian politics, arrayed against which will be a coalition based only on anti-BJPism. Will it work? It could, provided hatred for the BJP trumps the Opposition’s own prospects of being long-term players in their individual capacities. More likely, though, the index of their unity will just not be enough. Thus TINA.