It was not difficult to guess that Sharad Yadav would stand against Nitish Kumar and oppose his decision to rejoin BJP. They had been working in different directions and were not in good communication. While Yadav was trying to forge an alliance parties opposed to BJP to put up a challenge in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bihar Chief Minister was giving mixed signals. However, people were hardly expecting him to join the alliance which he had left on the issue of Narendra Modi’s leading it. After a fierce electoral battle and his campaign, though short-lived, of ‘Sanghamukta Bharat’, people had thought to have closed his doors on BJP forever.
But he chose to join a BJP which has by now no collective leadership and is led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Kumar’s leaving Mahagathbandhan is a real surprise. People are linking it to various cases. The recently highlighted Srijan Ghotala is also being cited as the reason. The scam involves over 1500 crore of money from the government treasury and the prime suspect has died in mysterious circumstances. The Congress and other opposition parties are demanding a Supreme Court-guided probe.
Senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari attributes the exit of Kumar to some psychological problems the latter is having with Lalu Prasad. Kumar says that he could not run a government in partnership with a tainted family.
Whatever may be the reason, his exit severely damaged the opposition and it had to start fresh move of unity. The political stance taken by Sharad Yadav has, to a extent, rescued the opposition ranks from the embarrassment. He has given the Opposition a much needed moral support by opposing Kumar’s decision. But, it is still questioned whether the opposition could be able recover the damage? Can Sharad Yadav be the leader of united opposition in challenging Prime Minister Modi in 2019 elections?
Leaders are not unanimous on the issue. “He has all the qualities of a statesman, but he lacks mass support on the ground,” said a senior leader of JDU. The perception of his not being a mass leader may make his task difficult. May be the argument is a bit exaggerated keeping in view his long presence in the mainstream of national politics and the crucial interventions in the politics of Janata Dal. His supporters are also arguing that Modi was also a regional leader before he was he was picked by the BJP to lead the party. They cite Yadav’s clean image as his biggest achievement. “It may help him make up the shortcoming,” says senior leader Arun Shrivastava and Javed Raza. Both are his longtime associates. But even if the Opposition gets a seasoned politician as its leader, it will have to do lot more to make the 2019 battle difficult for Modi and Shah. The duo has all the skills at their hand and their being in government is a big advantage.
The way investigating agencies are chasing opposition leaders that it leaves no doubt that Prime Minister Modi will reuse the corruption-card against in next elections. On the other side, the Opposition is yet to devise a counter strategy. The Congress, the main opposition of the country has been defensive on the issue and is unable to make a counter-offensive despite the fact that there are many instances of corruption against BJP governments in states. Other parties including BSP, RJD or SP are also not in a position of build up an anti-corruption narrative. Their leaders are busy in saving themselves from the centre’s offensive against them. Only Mamata Banerjee seems to be standing firmly against this offensive.
The big question before the Opposition is of building up a proper narrative against the Modi government. The failure of the government to keep up its promises of providing employment, bringing back black money stashed in foreign banks and making life better for farmers could be the main plank of the Opposition. Recently, cases of major lapses in governance have also emerged. Rail accidents are one of them. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has willingly offered to become a scapegoat. The Railway Board Chairman was forced to quit making way for Ashwini Lohani, the Chief of Air India. In fact, Prabhu has been following PMO’s instructions and the railway has been run in accordance with the wishes of Prime Minister Modi. Prabhu presided over the end of railways’ autonomy and privatized core sectors of it. Lohani may extend it further.
Recent deaths at Gorakhpur have shown the failure of the UP government headed by Yogi Adityanath. The cover up is not at the level of governance only. The fact that Baba Raghav Das Medical College which has been nodal centre for research on encephalitis and receives most of the patients was allocated this year only half of the fund it has been getting. Yogi allocated handsomely to the projects of religious-tourism and cow-protection. In this case, the Opposition utterly failed in cornering the government.
It is not difficult to understand the reason behind Opposition’s failure to make a cohesive effort. We can see the absence of Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati from the BJP Bhagao Rally at Patna. Bihar can give the Opposition the much-needed space because of the strong presence of Lalu Prasad and his party. His younger son Tejaswi has been able to provide the leadership his party requires at the moment.
Before stitching a unity, parties need to take care of their individual problems. If Congress needs to give free hand to Rahul Gandhi and strengthen his hands in emerging as an important leader of the country, the CPM requires projecting Sitaram Yechury. Similar changes are required in the leadership of Samajwadi Party where Akhilesh should get rid of all those people whose anti-BJP credential is doubtful.
The opposition parties require an anti-corporate and pro-people narrative. Can they do it? The possibility is remote because parties are refraining from taking a clear stand on economic issues.