Local differences loom large over opposition's quest for national unity

The Bengaluru meeting may take forward electoral alliance talks

PTI07_06_2023_000237A Friends in need: Rahul Gandhi with Sharad Pawar and Supriya Sule at Pawar's residence in Delhi | PTI

A month is a long time in politics. As the gathering of opposition parties travels to Bengaluru for their second meeting to discuss a joint fight in the Lok Sabha elections, a lot has changed since their first meeting in Patna. Though 15 opposition leaders had signed off on a positive note in the Bihar capital, there have been some major developments that are expected to cast a shadow on the proceedings as they meet in the garden city.

When the leaders meet in Bengaluru on July 17 and 18 to take forward their discussions, the elephant in the room will be the sudden turn of events in Maharashtra, where the opposition alliance has been dealt a major blow by the switching over of NCP leader Ajit Pawar along with a bunch of legislators to the ruling side.

To begin with, there are now doubts about how much Sharad Pawar will be able to dedicate himself to tighten the nuts and bolts of the opposition unity efforts when he is scrambling to salvage his hold over his own party. A senior Congress leader said the signs were there for everyone to see of what was to happen in Maharashtra, and, perhaps, the Patna meeting only hastened the turn of events.

There were indications closer to the shocker on July 2. The Congress leader said they were puzzled when Pawar informed reporters about the venue and dates of the opposition meeting—Bengaluru, July 13-14 (the dates were later changed to July 17-18)—even as it was being discussed and a final decision had not been taken. Some opposition parties had even suggested that Jaipur could be looked at as a possible venue considering that Rajasthan goes to polls later this year. It was also felt that the announcement ought to have been made by the Congress, the host of the meeting. Pawar, perhaps aware of what was going to happen, wanted to distance himself from it, said the leader.

The Congress, for the record, has opted to express solidarity with Pawar. This was made evident when Rahul Gandhi called on Pawar at his residence in Delhi soon after the meeting of the NCP's national executive.

“The BJP is attempting to finish off democracy in Maharashtra,” said K.C. Venugopal, Congress general secretary in charge of organisation. “It is trying to break parties, using ED, CBI, IT and money power. This will backfire on them. The people of the state will defeat their efforts. The Congress will fight the election as part of the coalition.”

Maharashtra was among the few states where the parties expected to take forward alliance talks with relative ease. An opposition alliance was already in place and it had been in power for some time. And many surveys said it had better prospects than the NDA in the Lok Sabha polls. The situation now is very different, but it also comes as an opportunity for the Congress to claim pole position in the opposition space in the state. The party is keen to reclaim its lost space in the state and this is expected to change the dynamics in the opposition alliance in the state.

Another state where it was felt that a tie-up for the Lok Sabha elections would not be difficult is Bihar, where the ruling alliance had hosted the first meeting of the opposition. However, there is a growing sense of unease in the ruling camp in Patna. There are fears that the BJP could be attempting Maharashtra-like machination. BJP leaders are talking about disgruntled MLAs in the JD(U) and pointing out that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is devoting unusually long periods of time meeting party legislators. To add to the growing feeling of uncertainty in the ruling camp is the charge-sheet filed by the CBI against Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav in the alleged land-for-jobs scam.

And then, there is the ongoing skirmish between the Congress and the AAP over the Centre's ordinance on the control of bureaucracy in Delhi. The Congress has sent invitations to 24 parties, which includes all the 15 parties that had attended the Patna meeting. However, the AAP is sticking to its stand that the Congress should make clear whether it will support the AAP on the ordinance issue in the Rajya Sabha.

“All the parties which participated in the meeting in Patna extended support to the AAP on the ordinance issue except for the Congress, which had in front of all the parties given the assurance that 15 days before the Parliament session, they will declare their stand on the ordinance. We urge the Congress to make its stand clear,” said Saurabh Bharadwaj, Delhi Health Minister and AAP's national spokesperson.

There is also the underlying tension between the Trinamool Congress, and the Congress and the Left on their electoral rivalry in West Bengal. The Congress and the Left have held the Trinamool responsible for the violence in the panchayat elections.

The aim of the Bengaluru meeting—preparing a common campaign plan and taking forward electoral alliance talks—might be much more significant than state-level issues. But the local always has an impact on the national.