The much-publicised meeting of leaders of opposition parties marks the beginning of a long journey — to nowhere. Every such meeting has a pattern: One or two individuals take the lead and some event, like elections, triggers a series of get-togethers. The latest meeting seems to have been fast-tracked by the recently held state assembly elections in which the Bharatiya Janata Party could only retain Assam. Though it did not win West Bengal, the party took a quantum jump as far as the number of seats are concerned. In two other states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it was a non-starter.
Who wants a third front
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor is being credited as the promoter of this meeting, which took place at Sharad Pawar’s Delhi residence. An otherwise successful politician, Pawar seems to have lost his ability to strategise for poll victories. It is a sad reflection on the political state of affairs that he is having to depend on a relatively new player who was once credited for scripting the election campaign strategy of Narendra Modi in 2014.
Such meetings of opposition leaders, like-minded individuals and the so-called third front parties are not new in politics. They are all aimed at dislodging the existing set up, either at the centre or in states. Basically, they are people and parties who have lost elections, lost the race within their own parties or failed to find a place in the ruling clique. Parties like the Congress and the Janata Party, only to name a few, have split a number of times into countless factions.
At Pawar’s house, no representative of the Congress was present in the meeting. This makes the group a platform for non-BJP, non-Congress personalities and parties. But all of these individuals who attended the meeting have had close political association with either the BJP and or the Congress at some time or the other during their long political and social life. Ironically, the Rashtra Manch, as it is called now, is also not a new entity as one of its leaders is Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP veteran.
The 2019 election, which returned the BJP under Narendra Modi-Amit Shah leadership, virtually forced some of the regional parties and leaders to go into a huddle and look for ways to cobble some sort of a platform to voice their views. In reality, it was the fear of being marginalised and rendered politically redundant that forced them to come together. The Congress and the Communists were watching the meetings from the side-lines. For all the tall talks of putting up a united fight against the BJP, the parties parted ways when the state assembly election were declared. The Congress and the Left were reduced to pulp. The united opposition fight against the BJP was kept aside for another day in all these states.
Congress is the reason
With elections done and dusted for now, the unemployed politicians are regrouping. Will such platforms succeed is an important question. Ideally, with the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) sharing power in Maharashtra, the Congress should have been part of the meeting. In fact, the general feeling in the political circles in Maharashtra is that the Congress is seen as a marginal player in the coalition government. The political arrangement like the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) between the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress has very limited shelf life. It will vanish the day one of them decides to call off the game and walk away with the stumps.
It is possible that the NCP does not want to repeat the mistakes that the Samajwadi Party (SP) did in Uttar Pradesh in the last assembly election by aligning with the Congress and trying to swim with an albatross around its neck. Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi seems to be a sure way to lose elections anywhere. None of the regional parties would want to share a platform with the Congress, especially when it comes to forming a pre-poll alliance in their respective states. Seven states will witness elections in the next twelve months, including Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. While the regional parties would want to go it alone in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat will be a ‘do or die’ for the Congress. Given the ramshackle nature of the political alliance in Maharashtra, that state appears ready enough to join the electoral bandwagon in 2021-2022.
The Rashtra Manch-type meetings, therefore, are in a way a confirmation of the utter failure and futility of the Congress party to provide an alternative to the BJP. A strong third front will be another coffin nail in the future of the Congress party. The more such meetings take place, the greater will be the frustration among the cadre and leaders (whatever little is left of it) of the Congress party. The urge to be part of the ruling dispensation will goad them to jump ship or split the party to try their political fortunes. But none of this will be a credible alternative to the BJP, unless they are able to come up with an alternative agenda, matching leadership and strong cadre base.
Two factors reign supreme in the minds of the voters when they enter a polling booth: one is the need for a strong centre to guarantee national security and integrity, and the other is freedom from economic woes.
Neither the Congress nor groups like Rashtra Manch seem to possess any of these qualifications. They have not yet come up with an agenda, or offered solution to ease the current economic pain; they don’t have a leader to match the stature and credibility of Narendra Modi, and building a cadre like that of the BJP takes decades. So, for now, such luncheon meetings are good to satisfy some egos, fill the coffers of some event managers and provide grist for the media mill.
Seshadri Chari is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)