With less than 10 months left for the 2019 General Elections, the Opposition parties have to frame their electoral strategy with pragmatism so that there is a common Opposition candidate in the maximum number of seats. Of the 543 seats of Lok Sabha, they have to make all efforts to ensure a one-on-one fight between the main Opposition and the BJP-led NDA in about 430 of the 543 seats, leaving the remaining 113 seats open for contest among the regional parties and the Congress.
This can be made possible by adopting a two-pronged strategy and dividing the states into two categories: first, states where the Congress is the main political party and where there is no strong regional party. In these states, the Congress will lead the Opposition front by having some understanding with the smaller anti-BJP parties. The Congress will be the natural leader in these states and it will have a major say in the allocation of seats. These states are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and a few N-E states.
Second are states where regional, anti-BJP parties are ruling, but the Congress is also fighting for increasing its strength. These are Andhra, Telangana, Bengal and Odisha. The regional parties will naturally like to ensure their dominance and will not allow the Congress to take over their political spaces. The Congress must reconcile to this reality and, in these states, there can be contests between the regional parties and the Congress, too, apart from the main enemy, the BJP, but ways can be found out to see that some adjustments take place in seats where BJP candidates are very strong and a divided Opposition may facilitate a BJP victory. The moot point is that, if there is full seriousness that the BJP candidates have to be defeated at all costs, an understanding can be arrived at between the Congress and the regional parties in the second category of states, too.
As of now, the Congress leadership is showing maturity in dealing with the allies and even the smaller parties which were never touched before are being approached. This is a positive development for strengthening Opposition unity against the NDA led by the BJP. It is good that the Congress has, at last, come to understand that the ‘grand old party’ needs assistance from all anti-BJP forces to fight the formidable BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
NCP president Sharad Pawar, in a recent interview, put the issue into proper perspective. First, there may not be a total so-called ‘mahagatbandhan’ before the Lok Sabha elections. The regional parties and the Congress may test their respective strengths in many states. But this Opposition alliance has to cover a maximum number of Lok Sabha constituencies as possible. Further, the opposition should not talk of a PM candidate before the Lok Sabha polls. As in the 2004 LS elections, the candidate will be decided only after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are over. This is the most sensible suggestion and the Congress should accept this.
Opposition parties have moved in the recent weeks to form an anti-BJP alliance for the 2019 polls and, so far, discussions seems to have gone well in seven states UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and J&K. Of these, UP and Bihar are the most important and the positive aspect is that both the SP and the BSP have taken concrete steps to forge a formidable alliance against the BJP for the Lok Sabha polls.
Similarly, in Bihar, the RJD-led Opposition is in talks with the other parties outside the alliance. Nitish Kumar’s relations with the BJP are at the lowest ebb now and the JD(U) led by Nitish is on the verge of a break-up. The RJD-led combine is in pretty good shape, but it must remember that the BJP and its allies got 31 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar in the 2014 elections.
The above-mentioned 7 states comprise 255 Lok Sabha seats and the BJP, along with its allies, got around 162 in 2014. The BJP had got 282 seats in the 2014 polls due to the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi’s charisma and the disunity of the Opposition parties, apart from the UPA’s rampant corruption in its second term.
But this may be just the right time for the Congress and the other Opposition parties to seize the initiative and project a united face to challenge the BJP.
(The author is a political commentator)