Naidu now beats a hasty retreat

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ahul Gandhi’s hopes of leading the ‘united front’ against Modi suffered another jolt, with TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu clarifying that the Congress president is not his candidate as the prime ministerial face in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He has clearly distanced himself from the view of DMK chief MK Stalin, who had proposed that the Gandhi scion be projected as the leader of the so-called ‘mahagathbandhan’ against the BJP government. Most Opposition leaders expressed dismay at Stalin’s suggestion, which was diagonally opposed to the shared view among them that the leader of the pack would be decided only after the election results were announced.

The good showing by the Congress in the latest round of Assembly elections seems to have boosted Rahul’s confidence as he has started behaving like the prime ministerial alternative. He took upon himself the role as the spokesman of the Opposition and declared they would force Modi to change his ways. But Stalin’s unilateral proposal spoiled the show as all the leaders who were stakeholders in the decision fell out and even opposed the idea.

The sudden twist also appeared to affect the prospects of Opposition unity, as leaders of major parties stayed away from the swearing-in of Kamal Nath, which the Congress had planned to make a splash of as a unity show similar to the one held in Bengaluru on the occasion of the installation of the HD Kumaraswamy government earlier this year. Although Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati and the Samajwadi Party’s (SP’s) Akhilesh Yadav pledged support to the Congress ministries in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, they kept the Congress out of their proposed alliance in Uttar Pradesh, the most crucial state in the Hindi heartland that will decide the fortunes in 2019.

Naidu’s sense of realism also stems from the failed experiment in Telangana, where the TDP and Congress fighting together nearly drew a blank. The election was supposed to be baptism in fire for the newfound love between the two partners, but ended in an anti-climax. The results poured cold water on Naidu’s pre-election enthusiasm, which the TDP leader had hailed as ‘democratic compulsion’ for the two parties to come together after he broke off from the NDA. In fact, the election results gave a drubbing to Naidu’s ambitions of playing a national role, which, by default, became the right of chief minister Chandrasekhara Rao, who put up a stellar show as the votary of the non-BJP, non-Congress third front.

The evolving scene does not give much comfort to the Congress and Rahul as it is increasingly clear that a unified Opposition centering on the Congress is a distant possibility as the parties plough their individual tracks.