Opposition has to adopt a 3-point programme to unseat Modi

Prime Ministership can be decided after the 2019 lok sabha election

Nitya Chakraborty

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has broken his mounabrata by giving an extensive interview on New Year’s Day to ANI which elaborates in a big way his strategy to fight the Lok Sabha polls in April/May 2019. Three things are clear. First, the Prime Minister will keep the pot boiling for the BJP and its allies on the Ram Mandir issue till the elections.

Expectations will be roused to rally the Sangh Parivar activists, but the PM may not take the final plunge before the Poll as is being demanded by the VHP and the RSS as also Shiv Sena. He will try to keep his appeal to the moderates who think that India needs a strong political leader and Modi has those elements. 

Second, he will target the Congress and Rahul Gandhi and try to create a big division in the opposition ranks. PM might use all the powers of the Government to delink Mayawati, K Chadrasekhar Rao, Navin Patnaik and AIDMK factions from any approach by the opposition, especially the Congress. Third, the PM has taken his lessons from the results of the recent state elections He has identified the farmers distress and the disenchantment of the jobless youth with the BJP government. He will take immediate remedial measures to improve the stock of his government and the BJP through the interim budget to be presented on February 1. 

The PM face of the Opposition 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is certainly authoritarian but the authoritarians are also go getters and that way, the PM fully aided by the BJP president Amit Shah will make desperate efforts to ensure that the BJP retains its power for the second time at the centre. So the Congress president Rahul Gandhi is facing a Prime Minister who knows his job and is determined to take corrective measures. The PM is slightly down but he has the capacity to make a turnaround before the elections. This scenario gives the Congress and the opposition little scope to make any mistake that will be taken advantage of by the PM and the BJP leadership. Rahul has emerged as the natural leader of the opposition after the success in the three BJP ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh but that does not lead to a situation where he can be projected as the Prime Minister candidate of the opposition before the poll. 

So far the Congress President has shown maturity in dealing with the PM issue. He has said a number of times that the PM ship is not the issue now, but he should not also allow others, belonging both to his own Party or to the opposition like DMK and Telugu Desam to publicly mention him as the potential PM candidate. This official declaration by the Congress President is very important at this stage to forge opposition unity on solid basis and frame foolproof strategy for defeating the BJP led NDA in the elections. As both the Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and the CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury have said ” let the opposition fight the poll unitedly to the extent possible, the leadership issue will be decided only on the basis of the poll results”. So just three months before the Lok Sabha elections, it is imperative that the Congress and the opposition decide officially that the issue of the Prime Ministership will be decided in the light of the poll results. This should be the starting point of the opposition unity efforts and the first point of the proposed three point programme. 

Put all efforts into building a national alliance 

The second point of the programme should be not to be too ambitious and make all efforts to make national alliance. The alliance of anti- BJP parties should be best tried at the state level. It will vary from state to state. For instance, if for any reason, the BSP and the SP are not able to bring Congress in its fold, it should not disturb the alliance efforts in other states. In Lok Sabha, in marginal seats, even small support base of the smaller parties should matter for the Congress as the main party challenging the BJP in that particular state. The objective should be to prevent the division of the anti-BJP votes. The regional parties have their own state compulsions and the pressure from their respective support bases. The Congress has to be prepared to recognize this ground reality and adjust the seat sharing process to the maximum benefit of the opposition. 

The most pragmatic course for the anti-BJP parties will be to follow a two track approach in respect of alliances. Under this, The Congress will be the leader in the states where it is fighting the BJP as the major party. It will be having adjustments with the smaller parties but finally the responsibility will be with the Congress as the leader. But in the states, where the regional parties are the rulers like West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, the regional parties naturally will not leave space to the Congress in the name of anti-BJP alliance and there the fights between the regional ruling party and the Congress can take place in Lok Sabha poll, but the understanding will be to be a part of anti-BJP alliance in post poll situation. 

Even under this two track approach, there is a possibility of a common opposition candidate in about 400 plus seats leaving about 143 seats out of the total of 543 seats. If a total unity of the opposition parties is made possible against the BJP in 400 seats, there is every reason to believe that the opposition should be able to gain more than 272 seats from this 400 figure and the seats from the other 140 seats where triangular fights might take place, will be additional. The opposition need to remember that 31 per cent was the vote share Modi polled at the height of his popularity in 2014 and he is today much less popular and the opposition’s starting percentage is 69 per cent if they have one common candidate against the BJP. 

Create a pro-people common minimum programme 

The third point of the opposition programme should be to prepare a real pro-people minimum common programme. As the leading party of the opposition, the Congress has to offer a real alternative to deal with the present farmer’s distress and the joblessness. The Congress manifestoes for the state assembly elections, especially of Chhattisgarh, contain a number of welcome features. The national manifesto must have the imprint of the new economic approach of Rahul Gandhi. It should demarcate the Congress from the era of Manmohan Singh-Chidambaram. Rahul has talked of fighting crony capitalists. He should reorient the Congress manifesto by incorporating fresh ideas. Rahul Gandhi must convey how socio political rifts translate into economic barriers and how the economics of tolerance builds new social and cultural bridges. The Congress manifesto has to be the anchor of the secular economic alternative of the opposition which will challenge the Modi way of development through crony capitalism and economic bigotry. 

For Rahul, his time has come. The country is watching closely whether he can be a game changer in 2019 India.

PM-ship and public woes 

•Rahul Gandhi has said a number of times that the PM-ship is not the issue now, but he should not also allow others, belonging both to his own Party or to the opposition like DMK and Telugu Desam to publicly mention him as the potential PM candidate. This official declaration by the Congress President is very important at this stage to forge opposition unity on solid basis and frame foolproof strategy for defeating the BJP led NDA in the elections. 

•As the the leading party of the opposition, the Congress has to offer a real alternative to deal with the present farmer’s distress and the joblessness. The Congress manifestoes for the state assembly elections, especially of Chhattisgarh, contain a number of welcome features. The national manifesto must have the imprint of the new economic approach of Rahul Gandhi.

(Author is a senior journalist)