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The large opposition bloc at Kolkata signals a nascent national mahagathbandhan

TOI Edit

The crystallising of a formidable Opposition combine anchored largely by regional leaders was the key takeaway from Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s mammoth Kolkata rally. This opposition boosted by anti-incumbency will pose a stiff challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But this big band of leaders with bigger egos to boot has to work cohesively if they do manage to oust BJP in elections. This is pertinent as BJP could still be the single largest party, and an unstable ragtag combine solely to keep it out of power may lose sight of India’s strategic and economic interests.

If BJP’s problem is too few capable leaders and an over-centralised structure under the Modi-Shah combine, the opposition combine boasts a wealth of leaders but there is no knowing whether they can work together. HD Deve Gowda’s suggestion to draft a policy document to project a long-term unity project is relevant in this context. Except AIADMK, BJD and TRS which maintain a veneer of neutrality, the coming together of 23 parties at Mamata’s invitation recalls the third front era of 1989-91 and 1996-98. Despite Congress’s strong return to the Hindi heartland, Rahul Gandhi’s lack of experience in government handicaps his acceptability with many parties.

Contesting Rahul’s claims will be Deve Gowda, Sharad Pawar, N Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata who have experience in government, not to mention next-gen leaders such as Akhilesh Yadav. From the mahagathbandhan’s point of view it’s best to leave the question of its PM candidate open at the moment, even though that exposes it to BJP’s charge of being a ragtag bunch with no common agenda.

Despite the exhortations to field a common candidate against BJP in every seat, the opposition is still in a nascent and fluid stage and disagreements in seat sharing are rife. The mahagathbandhan will have its work cut out in thrashing out even those issues, which it will need to do to face down BJP’s gargantuan political machine. At the same time, even that such a mahagathbandhan is forming can’t be good news for BJP. It speaks to BJP’s difficulty in attracting allies, growing alarm at its erosion of institutions, anti-incumbency due to NDA government’s underperformance particularly in the light of its rhetoric and the vaulting expectations that it raised. Either way, the final word has not been said and coming Lok Sabha elections will be an engrossing contest.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

via TOI Blog

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The large opposition bloc at Kolkata signals a nascent national mahagathbandhan


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