Multiple Opposition fronts may throw up a 1996 scenario in 2024


By Quaid Najmi Mumbai, March 19 : With the countdown to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections on, all major Opposition parties, including the regional forces, are bracing for a big political battle to oust the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and a situation akin to 1996 emerging not ruled out. Machinations are on in a big way for the past couple of years with several local, regional or national level 'conclaves' of Opposition parties being held at regular intervals, raising -- and then dimming -- hopes of the entire pack uniting to lock horns with the BJP and its allies. The latest in the series is the effort by Trinamool Congress President and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and Samajwadi Party President and ex-Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav, who have agreed to keep "equidistant" from the BJP and the Congress. Banerjee plans to rope in others like Biju Janata Dal President and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik plus Bharat Rashtra Samithi President and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao and other leaders soon. Maharashtra's Opposition front, Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) comprising the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, and the Shiv Sena-UBT are closely watching the developments, with a few senior leaders wondering whether the new associations are coming up to take on the BJP or hammer the Congress! Many parties from the other southern states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, the Janata Dal-U of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, the Aam Aadmi Party, and other regional forces are also monitoring the unfolding situation, compounding the confused scenario. The MVA leaders, particularly NCP and Sena-UBT have made it clear on record that "no Opposition unity is possible by excluding Congress", and junk theories of "Congress being isolated" or "Rahul Gandhi spelling doom" for the Opposition, and so on. While admitting that there's no clear wave against the BJP, a Sena-UBT leader claimed that the current mood of the nation is quickly sliding to "anti-BJP", with the blatant attempts made to "finish off" the opposition or regional parties, the misuse of central agencies and the onslaught on all democratic institutions. Concurring, a NCP functionary said that the BJP will be made accountable for mishandling of the economy, failure to control inflation and arrest unemployment, frittering resources on showpiece projects or mega-events, et al. A senior state Congress leader, preferring anonymity, feels the scenario in 2024 would be daunting for the BJP at even more levels. This time, a total of around 14 per cent new voters will be added, besides 20 per cent minority voters - the latter having an average voting record of barely 38-42 per cent. "The new voters will come with huge hopes for their future and the current scenario barely inspires confidence in them... Perhaps for the first time since 1989, even the minorities will turn out in huge numbers and return to the Congress fold," he contended. A Sena-UBT office-bearer said that the grassroots trend is slowly emerging -- "who or which alliance" can help defeat the BJP and they will vote accordingly -- in Maharashtra, this sentiment alone could fetch the MVA between 35-38 seats (out of 48 Lok Sabha seats). The NCP's recent move to support the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)-BJP alliance raised not only political eyebrows but questions on the GrandMaster Sharad Pawar's future strategy, though he remains the most "well-regarded" senior politician. Sena-UBT and Congress leaders speculate that in case of an adverse ruling in the ongoing Supreme Court challenge to the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, the NCP could spring some uncomfortable surprises. At the national level, the BJP-led NDA would remain strong in its bastions like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and partly in Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and the northeast. The Congress-led UPA is likely to "exceed expectations", and attract more parties into its caravan in the coming months, especially from the south and west. "This time, most regional parties are seriously regrouping due to a fear of the Central investigation agencies being unleashed if the BJP returns ... Many are clear that it's a 'now-or-never ballgame' they can't afford to lose," said another NCP office-bearer. As per a MVA leader's calculations, the Congress may bounce back to the 1996-level getting around 140-plus seats, the BJP may be restricted below 200, and the rest could be shared in big and small chunks by the other Opposition/regional parties. However, there are also apprehensions that the BJP may resort to some big "political or economic sensationalism" in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls which could help it to attract the fence-sitters or Hindutva doubting-thomases, and up its potential tally significantly for a comeback. A couple of Congress and Sena-UBT leaders grimly remarked that wherever the Opposition fails to unite, it will "benefit only BJP" and every parliament seat that will witness a triangular or multi-cornered contest can be safely written off beforehand. (Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in) /IANS




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