Rajat Sharma

PM Modi : No challenge, no vacancy?

AKB30 In Delhi, efforts are going on in political circles to carry out permutation and combinations among parties with an eye on next year’s assembly elections in UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand and two other states in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

On Tuesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi invited floor leaders of 17 opposition parties at a breakfast meeting, but BSP and Aam Aadmi Party leaders chose not to attend. Leaders of only 15 parties attended. After the meeting, Rahul rode a bicycle with other MPs to attend Parliament. This was a ploy to gain media attention in order to corner Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue of fuel price rise.

Whenever Rahul Gandhi feels he has got a big issue to challenge Modi, he invites opposition party leaders for discussion, though nothing concrete emerges out of such meetings. The Congress leader presently feels he can corner Modi on the Pegasus spyware issue. For the last two weeks, normal work in both houses of Parliament has come to a standstill as opposition parties continue with disruptions. At the breakfast meeting, Rahul Gandhi told the floor leaders that if all parties joined hands, the government will not be able to suppress the voices of dissent.

NCP representative attended the breakfast meeting, but in the afternoon their party supremo Sharad Pawar has busy in a closed door meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah. Meanwhile, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav called on Sharad Yadav in Delhi. He later told media that Late Ramvilas Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan should join hands with his son Tejashwi Yadav to strengthen opposition unity in Bihar. All these fast moving developments bring forth the question: Can the opposition forge a united front against Modi?

At the breakfast meeting, Rahul Gandhi claimed that nearly 60 per cent of Indian voters are with the opposition parties, and leaders of these parties must not hesitate to raise the voice of the people. Government cannot suppress our voice, if we stay united, said Rahul. Nearly 100 MPs belonging to opposition parties attended the breakfast meeting. It was clear at the meeting that most of these regional parties were pursuing their own agenda, even as Rahul sought to unite them on three issues: Farmers’ protest, Pegasus spyware controversy and price rise. Parties that attended the meeting included Trinamool Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena, DMK, CPI(M), CPI, RJD, SP, JMM, National Conference, Indian Union Muslim League, RSP, Kerala Congress (M), LJD and RSP.

Rahul has this habit of repeating the dialogue that he likes best. On Tuesday, he repeatedly said that opposition parties represented 60 per cent of Indian voters and they must unite. Last week, Rahul rode a tractor to Parliament to highlight farmers’ issue, and got media attention. On Tuesday, a truck load of bicycles were brought and Rahul, along with other MPs, rode the bicycles to Parliament. Needless to say, these visuals grabbed media attention.

Inside Parliament, the Congress, along with other opposition parties, is pressing for a probe into the Pegasus controversy. Rahul and his advisers feel that this is one issue on which they can forge opposition unity, which has been elusive till know. Rahul has been advised that his party cannot win any Lok Sabha election on its own, and will have to depend on alliance with other parties.

The days of Congress dominance in national politics are over. His advisers have explained that if Narendra Modi can be elected Prime Minister twice by cornering 38 per cent votes and winning 303 Lok Sabha seats, then Congress can also make a comeback, since it garnered 20 per cent votes in the last LS elections. He has been told by advisers that regional parties could be the key to Congress’ success. Politics, however, is a different ball game. Elections are not won on the basis of mathematical calculations.

There are several political conundrums which have to be taken into account. One, why should Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee, who won three assembly elections on her own, kow-tow to the Congress? Why should she accept Rahul as her leader? Two, in the last seven years of his rule, Narendra Modi has changed the landscape and direction (‘dasha’ and ‘disha’) of Indian politics. Old formulae do not work anymore. Remember, in the last elections, Akhilesh and Mayawati joined hands as ‘babua and bua’, but both the parties had to bite the dust in front of the BJP juggernaut in UP. There are many more such examples. Modi has proved by his actions that there is not a single leader who has the persona to challenge him on the national level. And, till the time he is there, one thing is clear: There is no vacancy at the top.

In one of my interviews with the Prime Minister, Modi had once said, “Congress leaders just fail to perceive in which direction I am moving. I move in one direction, and they start firing towards some other direction”. It is a fact that in the last several years, whenever the Congress and other opposition parties tried to corner Modi on any one issue, they failed miserably. Breakfast meetings can be good headlines on opposition unity, riding a tractor or a bicycle can make good visuals, but as of now, there is no big challenge before Modi. All the smaller and regional parties, issue statements that suits their objectives, and they compromise as soon as they sniff power. The days of joining hands on the basis of ideologies are over.

Pawar meets Amit Shah

I am saying this because of what happened on Tuesday. NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule and some of her party MPs attended Rahul’s breakfast meeting in the morning, but, by afternoon, political circles were agog over the afternoon meeting between Sharad Pawar and Home Minister Amit Shah.

On the face of it, NCP leaders said, the meeting was about Central aid to Maharashtra for natural disasters and for helping cooperative banks in the state, since Amit Shah has recently taken over as the Minister for Cooperation. Sharad Pawar and his men control most of the cash-rich cooperatives in Maharashtra, but, at a time, when the opposition leaders had gathered at a meeting, Pawar’s meeting with Amit Shah was bound to spread rumours. NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said, Pawar had discussed the problems being faced by cooperative banks in Maharashtra with the Prime Minister a few days ago, and Tuesday’s meeting with Amit Shah was a sequel. On his part, Nawab Malik added: “BJP and NCP are ideologically apart, and there is no question of the two coming together”.

Sharad Pawar is a politician with rich experience. He is known in political circles as a man who can hit different targets using a single arrow. When Pawar meets a strong politician, it is very difficult to gauge the extent of his strategic move. Nawab Malik may say, both parties gave different ideologies, but in today’s politics, nothing is permanent. Neither friends, nor foes, nor ideologies, nor thinking. Anything can happen. NCP and Shiv Sena were ideologically poles apart, but today, they are running a coalition government. In politics, things change with time.

I still remember, two years ago, at H. D. Kumaraswamy’s oath ceremony as Karnataka chief minister, the entire phalanx of opposition leaders was present, from Sonia Gandhi, to Arvind Kejriwal. Sonia had then publicly hugged Mayawati. It appeared as if a big, united opposition was in the making. But on Tuesday, neither BSP, nor AAP, nor Akali Dal was present. Akali Dal, after exiting NDA, is now BJP’s political foe, and yet, it avoided attending Rahul’s meeting, because the main fight in Punjab assembly polls next year will be between Akali Dal and Congress. The same applies to BSP. That is why they avoided sending wrong signals to the public.

Lalu meets Sharad Yadav

With time, not only politics, but relationships between politicians too undergo a change. On Tuesday, Lalu Prasad Yadav, convicted in fodder scam case, hugged his old foe Sharad Yadav. Though both the old politicians have kept away from active politics, they are still exploring ways and means to forge a Third Front. Lalu had met his ‘samadhi’ Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav on Monday, but he refrained from speaking to the media. On Tuesday, Lalu spoke to the media. He said, “the nation needs a new alternative. In Bihar, Tejashwi fought and tried to give a new alternative (during assembly elections). Chirag Paswan is the real successor of Ramvilas Paswan, the late Dalit leader from Bihar. Both Tejashwi and Chirag must now join hands.”

Lalu Prasad Yadav is a convict. He has already spent three years in jail on corruption charges. Because of electoral ban, he cannot join active politics and contest elections, but there is no bar on remaining active in politics. With his vast experience, Lalu can feel the pulse of the national politics. He has a good knowledge about caste equations in Bihar, and is, therefore, demanding that a fresh caste census be carried out in the state. Naturally, he is going to explore a Third Front by harping on the demand for caste census.

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