Tasks for an anti-BJP alliance

S. Sethuraman

Time for the Congress and regional/state parties to set about seriously on building the much talked of “anti-BJP alliance” at the state and national levels. It could proceed in stages but with necessary speed and determination to maintain momentum and establishing credibility for the alliance and for the nation as a whole.

They must not let being caught off guard with a sudden Prime Ministerial announcement on advancing the May 2019 poll. Vigorous moves of the Opposition at the national level would also help galvanise their leading cadres in states to begin preparing for the electoral tasks aimed at bringing about a change of government at the Centre.

If there is a lesson from the no confidence motion debate, it was that nothing short of a mighty challenge awaits the proposed alliance, in whatever shape it finally emerges. Though Congress remains the well-established national party, even if deprived of power in most states, not all other parties are going together. This was demonstrated in the voting on the trust motion.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been authorised by the Working Committee to take the initiative for the alliance-building processes. The BJP sits comfortably for the present and faces confidently the impending opposition challenge, while using the interregnum to drive wedges in the proposed alliance. The Congress president’s effective speech is celebrated as “game-changer” though Rahul Gandhi could have avoided that attempted embrace of Modi, who later derided it as indicative of an eagerness to sit on the PM chair.

The Prime Minister characteristically under-played or side-stepped many of the pointed failures of his government cited by Rahul and other opposition critics. And he seemed to thrive on regional parties being divided in backing the motion of no-confidence like BJD (Odisha) and TRC (Telangana) for their own reasons. By praising the TRC government of K Chandrasekhar Rao, Modi left the door open for a BJP-TRC alliance in Telangana for the state and Lok Sabha election 2019. The AIDMK with 37 members voted against the motion, providing comfort to the Prime Minister and moving itself closer to becoming a major ally for BJP in 2019.

In recent weeks, a rattled Modi government has been turning to populism to safeguard BJP’s numbers in Lok Sabha. MSP (minimum support price) for crops, which it had decried earlier, a significant rise in sugarcane prices, and slashing of GST rates on 100 and odd items to woo the middle class (even at a revenue loss of Rs.15,000) are among the first set of concessions announced with an eye on 2019.

More drastic measures to impact positively on the minds of voters may be in the offing, with several months left for the Lok Sabha poll. BJP is also keeping in view the elections due in MP Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where Congress seems poised to make wins. The Modi government may be tinkering with some steps to make up for its glaring failures on the economic, banking and job fronts so as not to yield more ground to the emerging alliance of opposition parties.

For the Congress, it is vital that Rahul realises that his attempts to score points against Prime Minister Modi and tweets have limitations in reaching the countryside. A lot more, organizationally and otherwise, especially widening the base of support, needs to be accomplished if Congress has to regain its lost image and strength and provide undisputed leadership at the national level post-2019. A success in the three BJP-ruled states would help the party build on to claim a larger share of Lok Sabha seats and gain the moral authority for leadership.

Prudence demands that Rahul does not unduly push himself at this stage as the contender against Modi and instead should encourage pre-poll alliance-building in states producing the most favourable combinations likely to score heavily. Leadership ambitions may be prevalent among those like Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee. The election of leader of alliance at the Centre should be left to the post-poll situation. Rivalries should not cloud the path of battle formation against BJP.

Some sane advice on pre-poll alliance building had recently come from veteran NCP leader Sharad Pawar and other seniors. Congress has its own intellectuals and senior leaders with considerable administrative experience. All of them have to be assigned major tasks in formulating state and national-level programmes for the alliance. Younger leaders who have proved their mettle in states could be entrusted with positions of responsibility in states and the Centre, if the alliance comes to power.

Ultimately, the number of seats that state-level alliances secure would determine whether the national-level alliance commands absolute majority to stake its claim to form the next government. Logically, the party with the largest number of seats in the new Lok Sabha should have prior claim for leadership of the alliance at the national level.

In the run-up to the poll, the alliance leaders need to tell the electorate where the Modi government failed in meeting its own 2014 promises and how the country has suffered in image abroad in the manner of its treatment of minorities, especially Muslims, as well as Dalits and from the continuing spate of lynchings in the name of protection for cows.

The Alliance should, at the earliest possible opportunity, after seat-sharing adjustments are over, begin drawing up its common minimum programme (CMP) which, among other things, would pinpoint what it would do, if given the mandate, in regard to farmer distress, effective redressal of Dalits’ grievances, ensuring rights of minorities, mainly Muslims, and ending an era of atrocities including lynchings.

Equally important is economic growth with investments and jobs as well as promotion of social harmony respecting the majority rights, customs and cultures (Hindus) in a secular framework that India had succeeded in preserving for over six decades since 1950.

The CMP should, apart from restoring the economic health of the country on high priority, would provide for a time-targeted plan with credible policies and programmes in agriculture, quality education at all levels, national health care, partly free for the poor, and affordable for the vast majority of India’s population. Well-designed employment programmes for youth, rural and urban, covering both farm and non-farm occupations need to be spelt out.

Above all, India’s voters should be left in no doubt as to where the BJP government would be taking the country should it get a second chance. Its “New India” would be for a total implementation of Hindutva ideology and its goal is one nation, one law, one culture, one language and possibly one party rule. (IPA Service)

Sunday, 29 July, 2018