Bharat Bandh exposes faultlines in Opposition

The Asian Age.  | Sreeparna Chakrabarty

India, All India

An SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh is crucial to the Opposition’s hopes of removing the Narendra Modi government from power in 2019.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi, flanked by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, joins other senior Opposition leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sharad Yadav, at the Bharat Bandh protest in New Delhi. (Photo: Bunny Smith)

New Delhi: While the Congress claimed total success in getting the Opposition together for the Bharat Bandh against the rising oil prices, the absence of the Samajwadi Party and the BSP and the refusal of the Trinamul Congress to officially back the strike in West Bengal, and the Left parties holding a separate protest pointed to the deep faultlines and differences that persist within the ranks of the Opposition. Added to this was a terse statement from the Aam Aadmi Party that though it had “in-principle” supported the bandh, it did not approve of the “big brother” attitude of the Congress Party.

The most glaring of the existing faultlines was the refusal of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party to join the common Opposition programme held in New Delhi though it observed the bandh in Uttar Pradesh.

An SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh is crucial to the Opposition’s hopes of removing the Narendra Modi government from power in 2019. Though the Congress does not have too much at stake in UP apart from the Gandhi family boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli, it hopes to be accommodated with respectable numbers in any seat-sharing pact that materialises in the state.

Congress chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala, however, dismissed any pressure tactics by the SP and BSP, saying the Congress had joined them in organising a mammoth protest in the PM’s constituency Varanasi.

The Aam Aadmi Party, which had initially dithered on extending support to the bandh, joined the protests at two different places. While Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh attended the Congress event at Rajghat, Delhi leader Atish Marlena joined the Left protests at Jantar Mantar.

Sources said it took phone calls from top Congress leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel for the AAP to agree to join in the Congress protests.

However, the AAP was quick to issue a statement on Monday evening that though it believed in Opposition unity, the Congress could not be the umbrella under which all Opposition parties are comfortable. “The Aam Aadmi Party is of the clear view that all Opposition parties must unite and force the Modi government to reverse its anti-people policies, which are solely responsible for price rise, particularly the unprecedented rise in the prices of petrol and diesel”. It added: “The Congress has to shun its big brother and unreasonable attitude towards other parties.”

Similarly, while the Trinamul Congress had sent its representative Sukhendu Shekhar Roy to the Rajghat event, in TMC-ruled West Bengal, the bandh was not officially endorsed, but “protests” were held.

It might be recalled that the TMC chief had hinted at her suitability as a prime ministerial candidate and refused to accept Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the leader of any Opposition alliance.

On similar lines, the Left parties decided to hold a separate protest though they affirmed their support to the bandh called by the Congress Party.

At the back of the Left’s decision might be the divisions within the CPI(M) over forming any electoral alliance with the Congress. Though the party in its central committee meeting in August had agreed that its primary objective was to defeat the Modi government, it has been torn in the middle over whether to officially form any alliance with the Congress.