Opposition remains disunited as ever

To an objective observer this is unbridled divisive cacophony which seriously undermines the macro attempts to project a larger unity.

Opposition unity at the national level appears to be an enigma wrapped in a mystery. It is, and it is not. What is amazing is that the contradictions that riddle this pretense of unity are, apparently, not given much importance by those who gather periodically on stage to proclaim this unity. They go about the business of opposing the BJP, happily oblivious to the fact that they themselves are a transparently disunited group at the level of pan-Indian cohesion.

Recent statements by leading Opposition political parties only reinforce this conclusion. BSP supremo Mayawati says that her party will never align with the Congress. In a recent rally, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said that the Congress is at the number one slot in betraying the trust of people. In West Bengal, the Congress lashes out at TMC leader Mamata Banerjee, and she minces no words in castigating the Congress and the CPI(M). The negotiations to come to an understanding for elections in Delhi carry on endlessly between the AAP and the Congress, with both parties happily attacking each other even when talks are on to finalise an alliance.

To an objective observer this is unbridled divisive cacophony which seriously undermines the macro attempts to project a larger unity. There have been several occasions when Opposition parties — cutting across the political spectrum — have come together in a display of bonhomie and camaraderie. They have stood on stage and raised their hands in unison to signal their joint resolve to take on PM Narendra Mod and the BJP. But the moment such a rally is over, they are back to their routine exercise of attacking each other.

What is becoming apparent is that the Opposition is suffering from a terminal disease of political schizophrenia. It believes that national avowals of unity have nothing to do with local levels of extreme acrimony. The belief appears to be that at the ground level, and in states, parties can be at each other’s throats, but this disunity will miraculously dissolve once parties gather together on a national platform. There is something deeply flawed in such a vision. Political parties consist of cadres. Cadres internalise a certain message at the local level that is not effortlessly erasable at the national level. Animosities generated at the micro level persist when attempts at unity are sought to be made at the macro level. To say that there is no co-relation between the two is rather damaging wishful thinking.

A far more effective attempt at real Opposition unity would have seemed possible if, for instance, the Congress would have aligned with the BSP and the SP in UP, the CPI(M) and the Congress would have not decided to oppose the TMC, the dominant Opposition party in West Bengal, and the Congress and the AAP would have come together to fight the polls in Delhi and Haryana. But none of these have happened.

It would seem that the Congress is seeing this election as a means of reviving itself politically rather than forging an overarching national unity. It is true that as a national party, the Congress cannot abandon its commitments to its own party cadres, or abdicate from the goal of resuscitating itself in areas where it has been in the past a dominant force. But the downside to this is that the Congress may end up eroding the combined vote of the BSP-SP alliance in UP, and weaken the ability of the TMC to face the onslaught of the BJP in West Bengal. The same holds true in Odisha, where the Congress could eat into the electoral support base of the BJD in its fight against a nascent BJP.

The perceptions of ordinary voters must also be taken into account. Amidst the ambient noise of attacks and counter-attacks between Opposition parties, why would they not think that as against a united BJP with an identifiable and strong leader, there is on the other side a hopelessly divided house? In a parliamentary national election, voters exercise their franchise keeping in mind what kind of dispensation would rule in Delhi. They may have certain grievances or disappointments with the BJP, but they may be even more wary of a collation of warring parties in which individual chieftains are mercurial, egoistic, inflexible and incapable of mature political accommodation.

It would also be a factor in the minds of voters that if, for any reason, such a grouping of political parties come to power, will they be able to form a government, and even if they do, will the government be able to run? It is a myth that the hostilities generated in the unfolding of the electoral process will suddenly dissolve, and a magical unity will envelop the warring factions once on the doorstep to power. There are too many egos clashing about, too many memories of acrimony, too many state-level contradictions to believe that a government formed of such mutually opposed elements can work in cohesion at the national level.

The truth about the project of Opposition unity is that too much water has flowed down the Yamuna in the wrong direction by now for such a project to succeed. If, on the contrary, right in the beginning, the major Opposition parties would have met and come out with a resolve, that even at the cost of minor losses at the local level, the major goal of unitedly taking on the BJP was the preferred option, and further, if following such a decision, pragmatic adjustments would have been made in key states that ensured and strengthened Opposition unity, the story would have been different.

What we are seeing now is a divided Opposition that is somehow clinging to the hope that in a post-poll situation, all the abuses that they have hurled at each other will turn into praise, and with a swing of the magic wand, cohesion will replace confusion. Unfortunately, the real world of politics is rather different than the fairy tale world of perennially happy endings.

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