The Presidential election of 2022 which was proclaimed as a game changer for Indian politics with the strong unified challenge to the hegemony of the Bharatiya Janata Party and dethroning of Narendra Modi from the Prime Minister’s chair has ultimately ended in a massive defeat for the idea of opposition unity. The differences cropped up during the Presidential election now stretched to the Vice-Presidential election and cracks got widened. These new cracks, resulting from personal egos of Mamata Banerjee and Sonia Gandhi, may force some of the regional parties to drift from the current path of anti-Modi and end up as an ally of BJP by the time of 2024 Lok Sabha election. The signs are already there with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) of Jharkhand charting its own agenda leaving its alliance partner Congress baffled.
Widening Cracks in Opposition
Initially, there were lingering doubts regarding the election of the NDA candidate as the President as it lacked a clear edge in the Electoral College. Mamata Banerjee took the lead in convening the meeting of the opposition parties to project a common candidate. However, Mamata Banerjee had the hidden intention of projecting herself as the glue for the opposition unity thus side-lining the Congress and its chief Sonia Gandhi. That was the beginning of minor cracks in the so-called strong edifice of opposition. She succeeded in her attempt as all parties agreed to the proposal of TMC member Yashwanth Sinha as presidential candidate.
Consensus Over Droupadi Murmu
However, bonhomie among the opposition parties was short-lived as BJP came out with the name of Droupadi Murmu as President. One party after the other gravitated toward the tribal lady candidature, thus widening the cracks in the opposition. The Shiv Sena, JDS, JMM, BSP, YSRCP, TDP, SAD and other smaller sub-regional parties, which are outside NDA, extended unsolicited support to the BJP sponsored candidate. Mamata Banerjee realised her tactical error of going ahead with the announcement of Yashwanth Sinha without waiting for the BJP’s decision, despite knowing that Draupadi Murmu is the likely candidate of ruling dispensation. Mamata Banerjee’s statement that “she would have supported Murmu had BJP consulted me in advance” has hit the very basis of opposition unity.
The Bharatiya Janata Party will be sitting pretty towards a hat-trick victory in the 2024 election if the opposition fails to mend its ways
The Congress party already nursing the grouse of losing pre-eminence in the opposition camp, and Mamata further rubbing it by claiming her TMC was the original Congress, was waiting for a chance to retaliate against Bengal CM. The Congress strategists took the earliest opportunity to hit back at Mamata Banerjee and kept her out of the loop in naming Margaret Alva as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the opposition. The short tempered, hot headed Mamata Benarjee retaliated by announcing the non-participation of TMC in the Vice-Presidential election. This tit-for-tat of individual ego filled leaders is the virtual end to the opposition unity.
Congress Pride Wounded
The election of NDA sponsored candidates for the President and Vice President posts was a foregone conclusion even before the formal voting took place. But now the divided opposition has helped BJP to exhibit its total dominance. Murmu getting the support of 126 MLAs and 17 MPs from the opposition camp, spread across 18 States, has wounded the pride of Congress. Murmu getting one vote from Kerala where BJP has no MLA shows the extent of opposition disunity. Whether that vote was casted deliberately or by mistake is yet to be ascertained but there was no doubt regarding the Congress MLAs voting to Murmu in Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha. If that deliberate voting was for the love of seeing their own tribal lady in the Rashtrapati Bhavan it may be acceptable to some extent. But if it went beyond that reason and MLAs are moving away from Congress, as the high command of that party suspect, then it is a big trouble for the entire opposition unity. Without a strong Congress there is no way the opposition can challenge BJP in 2024.
Now that Mamata Banerjee failed in uniting the opposition and Sinha lost the election, the Congress party is throwing barbs at her. The Congress party strategists started spreading news of ‘secret understanding’ between Mamata and Modi through a meet of her and Jagdeep Dhankar at a hill station. If Mamata Banerjee, as Congress suspects, really supports Jagdeep Dhankar for the post of Vice-President, the opposition unity will lay shattered.
The attempts to unite the opposition not only failed but got damaged collaterally. The BJP hit back at the opposition resulting in the split of Shiv Sena and collapse of MVA in Maharashtra. The damage during the presidential poll included the revolt within Congress in more than one State. Now the withering of the coalition in Uttar Pradesh which was built before the Assembly elections. Akhilesh Yadav asked his partners to go away thus successfully pushing them towards BJP.
Many issues are there for the failed unity among the opposition. The personal egos of the leaders top the list. Many leaders in opposition are competing for the badge of ‘challenger to Modi’ and each one trying to push the other out is the second factor. The lack of trust among the parties is the third factor. The regional parties are anti-Congress in their own States and they don’t like revival of that GOP in their States. With the space for the Congress shrinking across the country, the regional parties not sorting out its issues and the absence of a JP-like figurehead to act as a mentor are leaving the opposition unity an eternal mirage of all seasons.
The BJP will be sitting pretty towards a hat-trick victory in the 2024 election if the opposition fails to mend its ways.