New Delhi: It required hardly a few minutes for Margaret Alva to do her diagnosis of the malady in the anti-BJP camp.
Immediately after losing out to NDA candidate Jagdeep Dhankhar, Margaret Alva, a veteran Congress leader, said, “This election was an opportunity for the Opposition to work together, to leave the past behind and build trust amongst each other. Unfortunately, some Opposition parties chose to directly or indirectly support the BJP, in an attempt to derail the idea of a united Opposition”.
Her remarks were seen as a veiled attack on Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, which had stayed away from voting in the elections for Vice President of India.
“It is my belief that by doing so, these parties and their leaders have damaged their own credibility,” lamented Ms
Alva. But Mamata Banerjee is not alone; a few other opposition parties have derailed the myth of opposition unity on both the occasions – elections for President Droupadi Murmu and Vice President Dhankhar.
The BJP-led NDA has an overwhelming majority in both the Houses of Parliament and for Vice President elections, Dhankhar also got crucial additional support from BJD of Naveen Patnaik in Odisha and Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh.
Of course, TRS of K Chandrashekhar Rao supported Alva’s candidature but at the end of the day, the opposition unity remains a mirage. These elections bring in much-needed respite in the BJP camp as NDA’s attempt for a hat-trick (third-time consecutive win) would be now much easier in 2024 than perhaps it was in 2019.
Of course, with the BJP being in power in the centre and in various states across India, the results of the Presidential elections and the polling of the Vice President of India were well-known conclusions. But these occasions could have served as a great opportunity to show some unity of purpose in the opposition camp so that in months to come they can prepare themselves to take on the might of BJP’s electoral machine in 2024.
Firstly, these two rounds of polling for two high constitutional posts show opposition parties lack coordination at all levels – both in Parliament and outside. There is so much absence of talent and potential candidate(s) and importantly, there was a total lack of ‘social penetration’ by these parties.
While these parties including the communists do not leave any chance of attacking BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being autocratic and not an inclusive regime, last one month proved BJP could be a better outfit for fulfilling the aspirations of tribals.
“If the Opposition cannot do minimal coordination when their material interests are not as much at stake, there is almost no chance they can do anything meaningful when there are real stakes,” wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta in an article for ‘The Indian Express’.
On the other hand, BJP did the right and imaginative politics with two crucial voting communities – the tribals and the farmers and to be precise Jats for the cowbelt.
Murmu’s election is hailed by one and all and more so because of her humble background. That way her candidature appealed far more to the tribals across India than it had done for Late P A Sangma when his candidature was supported by BJD of Naveen and was later endorsed by BJP and the NDA.
Moreover, Sangma was pitted against a very strong candidate Pranab Mukherjee and Sangma’s political grooming was with Congress for long. Even in his home state of Meghalaya, Purno Sangma failed to get 100 percent votes.
Murmu’s election process and the time space till her swearing in was wonderfully exploited by the BJP and the government strategists to create a national buzz.
Senior Naga politician and a former state assembly Speaker Thenucho of NPF – which often goes against BJP’s policies, stated that – “I think it was a crucial decision on the 75th year of India’s independence. Giving recognition to a tribal and also to a woman at this juncture of national history is definitely a significant decision. We all welcome this”.
Murmu polled 100 per cent votes in Nagaland as also in Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh. Much credit ought to be given to the saffron party’s think tank and PM Narendra Modi’s leadership that BJP nominee could poll 100 per cent votes of state legislators in Andhra Pradesh wherein the Lotus outfit does not have a single MLA.
On the other hand, opposition parties missed a chance of backing Murmu. They fielded Yashwant Sinha, paradoxically a former BJP man himself. Other than his ego battle against Modi, there was nothing serious.
The worst part of opposition politics came to light when Congress decided to field Margaret Alva – a political player of yesteryear’s. So much of lack of coordination in that Mamata Banerjee’s party stayed away from voting itself.
What led Congress field Margaret Alva is still puzzling. In July 2016, Margaret Alva had accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of insulting and ill-treating former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao.
“Whatever the differences, he had been the Prime Minister, Congress President, Chief Minister and party’s General Secretary. He had done a wonderful job, except for the Babri Masjid and the mess up with it. When a man is dead, you don’t treat him that way. And I was hurt,” Ms Alva had said.
But then Congress and opposition parties did not have any ‘fighter’ among them to be willing to take on BJP. The names of Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah and Gopalkrishna Gandhi had figured and all had decided to stay away.
“Opposition’s presidential candidate should generate national consensus, there will be others who will do this far, better than I,” Gopalkrishna Gandhi had said.
Now a few words on Congress. It must evolve. It needs to seriously evolve as an opposition outfit to produce ‘fighters’. This is not possible when protecting Gandhis from being questioned by the ED becomes a more important issue to stage protest.
The Dynasty must distance itself from its own glorification. Days of free lunch and free joy rides are over. Who knows – 2024 could herald another decade of nightmare.