New Players in the Opposition Ranks Make BJP's Road to 2019 Elections Difficult

"It is in the interests of safeguarding and strengthening our Constitutional Republic and People’s livelihood that this RSS/BJP government is ousted," said the statement issued by 21 opposition parties that met on the sidelines of PM Modi's all-party meet on Monday.

New Delhi: A day before the assembly election results will be announced in five states, Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu has set the ball rolling in the opposition ranks. On his fourth trip to the national capital in the last two months, Naidu met a range of opposition leaders to discuss a strategy to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2019 general elections.

The timing of the one-on-one meetings is crucial. The exit polls predicted that the BJP could lose at least two of the Hindi heartland states that went to polls. The opposition will look to steer the political narrative in its favour if that happens, questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure while also challenging the saffron party’s much-touted “invincibility”.

Although Naidu was in Delhi to attend the all-party meeting called by the PM Modi to discuss the issues that could be mooted in the winter session of the parliament, he used the opportunity to meet four opposition leaders – Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee, National Conference (NC) leader Farooq Abdullah, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Ahmed Patel. The winter session will begin on Tuesday, December 11.

Naidu’s one-on-one meetings

Naidu gave a presentation called “Save the Nation, Save the Democracy” to all the four leaders. The presentation attacked the Modi government’s handling of various social and economic problems over the last four years. “Four years of misgovernance: Modi government has failed on every plausible area,” declared Naidu’s presentation.

The presentation detailed how the Modi government failed to tackle agrarian crisis, an enormous rise in NPAs of banks, alleged PNB and Rafale scams and social and economic costs of demonetisation and GST. It also dealt with the recent fiasco within the CBI and linked it with the supposed nepotistic practices the union government alleged encouraged in bureaucracy. It also criticised the government’s move to introduce electoral bonds, a step Naidu thought made “political funding more opaque”.

He also talked about the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)’s declining autonomy. Interestingly, RBI governor Urjit Patel resigned on Monday, a decision which is being speculated as an outcome of the war between the RBI and the government.

Joint opposition meet

On the sidelines of the all-party meeting chaired by the prime minister, 21 opposition parties met at a separate gathering in the new building of the Parliament House Annexe.

The parties and leaders present at the opposition meeting include:

Congress: Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, A.K Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ashok Gehlot

NCP: Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel and Majeed Memon

TMC: Mamata Banerjee

Janata Dal (Secular): H.D. Deve Gowda and Danish Ali

Communist Party of India (Marxist): Sitaram Yechury and T.K. Rangarajan

National Conference: Farooq Abdullah

Rashtriya Janata Dal: Tejaswi Yadav, J.P. Yadav and Manoj Kumar Jha

Telugu Desam Party: Chandrababu Naidu, Kambhampati Rammohan and Y S Chowdary

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam: Stalin, Kanimozhi and T.R. Baalu

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha: Hemant Soren

Rashtriya Lok Dal: Ajit Singh

Communist Party of India: Sudhakar Reddy and D. Raja

Kerala Congress (Mani): K. Mani

Loktantrik Janata Dal: Sharad Yadav

Hindustani Awam Morcha: Jitan Ram Manjhi

Jharkhand Vikas Morcha: Babu Lal Marandi

Indian Union Muslim League: P.K. Kunhalikutty

All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF): Badruddin Ajmal

Aam Aadmi Party: Arvind Kejriwal, Sanjay SIngh and Bhagwant Mann

Naga People’s Front (NPF):  K.G. Kenye

Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP): N.K. Premachandran

Opposition leaders meet at the Parliament House Annexe on Monday.

New players in united opposition

Three significant developments are to be noted. One, the opposition gathering on December 10 marks AAP’s debut in such an opposition gathering. Until now, many opposition parties, especially the Congress, had insisted that AAP could not be a partner in the formation of a united front against the BJP. However, with Kejriwal and other AAP leaders participating, it appears that there is greater unity among the opposition ranks.

Two, the NPF a BJP ally in Manipur and a part of the state government, participated in the meeting. It is also a part of the BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).

Three, the Congress has categorically said that it won’t ally with the AIUDF in Assam. However, the presence of Ajmal, says The Wire’s correspondent Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, marks a new beginning in Assam’s political dynamics. Pisharoty says that AIUDF as part of the meeting is surprising as only two days ago, Congress stalwart and former chief minister of the state Tarun Gogoi had criticised Ajmal.

Although not present in the meeting, a new member to join the opposition is Upendra Kushwaha of the Bihar-based Rashtriya Lok Samta Party. Miffed over being treated as a second-grade partner in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Kushwaha, who is also a Union minister, resigned from the council of ministers on Monday. The leader, who is an arch-rival of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, has been feeling deserted in the NDA after Kumar’s party Janata Dal (United) – a much bigger party than his – joined the NDA. He is expected to join the RJD-led alliance in Bihar for the 2019 polls.

Clearly, the opposition is hoping that it can turn the tide against the BJP and has pinned its hope on the assembly election results.

Soon after the all-party meeting that the prime minister chaired, the Congress asserted that the opposition will press for a JPC probe into the Rafale fighter jet deal.

The TDP and the TMC alleged that central investigation agencies including the CBI and the ED are being used by the government to settle political score, PTI reported.

The Trinamool Congress urged the government not to rush through bills without examination in the parliament and raised issues such as the breakdown of institutions, chaos in the economy, fuel price hike and the lack of jobs.

AAP leader Sanjay Singh and Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad Azad asserted that the government needed to clear the doubts being raised about the sanctity of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM).

The opposition also raised a hue and cry over the apparent compromise in RBI’s autonomy and said it will take up the matter in the winter session.  

The Wire could not confirm whether representatives of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party – the fulcrum of the united opposition in Uttar Pradesh that sends the maximum (80) members to Lok Sabha – were present in the opposition party gathering. But sources in the know said both the parties are firmly in support of an united front against the BJP.

SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav said soon after the all-party meeting that farmers are being “robbed” in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, adding that Dalits and backward classes are not getting the benefits of reservation in the state.

“The government says that the parliament should function. We also want it to function and find solutions to these issues. But if these issues are not allowed to be raised and discussed, then the Samajwadi Party would not allow the house to run,” Yadav said.

Opposition plans

A joint statement released by the opposition parties trained its guns on the Modi government on all fronts social, economic and political. “In the course of the next few months we will place before the people of the country, a comprehensive programme of work anchored in complete transparency and accountability…It is in the interests of safeguarding and strengthening our Constitutional Republic and People’s livelihood that this RSS/BJP government is ousted.”

Even as the opposition joined hands, the government made it clear that it wanted to pass 23 bills that are listed for consideration during the winter session. Another 20 will also be introduced. Some of these include the controversial Triple Talaq Bill and the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which will allow the overseas voters to cast their vote in person or by proxy.

Since the opposition and the government are divided over many of these bills, the prime minister requested the opposition parties to create a “constructive atmosphere”. However, with the opposition firming up for the 2019 general elections, it appears that the winter session will be anything but a smooth sailing for the Modi government.

(With PTI inputs)

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