Opposition Unites on Adani Crisis, But Will it Bring in Votes?

Similar unity in their ranks was seen during the Pegasus exposé and farmers’ protests. Yet, as elections approached, the momentum fizzled out.

The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride for the Union government because of the spirited unity displayed by the Opposition in Parliament over allegations of stock manipulation and fraud against the Adani Group, known for its proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Opposition parties put their differences aside and coordinated strategically to demand a Joint Parliamentary Committee or a Supreme Court-monitored independent probe. While a few parties boycotted the House proceedings, others tactfully used the Budget Session to target the Union government for its failure to put the Adani group on a tight leash.

The fact that public sector units like LIC, SBI and other banks invested thousands of crores in the Adani group was projected by the Opposition as a striking instance of cronyism. At the same time, Opposition MPs questioned the role of regulatory bodies like SEBI in keeping a check on alleged illegal financial dealings of the Adani Group, even as they had been pointing out possible round-tripping and stock manipulation since 2019.

The political messaging was clear. For the last few years, the Opposition forces have accused the PM of promoting cronyism and have held the Union government responsible for a decline in the autonomy of top regulatory and investigative bodies. They found in the Hindenburg report an opportunity to strengthen their campaign against the Modi government in the run-up to 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Also read: Adani Fracas an Opportunity to Make Finances of Family-Owned Entities More Transparent

But can the Opposition sustain the momentum? Similar unity in their ranks was seen during the Pegasus exposé and farmers’ protests. Yet, as elections approached, the momentum fizzled out, while  “Opposition unity” came crashing down in cases where two or more Opposition parties saw in each other better rivals than partners. In other instances, Opposition unity could not take concrete electoral shape despite a pre-poll alliance.

The SP-BSP alliance ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections turned out to be a paper tiger. The SP alleged that BSP could not transfer its votes to their candidates while SP supporters did well to honour the alliance. Before that, in the run-up to the 2017 UP Assembly polls, the Congress-SP alliance also turned out to be a disaster after the grand old party bargained shrewdly to corner 100 seats despite its negligible presence.

In the last Bihar Assembly polls, the Congress delivering its poorest strike rate despite having 50 seats to contest ― a factor that eventually prevented the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan from coming to power. In contrast, the smaller Left parties with pockets of influence settled for a smaller number of seats but delivered a commendable strike rate.

Similarly, in their quest to become national players, parties like TMC and AAP damaged the electoral prospects of the Congress in states like Goa, Haryana and Gujarat. The K Chandrashekar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samiti, which has been signalling a non-Congress front, may be a possible addition to the pool of Opposition parties which may put its national ambitions over any united fight that could upset the BJP applecart.

One reason for such dissonance among the Opposition parties is their historical trajectories. Most Lohiaite socialist parties fought the Congress and drew away a substantial chunk of traditional Congress supporters. The same is the case with southern parties like BRS, Janata Dal (Secular), Biju Janata Dal, or the Trinamool Congress. Their workers have created a niche by fighting the Congress, the biggest national party in the Opposition ranks, and continue to do so on the ground.

Also read: Many Ingredients Went into the Adani Stock Price Meltdown

So last-minute pre-poll alliances tend to backfire, upsetting leaders and workers of different parties instead of strongly uniting them. The BJP has been able to take advantage of such contradictions, as could be seen in the large number of influential Opposition leaders switching over to the BJP in election run-ups. All such factors have helped the BJP improve its already dominant position, despite the Opposition raising timely and pertinent issues.

As the PM’s speech in the Motion of Thanks debate indicated, the BJP is quite clear that if it can contain the Congress that is its direct opponent in over 200 seats, other regional forces, however good their performance may be in 2024, may not be able to prevent yet another term for Modi.

For real electoral unity, the Congress and like-minded parties have to step beyond their personal ambitions. The Congress should be able to drop its big-brotherly posturing and pull back in favour of others in states where it has no realistic prospects, while others too have to back the Congress in states where it is the primary Opposition force.

There is no Opposition unity without the Congress, as much as there is no such thing without the regional forces. The thought of post-polls possibilities can’t in any way upend the pre-poll factors that need immediate attention. Parties like the RJD, JD(U), NCP, DMK, the Left parties, and even the Shiv Sena have set aside their historical differences with the Congress. Now, it is time for others to join the camp.

But for that to happen, unity needs to be more organic than before. Top Opposition leaders could surely unite, given the exigencies they face at the moment, but that may still draw a blank if they do not make efforts to bring their rank and file together on the ground, and accommodate them in the larger scheme of things.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.