The election results in Uttar Pradesh have done what 2014 Lok Sabha election results could not. They have shaken Congress and all Opposition parties out of their complacency-induced slumber, forcing many leaders to highlight the need to come together like never before.
That proposition is actually a no-brainer, since that was the message sent out by the victory of the Grand Alliance in Bihar. The question to ask at this point of time is: what is it that will unite the Opposition as well as make such a united Opposition's appeal palatable to the electorate in various states and at the Centre?
The Bihar model
The erstwhile Janata Parivar parties were the first ones to realise this need when they announced nothing less than their merger into one outfit. This was as early as in 2014, just months after BJP stormed to power at the Centre with a brute majority in the Lok Sabha. However, the Samajwadi Party's then-supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav backed out, forcing a curtailed version of the originally proposed model.
Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal kept up the momentum and found a willing partner in the Congress. The gamble paid off and this coalition won Bihar.
However, what has now come back to haunt the parties is that no one took any lessons from the Bihar model.
No such alliance was created in Uttar Pradesh, where Mayawati's once-formidable Bahujan Samaj Party competed against the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance.
The index of opposition unity had already been weakened just ahead of the UP polls, when the entire Opposition failed to evolve a common stand on demonetisation. There were several different camps, with the Left not agreeing to join the one with Congress and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in it, the SP taking an ambiguous stand, and the JD(U) supporting it.
Need for counter narrative
It is disagreements and mutual points of conflict like these which cast a long shadow of doubt over the formation of a rainbow coalition against the BJP. Yet, the parties are talking about the dire need for such a coalition.
What some of them are saying in addition is that this coalition will also need a new narrative to counter the one which BJP has succeeded in propagating.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has said that “an alternative to the BJP’s communal project can only emerge through a counter narrative opposed to that projected by the BJP and PM Modi”.
When asked what would be the contours of this 'alternative' narrative, Yechury said the contours would be provided by a 'people's movement'.
From the Congress ranks, senior leader and former Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar has also stressed on the need for a 'rainbow coalition' of secular parties, because today, “the danger we face is of the Savarkarite ideology taking root across the country”.
He stressed: “The need of the hour is to gather all non-Savarkarites to stop this TsuNaMo. Otherwise, the idea of India created by Nehru would be taken over by the idea of India envisaged by Savarkar.”
Aiyar added that the “only answer” to the BJP's surge was to move “towards a higher index of Opposition unity, which is the only feasible way of retaining the idea of India. Otherwise, there is no stopping this juggernaut, which will crush all of us.”
In an article published on the website http://peoplesdemocracy.in/, Yechury hinted that this counter-narrative would have to be built on a pro-poor economic policy. He elaborated: “The probabilities for mounting such a pro-people alternative narrative existed, particularly in the aftermath of demonetisation that imposed unprecedented economic miseries on the vast sections of the poor and the marginalised.”
The RJD's Manoj Jha also said something similar. Jha told Catch that a “robust alliance” is definitely needed, and that “it is important to appear different from the BJP”.
His recommendation, too, was that the Opposition would need to come up with a “pro-people economic policy”, that would revolve around “social justice”. He said in the face of cross-caste Hindu consolidation, secularism would still have to be upheld, but the Opposition would have to be wary of starting the narrative from secularism. Secularism, he added, would have to be wedded to social justice.
Differences among the parties
But the biggest impediment to the emergence of a common counter-narrative will be the differences among parties and their inability to rise above them. Yechury, for example, blamed the SP, the BSP and the Congress in his article for failing to reach out to aggrieved farmers and labourers, “and drawing them into popular mobilisations against the BJP’s economic policies and the PM’s demonetisation”. The “bourgeois Opposition parties fell into the trap of the BJP’s narrative and became preoccupied with seeking to mobilise identity and caste-based sections of people for electoral support”, he added.
Nitish Kumar's statement on the day of the election results also dropped several hints about what is weighing on his mind, and which way he is likely to go in near future.
His statement carried two points for the UP results – one, “non-BJP parties did not try to bring together the backward classes”, and two, “there was no need to oppose demonetisation so vociferously because it had given rise to a feeling of satisfaction among people that the rich had been hit”.
पांच राज्यों में हुए चुनाव में विजयी पार्टियों को बधाई https://t.co/QfCmBs95Sr— Nitish Kumar (@NitishKumar) March 11, 2017
The statement clearly shows that Opposition parties that had taken different stands on demonetisation are still not willing to sink their differences. What kind of a counter-narrative will be stitched in such a situation? It's hard to fathom.