Chandrababu Naidu's past political somersaults make his credentials as messiah of Opposition unity suspect

Chandrababu Naidu has emerged as the new messiah of Opposition unity. However, his political somersaults in the past, and the inherent contradictions within the Opposition camp, make the exercise of forging this unity an arduous one.

Naidu has never been consistent in his choice of allies. The manner in which he first embraced and later left the BJP is an illustration of this.

Besides, Naidu, who now talks about a Common Minimum Agenda to counter the Narendra Modi-led government, was the most avid supporter of the saffron party's economic agenda like demonetisation, the push for a cashless economy, GST, etc. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister, who was in the NDA at that time, described demonetisation as a far-reaching measure that would have a salubrious effect on the country's economy.

A look at the more distant past also offers a similar picture. The TDP, which earlier had an alliance with the Left parties, switched its loyalties to extend life support to the first NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, the TDP chief threatened to pull out of the NDA citing the 2002 communal carnage in Gujarat during the chief ministership of Narendra Modi. Later, calling his alliance with the BJP a historical mistake, Naidu led an alliance of the TDP, TRS and the Left parties in 2009, only to join forces with the BJP again in 2014.

Chandrababu Naidu with Rahul Gandhi on Thursday. Twitter/@ncbn

Chandrababu Naidu with Rahul Gandhi on Thursday. Twitter/@ncbn

After four years of bonhomie with the BJP, during which Naidu praised Modi’s leadership several times, the TDP suddenly took yet another U-turn, purportedly on the issue of denial of special status to Andhra Pradesh, and left the NDA. This resulted in a belligerent fight between the TDP and BJP, only to facilitate the former’s alliance with the Congress.

However, perhaps Naidu’s inconsistency does not matter much for other Opposition parties, as most of them have been a part of the same game for all these years.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, speaking to the media after meeting Naidu, said that a meeting of Opposition leaders will be called soon to chalk out the future course of action. The drafting of a common minimum programme will be done after discussions among like-minded parties. It is considered better for parties to join a coalition based on a pre-election agenda which has been agreed upon. However, Opposition parties lack a consensus on many issues.

Recently, Pawar had come to the rescue of Modi at a time when Congress president Rahul Gandhi had been attacking him over alleged corruption and cronyism in the Rafale deal. The NCP chief, in an interview to a Marathi channel, stated that people "do not have doubts" over Modi's intentions regarding the deal. He went on to say that the Opposition's demand that technical details about the fighter jets be shared “made no sense.” Although the NCP later said that Pawar had not given a clean chit to the prime minister, the damage to Opposition unity was already done — on an issue which is likely to be an important one ahead of the 2019 election. While Amit Shah welcomed Pawar’s statement, two senior NCP leaders left the party, aggrieved by their leader’s statement.

Even as Naidu intensifies his efforts to stitch together a grand alliance of non-BJP parties, the BSP has moved away from the Congress ahead of the Assembly elections, which are being seen as a semi-final for the Lok Sabha election. This division in the Opposition’s ranks benefits the BJP.

Mayawati appears to have changed her stand despite a united Opposition having defeated the BJP in by-elections in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year.

This is precisely why BJP general secretary and master strategist Ram Madhav exuded confidence that some parties that have joined the Opposition alliance could well find themselves in the NDA after the 2019 polls. His statement, which came on a day when Naidu held hectic parleys with several Opposition leaders, is a significant one. In fact, historical trends of the behaviour of non-Congress and non-BJP parties, barring the Left, support his assertion. The manner in which Nitish Kumar walked out of the mahagatbandhan to join hands with the BJP is characteristic of the political fragility within the Opposition grand alliance. The TDP, TMC, AIADMK, DMK, JD(S), BSP etc, have, at various times, switched their alliance partners keeping in mind perceived political advantages to them.

However, TDP leaders are presently busy portraying Naidu as someone who can make and unmake national politics. However, the fact remains that Naidu has not been able to bring any NDA partner into the Opposition fold. The parties with which Naidu has been holding discussions are already in the anti-BJP camp. These parties have been responding to anyone and everyone who makes an effort towards Opposition unity, of course, with their own caveats.

However, the speed and magnitude of Naidu's effort is certainly noteworthy. This time, at least there is talk of bringing together all non-BJP parties into a nationwide front and formulating a common agenda. This is the new element in the Opposition unity exercise. However, the myriad contradictions and the varying political compulsions at the state level and the competing claims of electoral quotas make such an exercise difficult, if not impossible. Given the opportunistic nature of Indian political alignments and realignments, nothing certain can be said on what the scenario will be after the election.

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Updated Date: Nov 02, 2018 22:26 PM

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