Nitish Kumar's Mahagathbandhan exit leaves Opposition decimated ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls
Nitish Kumar's exit from Mahagathbandhan has left the Opposition in its weakest state since 2014.
Let's take a look at the results of the state Assembly elections that have taken place since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014.
Soon after the Modi wave uprooted the UPA government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won elections one after the other in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand and became a part of the BJP-Peoples Democratic Alliance (PDP) alliance which formed the government in Jammu and Kashmir.
Just as the saffron party's winning spree was gaining momentum, it suffered two massive jolts, definitely the most damaging it has suffered till now.
The first was in Delhi polls, in which Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won 67 out of 70 seats, leaving only three for BJP.
The second was in Bihar, in which the combined forces of mainly Nitish Kumar's JD(U), Lalu Prasad's RJD and Congress defeated the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah juggernaut.
Political analysts, experts and news anchors at that time started talking about how a unified Opposition could defeat BJP in 2019. They correctly pointed out how Nitish was successfully able to create a 'Bahari' image of BJP because of the lack of any local leader.
In a way, Bihar polls turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the BJP and would ultimately point out a key difference between the ruling party and the Opposition: BJP learnt from its mistakes.
Because of this difference, BJP was able to grab power in five out of the ten states (including Uttar Pradesh) and union territory that witnessed elections after Bihar.
Even in some of the other states like West Bengal and Kerala, BJP was actually able to increase its vote share.
With AAP facing infighting and humiliating defeat in the Delhi civic polls, a unified alliance like the Mahagathbandhan — possibly led by Nitish — was the best option the Opposition had till Wednesday.
But now that he has left the Mahagathbandhan, the national reach of the leaders who remain in the Opposition has become so low that it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that the Opposition exists only in name in India.
Congress itself is aware of how desperately the Opposition needed someone like Nitish because until Nitish was sworn-in as chief minister on Thursday, Congress had been talking about its "affection" for him, despite the fact that the party was dumped by Nitish.
Maybe Rahul and Sonia Gandhi are aware of the party's declining influence. After all, the only major victory which the Congress has had since 2014 has been in Punjab, which was more because of a local leader like Captain Amarinder Singh and the anti-incumbency sentiment against the previous Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government.
Unless the Opposition learns some very important lessons, it has almost no hope of overthrowing the NDA government in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
First off, if an alliance between three parties ended after the alliance came to power and formed a stable government in the state, this should tell the political parties a lot about how tough it is to actually form a unified Opposition.
Instead of making compromises, politicians from the Opposition have been making selfish demands. For example, in December 2015, when Akhilesh Yadav was asked whether Samajwadi Party would be open to an alliance with Congress, he had told NDTV: "If Mulayam Singhji is prime minister and Rahul Gandhi is deputy prime minister, I will say yes to the alliance right now."
Hilariously enough, Rahul was seen grinning and shifting in his seat, according to the report.
As pointed out in this article by The Economic Times, all the three grand alliances of opposition parties that have been formed at a national level in India could not complete their terms after coming to power.
The government formed out of the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan in 1977 lasted only two years. The other alliances under the Janata Dal banner in 1989 and the United Front banner in 1996 also could not complete their terms after coming to power.
Another takeaway is that corruption has become such an important issue in the country that even politicians like Nitish are leaving successful alliances because of it.
The Opposition has failed to realise so far that it needs to distance itself from any party or politician indulging in corruption. It needs to realise that corruption is generally a more hated evil than the same old rant about communalism, something which a lot of Opposition parties themselves indulge in.
The issue of corruption also makes things more complicated for the Opposition now because till Thursday, Nitish was the one of the few politicians who had a clean image in the country. With his departure, the Opposition will find it extremely challenging to project a leader as popular and honest as Nitish.
If the Opposition does not clean its own image and willing to make realistic compromises, it will be practically non-existent after 2019.
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