Anti-BJP leaders gather in Karnataka for Kumaraswamy's swearing-in: How long will this ragtag alliance last?

Only a few of the stars on show have major problems with the BJP, especially now that Hindutva, albeit a 'soft Hindutva' is no longer a dirty word for many, including the Congress

TR Gopalakrishnan May 23, 2018 14:18:29 IST
Anti-BJP leaders gather in Karnataka for Kumaraswamy's swearing-in: How long will this ragtag alliance last?

It is anti-Narendra Modi and anti-BJP now. It was anti-Indira Gandhi and anti-Congress in 1977.

Then it was the coming together of such diverse political entities as Jana Sangh (now the BJP), Congress (Organisation), Congress for Democracy and Bharatiya Kranti Dal, to name a few, that merged to form the Janata Party. Now, the diverse parties, many an offshoot of sorts or the original Janata Party — like Kumaraswamy’s JD(S), want to form a coalition, to retain and strengthen their regional identities, not a merger, to fight Modi. The original Janata Party lasted around two years. This one has just one year, which is long enough for today's supposed show of "Opposition unity" to fall apart.

AntiBJP leaders gather in Karnataka for Kumaraswamys swearingin How long will this ragtag alliance last

JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy presents a bouquet to Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi. PTI

I remember the grand rally in 1977 when the Janata Party came together with future prime minister Chandra Shekhar, one of the favoured original "young turks" in Indira Gandhi's regime, as its first party president. As a very junior journalist in Delhi, I could not help getting caught up in the euphoria of Emergency being lifted, the sight of well-known leaders jailed during the Emergency, up on the dais, her once trusted minister Jagjivan Ram making a dramatic entry on stage, the huge crowd roaring its approval, displaying the huge amount of goodwill among the voters for the new party and its leaders. It was a time of great hope, that took only two years to be completely dashed. The Congress and Indira Gandhi were soon back in power.

Karnataka's voters had retained their faith in the Congress between 1977 and 1980. Today, it stands a poor second despite a higher percentage of votes, and a junior partner in a government led by the JD(S): As the party leaders themselves admitted, anything and any way to keep the BJP out of power in the state. And in the Centre, come May 2019.

But is the show being put up in Bengaluru on Wednesday really a show of "Opposition unity". Or is it more a show of how dissimilar this group of leaders — quite a few of them out of power — really are. In this silly summer season when not much happens anywhere, all these leaders have time on their hands and are only too happy to be on show in Bengaluru. Soundbites about how vital it is to defeat Modi in 2019 will be aplenty. Always with the rider, "We will have to talk it over and see".

The Congress and Rahul Gandhi did not help their cause when Rahul declared he would be prime minister if his party emerged the single-largest in 2019. Unfortunately for him, what the Congress has done in Karnataka, offering the chief ministership to the party that came third, will be a precedent against which the Congress will find it difficult to argue in the future. Especially as there is a precedent by the party itself: When Rajiv Gandhi supported from outside, for a very short time, a 50-MP-strong Chandra Shekhar government at the Centre. And in any case, the BJP can always do later what the Congress has done now.

Only a few of the stars on show have major problems with the BJP, especially now that Hindutva, albeit a "soft Hindutva" (however, they define it) is no longer a dirty word for many, including the Congress. Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party for one, who probably now is dreaming of doing a JD(S) at the Centre. Tejashwi Yadav, leader of the Opposition in Bihar can be counted on to continue with his father’s anti-BJP stance. Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress, of course, with BJP taking her head on. In any case, her mantra is a "federal front", whatever that means. Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is there to establish he is firmly in the anti-BJP camp, although not necessarily in the Congress camp, and then there's Farooq Abdullah.

But the other stalwarts on the stage? Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party is not that anti-BJP even though she has, for now, joined hands with the Samajwadi Party in recent bypolls. Kamal Haasan is a totally unknown political entity, even though his anti-BJP stance will most likely be challenged strongly by film rival Rajinikanth. Both, however, are in Thoothukudy after the police firing on protesters, killing 11 people. Kerala's CPM chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan will be there, but whatever Sitaram Yechury, also present, may preach, the Kerala CPM will go it alone in the state. JD(S) itself is a fair weather party, once with the BJP, now with the Congress, with the future unknown. So who's left for Congress to ally with even as it raises a call for a united challenge to Modi?

There is one point of note though. For the first time in many years, both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi will be in Bengaluru. It is significant, in that the message goes out strongly to all, especially her own party, that she is guiding Rahul. Reports suggest it was Sonia's call to HD Deve Gowda that pushed the JD(S) towards the Congress. Who else will respond so readily to a call from Sonia next year?

The author is former editor-in-charge, The Week

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