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Rahul Gandhi's united Opposition a pipe dream, only a cataclysmic event can cause BJP defeat

'United we win, divided we fall', is an old slogan that Rahul Gandhi may have first heard in the 1970s, ironically, as a strategy to dislodge the Congress and his grandmother, Indira.

Speaking at a gathering of Opposition parties, Rahul on Thursday exhorted them to get together so that "these people (the BJP) are not seen anywhere."

Theoretically, if the Janata Parivar could dislodge the Congress in 1977 and if VP Singh and Devi Lal could defeat Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, the idea of a combined Opposition does have some merit. But, the arithmetic of the 2019 General election suggests that even a united Opposition would find it difficult to stop Narendra Modi.

File image of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File image of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

The biggest challenge to the Opposition's dream of beating Modi and the BJP is not its inability to come together – this is possible considering the existential threat to many parties. Instead, it is the BJP's plans to put together a larger coalition before the next election, that could checkmate the Opposition even before if it comes together on the chess board.

The problem with this plan, however, is that there are just a handful of states where a potentially united Opposition can take on the BJP. In other states, either the BJP has a larger coalition or a better chance of beating their rivals.

At the moment, West Bengal, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Orissa are the only states where a united Opposition is in a position to give the BJP a tough fight, at least on paper. Everywhere else, the BJP has the advantage.

Consider Maharashtra for instance. It is almost clear now that the BJP is wooing Sharad Pawar for an alliance in the next election. Pawar is the BJP's insurance policy against the Shiv Sena's possible refusal to continue in the NDA in 2019 (or 2018 if elections are advanced to coincide with the Assembly polls).

An alliance with Pawar will isolate both the Congress and the Shiv Sena. Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows. But, even a realignment of the universe would not bring the Congress and the Shiv Sena together, leading to a triangular contest where the BJP will have the advantage.

In Bihar, the advantage of a united front lies with the BJP and its new recruit, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. This coalition has had a history of beating the RJD and Congress several times in the past. Since Lalu Prasad's Muslim-Yadav vote bank is unlikely to see additions from upper caste non-Yadav OBCs (BJP supporters), and Mahadalits and women (Kumar's fans), his party would lose even if it fights with the Congress by its side.

In many other states, the Congress is the only Opposition to the BJP. Unfortunately for the Congress, in none of these states, it has a clear edge today.

And other parties from the Opposition ranks can do very little to change the current equation. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Chattisgarh would soon go to polls. Unless the Congress does well in these states, it can consider itself a liability for the Opposition in the next General elections.

The BJP, on the other hand, has moved fast to snare potential partners. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, it is on the verge of roping in regional heavyweights – AIADMK in Chennai and TRS, YSR or TDP in Hyderabad. The new allies and the party's Northeast outreach would not only compensate for any potential losses because of a united Opposition but could also add to the NDA's 2014 tally.

Rahul can talk as much as he wants about a united Opposition. But political permutations and combinations that exist today make his plan unviable. Unless there is a major upheaval in politics, a cataclysmic event to make Modi unpopular, the united Opposition is likely to remain what it is even after the next elections – a badly mauled opponent.

Updated Date: Aug 18, 2017 06:50 AM

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