By Seema Mustafa
The die has been cast. Top leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party, Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party. Telugu Desam and the Congress party met to form what can be called the nucleus of opposition unity for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls, putting an end to rumours and wishful thinking.
“We have met to formalise a common manifesto program, and will be meeting now regularly to ensure this happens,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told The Citizen. He said that it was incorrect to say that AAP had not been interested in a larger unity. “We have met many times before, with the Congress leaders and others present as well, yesterday Rahulji came and we have all taken a decision to get this off the ground,” he said.
Kejriwal held a press conference asking “what kind of democracy is this” in reference to the targeting of his officials and party leaders by the central government over the past years. The Chief Minister has faced extremely rough weather from the Lt Governor’s started with Najeeb Jung and despite that managed to take some ground changing measures in the social sectors of health and education that remain his government’s priority, besides bringing relief to the poorer sections of Delhi with revised electricity and power tariffs benefiting the low income groups.
Kejriwal, who had faced still opposition from the Congress during elections in Delhi, appears more than willing to bury the hatchet. He said that all the opposition parties were serious about defeating the BJP and the meeting of some leaders had resolved to take the process forward. The next opposition meeting is on February 26-27 that more leaders are expected to attend. Interestingly so far the Uttar Pradesh parties have stayed away, with Bahujan Samaj party chief Mayawati visibly angry with the Congress party. Samajwadi party’s Akhilesh Yadav, who has decided to ignore his father’s support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is more kindly disposed towards the Congress but is waiting for the Priyanka Gandhi dust to settle and see what finally emerges.
However, it is clear that despite the states where the political parties in the fray are exploring options the larger decision to fight on a common platform with a common minimum agenda has been taken. And in the process, AAP is likely to ally with the Congress for the Lok Sabha seats in Delhi; Janata Dal-S and the Congress will fight unitedly in Karnataka; DMK will be with the Congress in Tamil Nadu; National Conference will partner with the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir; Rashtriya Janata Dal will continue with the Congress in Bihar; Trinamool Congress and the Congress are likely to form an alliance for West Bengal, the Nationalist Congress Party is clear about its alliance with the Congress party in Maharashtra; Telugu Desams Chandrababu Naidu who was the first to reach out will strengthen an alliance in Andhra Pradesh.
Amidst all this UP remains uncertain, but the picture is expected to clear as soon as the elections are announced. But the exploratory meetings held by Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia is clearly to assess winning chances in seats, and perhaps if an alliance does happen with the BSP-SP identify the seats the Congress could fight. The alliance in UP could remain at a seat understanding position, so as to woo the upper caste voter away from the BJP fold. But all this is very much in the nature of political speculation with Mayawati for one, not buying into it, and keeping up her attack on the Congress party.
State units of the political parties used to combating each other in elections—such as in West Bengal and UP —are putting up a stiff resistance as the Congress and the regional parties here have not worked together. However, as in Karnataka, Congress president Rahul Gandhi is expected to step in and assuage emotions if the talks now progress, and the political top brass are able to agree on a common minimum agenda. This, as the opposition leaders said, will be the first and crucial stepping stone to a poll alliance.
The next step will be to thrash out whether the alliance should be pre- or post- poll. Mamata Banerjee emerged from the meeting insisting on the need for a pre-poll alliance. Interestingly, this came a day after the media had insisted that the Congress and Left were talking for an election alliance in West Bengal, totally non-winning combination. Other political parties have to agree to it. Kejriwal was cautious saying that the common program could signify that. Others still silent, although NCP is reportedly keen to go into the Lok Sabha elections as a united entity.
The one political party almost certain to stay out of all alliance, BJP or Congress led, is the Biju Janata Dal with chief minister Naveen Patnaik not responding to any initiatives by either. In Tamil Nadu the DMK has already declared Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister, while talks are on between the BJP and AIADMK for an alliance.
The Congress has upped the ante- by taking its Congress Working Committee meeting to Ahmedabad, regarded still as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf. Taking a leaf from Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee’s book its Puducherry Chief Minister has been on all night dharna outside Raj Bhawan demanding the recall of Lt Governor Kiran Bedi. All in all eventful days for an energised Opposition.