In the run-up to the presidential election, a certain degree of jockeying is apparent in the Opposition ranks. Political leaders have already started making permutations and combinations
In the run-up to the presidential election, a certain degree of jockeying is apparent in the Opposition ranks. First, the Congress and a few other parties have more or less dumped the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a prospective partner in a national anti-BJP front. The manner in which AAP was kept out of Opposition talks to discuss a candidate for Rashtrapati Bhawan would suggest that there is a perception gaining ground, even among erstwhile friends of AAP, that Arvind Kejriwal’s party is on a slippery slope.
The Congress is particularly keen to isolate AAP, especially after its victory in Punjab. In Delhi, should AAP’s decline become a trend beyond just the recent municipal elections, then the Congress would hope to regain constituencies among the minorities and in the jhuggi-jhopdi colonies that it had lost to AAP. In other States, where the Congress is taking on the BJP, even if the BJP is not defeated, the Congress hopes to recover ground that it may have lost to AAP. Certainly, the idea of AAP contesting seriously in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh later this year has evaporated.It is worth noting that the Congress’ muscling out of AAP was not contested by regional parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) that have previously had meetings and linkages with AAP. After the loss in Punjab and then the washout in the municipal elections in Delhi, both, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar are gently distancing themselves from Kejriwal.
At least one senior politician from a regional party put it bluntly. He said it was felt Kejriwal’s recent attack on the Election Commission – accusing it of helping doctor voting machines and rig elections – was intended to put pressure on Nirvachan Sadan in the weeks leading up to the commission’s decision on the possible disqualification of 21 AAP MLAs for alleged non-compliance with office-of-profit laws. “This is not really our battle,” the politician said, “and AAP couldn’t be seen as dragging us unto it. They have to secure their backyard before dreaming of a national role.”
The second tussle is between the Left Front, specifically the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), and the TMC. Both are striving to influence the Congress, and for different motivations. TMC is keen to permanently rupture the CPI(M)-Congress association, which was a formal alliance in the 2016 West Bengal Assembly election. If the next Lok Sabha election is a four-way contest in West Bengal, with a rising BJP and the Congress and the CPI(M) all taking on TMC, Banerjee’s party reckons it has a huge advantage. If the Congress and CPI(M) tie up, that advantage is reduced just that bit.
The CPI(M) is hoping to use its goodwill among elements in the Congress to drive the former ruling party in a leftward direction. It has both West Bengal and a possible national role in mind, at least in terms of the media and intellectual infrastructure in the capital. The CPI(M) itself is divided on its approach to the Congress. The Congress is ready to give Sitaram Yechury a Rajya Sabha seat from West Bengal, but hardliners in the CPI(M) are determined to deny their own general secretary a fresh term in the upper House.When it comes to the presidential election, TMC and a host of other parties will probably be willing to support a non-confrontational and non-controversial candidate from the NDA ranks, even a senior BJP politician. The CPI(M) is determined to present an Opposition candidate, even if only for a token fight. This person may well be Gopal Gandhi, former civil servant and Governor, and grandson of the Mahatma. Should the BJP suggest a reasonable candidate, as it is widely expected to do, will the Congress go along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s choice – as had happened when the previous BJP Government had backed APJ Abdul Kalam in 2002 – or will it seek to be part of a bitter but ultimately symbolic battle? In a sense, the Congress leadership may need to make a choice at this stage between the TMC and the CPI(M).
The other in-house Opposition conflict is between Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) and Lalu Prasad and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The Prasad family is facing a series of corruption charges, extending to children and children-in-law of Lalu Prasad and comprising dodgy property deals in a variety of cities. The Bihar Government, in which the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress are partners, is facing a credibility crisis primarily due to the ministerial excesses of Lalu Prasad’s sons and to an overbearing attitude from the RJD. Nitish Kumar is using this opportunity to manoeuvre his way to senior status in the alliance with Lalu Prasad. How successful he will be remains questionable, though.