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Opposition Unity: CHALLENGES WITHIN, By Dr.S.Saraswathi, 9 February, 2018 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 9 February 2018

Opposition Unity


By Dr.S.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


The Opposition has had a packed ten days. First a NCP leader hosted a tea party followed by the Congress convening a meeting of 17 non-NDA Parties in New Delhi. Whereby Congress leader Sonia Gandhi called for Opposition unity on all issues of national importance.


Attended by almost all major Opposition Parties barring the BSP and AAP which said it had not been invited, its underscored,  “We should altogether adopt a common approach and strategy both inside and outside Parliament”.   


Pertinently, Sonia continues as UPA Chairperson instead of her son Congress President Rahul as she is obviously a better bet for safeguarding   “Opposition unity” in Parliament by virtue of her seniority and experience and acceptability to several senior leaders. Besides, the leadership cannot ignore challenges within.


Recall, the NCP Chairperson had called for an Opposition march on Republic Day in Mumbai to protest against the NDA Government’s politics and policies, specifically against the call by some BJP leaders to change the Constitution. 


In fact, the CPI(M) General Secretary had called for “widest possible coming together of Opposition Parties” on a policy platform to defeat the BJP after the Gujarat Assembly election. Doubtlessly, more than one leader is  ready  to call for, initiate and also lead Opposition unity. 


Also, while Congress President Rahul accepted there might be differences among Opposition Parties in States, he reminded them they had a common aim of defeating the BJP at the Centre.  Evidently, a new slogan for Opposition Unity is: Unity in Parliament, Opposition in States”, to be used wherever applicable.


Additionally, unity leaders depict this as “secular forces” fighting “communal” politics although there is no clear definition or understanding of the concepts of secularism and communalism.   Some Parties and organizations are given such labels.   


Undeniably, struggle for  Opposition unity is an interesting  feature   of multi- party Parliamentary politics in India.  It is a formation from time to time with no permanent members and is a part of alliance politics.  With the common enemy being identified in the ruling Party/coalition which is the cementing reason.  The TINA (there is no alternative) factor provides the basis for this make-shift and artificial unity.     


Significantly, the   unity call by the Congress is not for fighting elections, but for adopting a common stand on national issues.  These include matters like GST, foreign direct investment, powers of Constitutional functionaries, simultaneous elections, etc.  Alongside, issues raised in Parliament and those to be brought before it and voted on.


Hence, the question of electoral alliance, seat sharing and allocation of constituencies are kept away from Opposition Unity call.


However, the ultimate goal is to defeat the NDA in the 2019 general elections --- a target which requires several rehearsals inside and outside Parliament and cultivation of a spirit of friendship and cooperation in diverse situations among Parties sharing the same objective.


There are three platforms for Opposition unity --- unity within the legislative bodies, unity outside these and on the streets and unity in the electoral field.  Wherein, one does not include or exclude others. 


Moreover, they are independent of one another and might or might not co-exist. Further, unity may also be restricted by area meaning a State or a local body resulting in friendship-cum-rivalry between same Parties at the same time.


Certainly, the Congress-led union of Parties seems to have a fancy for the word “united” like the UPA, United Front (UF) and United Democratic Front (UDF).


Furthermore, within Opposition unity, which is the mantra of the non-BJP Parties to counter the Hindutva Brigade, Left unity is an integral   element to be fostered and promoted   by “left-oriented” Parties. 


Besides the CPI and CPI(M), the Left broadly refers to many Leftist  Parties, outfits and movements including the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Workers Party of India, Peasants and Workers Party, Forward Block, Viduthalai  Siruttaigal and  many of the Dravidian Parties. Left unity is again in the making to face the next  Lok  Sabha  elections next year.  


Sadly, division within the CPI(M)  is a major setback to Opposition unity for fighting elections.  Recently, the CPM’s Central Committee rejected a draft political resolution moved by its General Secretary favouring a tactical alliance with the Congress for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and accepted Karat’s document rejecting any truck with the Grand Dame. This is a big jolt for Opposition unity even before its starts.


Indeed, it is a repetition of the CPI(M)’s refusal in 1997  to join the Deve Gowda United Front Government at the Centre  if the Congress were to be a part of it. That decision too faced internal division.


Also, open display of division within division when questions regarding the split without differences  between the CPI and CPI(M) are not settled  is a setback to Opposition unity. Yet, the two Communist Parties as well as the two divisions within the CPI(M) have attended the unity call meeting by the Congress as if the divisions do not matter for unity to oppose.  


Remember, the CPI(M) has been in power in Kerala and   Tripura as the biggest partner in the ruling alliances. In both States, its main rival is the Congress which is now calling for Opposition unity, that is, unity of Parties opposed to the BJP.  


In West Bengal, after 34 years of consecutive rule, the Left  lost  the 2011 and 2015 elections  to Mamata’s TMC --- a breakaway Congress group.  In 2011 the TMC and Congress formed an alliance to fight their common rival CPM.  In 2016, the Left (including CPM)-Congress alliance was defeated by the TMC fighting alone.  The West Bengal Congress was also divided over the issue of alliance with the CPM.


In this struggle for unity,  small Parties which do not have any chance of becoming the ruling Party might have an option to choose their electoral partners but  the bigger Parties aspiring for capturing power have to join the enemies of their main rival.



Consequently, Opposition unity is made up of contenders to power against the ruling Party plus as many small Parties as possible which can fetch votes and/or win a few seats. Bluntly, it is arithmetical calculation alone where elections are concerned.


When such a unity is forged for taking positions in Parliament as a prelude to the general elections, national issues, interests and priorities become matters of secondary or no concern. Mustering strength to prevent the ruling alliance from conducting Parliamentary proceedings becomes the objective.  At times, it ends in absurd situations like speaking in favour of something and voting against it.  


Importantly, Opposition unity has been working exceedingly well in stalling Parliamentary proceedings and delaying legislations more than anything else.  It is futile to hope that this can be extended to the electoral field where Parties have different expectations and need different abilities.


Clearly, difficulties in forming  Opposition unity are  different from those in preserving a  coalition Government  experienced  by the United Front Government in the late 1990s or by its successor the  NDA in 1999. The challenges within are plenty as unity centres around the race for political power. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)





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