Lalu’s Rally and Opposition Unity: Still a Long Distance to Cover

By Santosh Bhartiya 

The whole opposition is reeling under the spell of Nitish Kumar’s parting ways with Lalu Yadav and joining hands with the BJP in Bihar. It is a sad commentary on the renewed vulnerabilities within opposition’s ranks, their mutual relationships and their unity. The last attempt to unite opposition was made during Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi had stitched together an alliance of the Congress and Samajwadi Party without a common minimum program. During the run up to the elections Akhilesh Yadav campaigned vigorously, while the Congress ran its campaign in half-hearted manner. The end result was they left no impression on the voters and their alliance proved useless in the end. The mistake on the part of Akhilesh Yadav was that he did not try to forge a comprehensive opposition unity; instead he went ahead with the strategy of taking on the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by seat-sharing arrangements with the Congress. He identified Mayawati as his main rival, and he spent all his energy in attacking and defeating the BSP. However, in the last phase of elections he indicated that if the need arose, he might take the help of Mayawati to keep the BJP out of power, though did not elucidate that in such arrangement which party will lead the government: the SP or the BSP? These questions as well as the inherent contradictions within the opposition did not impress the voters of the state.

Another major attempt to unite Opposition was made by Lalu Yadav in Bihar through his 27-August rally in Patna. At the outset the objective of the rally, or Maha-Rally as he called it, was quite different: to bring all the leaders of the opposition and announce opposition unity for the 2019 elections. Lalu Yadav’s intention was to captain the ship of the opposition unity, but after brake down of Grand Alliance or Mahagatbandhan, the focus of the rally was diverted more and more towards Nitish Kumar and less and less towards the Opposition unity. It was natural. There was a flood in Bihar. Laloo Yadav did not have money. The mood in the country was turned against him. The CBI and the Income Tax raided his places, and it was touted that his sons and daughters were embroiled in corruption. Despite that, Lalu Yadav did not postpone the 27 August rally and go ahead with it, when flood threat was looming large in the state. The Tejashwi Yadav visited prominent places in Bihar in the preparation of the rally. In the backdrop of devastating flood in the state, Lalu Yadav took upon himself to mobilize people from in and around Patna to assure enough people should come to his rally.

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Given the circumstances, the 27-August rally was a successful rally. People came in using their own means, and participated in the rally with immense fervor, which in changed political scenario was directed towards Nitish Kumar. The refrain was to teach Nitish Kumar and the BJP a lesson or two in Bihar. However, the initial aim of devising ways and means to captured power in the 2019 elections was weak. The rumor of Rahul Gandhi’s and Mayawati’s giving a miss to the rally was taking round, and a lot of suspense built around Mamata Banerjee’s participation. But, Lalu Yadav did not give up, and it was for his strong resolve and courage that despite all odds he managed to organize a successful rally. His continuous persuasion paid off and Congress and Mamta Banerjee agreed to show up. All in all, representatives from 18 political parties, including from the smaller parties, participated in the rally. Everybody vented his/her ire on Nitish Kumar and the BJP’s alliance, while highlighting the failure of Narendra Modi’s policies took the back seat.

This rally demonstrates that if Lalu Yadav puts in a wholehearted effort, a fresh bid of opposition unity can be made, but it is not an easy task. Lalu Yadav has to face immense challenges in the process. Mayawati mince no word in speaking her mind when she said she did not turn up to the rally because the issue of unity often got derailed on the question of seat sharing. For her finalizing seat sharing arrangements as to who would fight on how many seats in the Lok Sabha elections is more important. Lalu Yadav’s response was once all the opposition parties come on a single a platform, we will discuss the matter of seat sharing. Lalu Yadav will have to deal with such questions on multiple occasions. The one such question he must face will be: who will be the face of the Opposition in front of Narendra Modi? Rahul Gandhi as usual was on foreign trip. On and off, he spends nine months a year on foreign trips, and available only for three months in the country. Nobody knows the intent and purpose of his trips, but everybody knows that he goes on those trips. Had Rahul Gandhi participated in Patna rally, the opposition unity would have assumed a new trajectory and got a new impetus. His absence created enough room for the opposition unity to go astray even before it gets a start.

Now the question is who will be Lalu’s choice of opposition face: Will he put his money on Mamta Banerjee, or prepare Akhilesh Yadav to take the mantle, or will he bet on Rahul Gandhi? If this question is not attained to and resolved in the next two to three months, then Lalu Yadav’s dream to unite the opposition will become a distant dream. At the moment only Lalu Yadav has the capability, if he is serious, to go to every leader of the opposition and first seek a formula for opposition unity. Get everyone’s opinion on prospective seat sharing arrangement and also make it clear on what basis the next election will be contested. Will there be a party of the Opposition unity, or a United Front will be formulated with seat sharing formula? I am not touching upon those questions, through which Lalu Yadav is being targeted. I believe that there are still a large number of people in the country who see possibility in Lalu Yadav and recognize his potential. But the problem of Lalu Yadav is that the bill that Rahul Gandhi tore during the Manmohan Singh government and got all-round applauds in the country, still haunts him. There is no possibility of ending his political exile in near future. In this backdrop, every step taken by Lalu Yadav will be assessed for its seriousness.

Indeed, the Bihar rally was not a failure. I was listening to the mumbo jumbos of BJP, JDU and RJD vis-à-vis number of participants of the rally. It is not important whether Laloo Yadav was correct when he said 10 lakhs people attended his rally or the BJP was correct when it said twenty-five thousand attended the rally? The important thing is that a large number of people from Bihar, most of them from backward classes, had on political question turned up to the Gandhi Maidan with full of enthusiasm and using their own means. It is futile to discuss whether the attendance in Gandhi Maidan was two lakhs, three lakhs or five lakhs, but one thing is established that Lalu Yadav has not lost his knack as a fighter. At the same time, this rally saw the emergence of a new leader in Tejashwi Yadav on the political horizon of the country. People have started comparing him with the likes of Rahul Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Akhilesh Yadav and M.K. Stalin. It is being seen with interest whether he confine himself only in Bihar or accumulate courage to visit other parts of the country.

Lalu Yadav must be aware of the fact that the country is very big. If he has to set the agenda of opposition unity in order to take on Narendra Modi, he will have to do at least 50 to 60 public meetings across the country. Apart from that the question remains intact as to how the leaders who will attend these meetings will shed their differences or who will facilitate them to do so? Lalu Yadav and the opposition have to deal with the wobbly attitude of Sharad Pawar led NCP. Although Danish Ali participated in the rally as a representative of HD Deve Gowda, representation from Maharashtra to Kerala was conspicuous by its absence. Therefore it should be assumed that this rally did bring together leaders from almost all the political parties from North India in the name of opposition unity, but failed leave a pan-India impression.

Be that as it may, Lalu Yadav, through this rally, established the fact that he is capable enough in uniting the opposition. He successfully projected his son Tejashwi Yadav and brightened his future prospect. Tejashwi Yadav’s elder brother, Tej Pratap Yadav, announced in this rally that former is Arjuna, which settled once and for all the presumptions of future power struggle within Lalu Yadav’s family.

However, the question remains whether Akhilesh Yadav will hold such a rally in Uttar Pradesh or Mamata Banerjee and Deve Gowda will follow the suit in West Bengal and Karnataka, respectively. Who will hold opposition rallies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Maharashtra, apart from these states? As long as these questions are not answered by Lalu Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and Mamta Banerjee, it should be assumed that the path of opposition unity is still quite empty. The preparations to tread this path are apparent, but those who have to tread it are missing. The opposition has never been so weak, directionless, weak and dispirited as it is now. A weak, inert, dispirited opposition is not a good augury for democracy.

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