The efforts by the Opposition in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections to forge a semblance of unity seem to be getting obliterated following the Bharatiya Janata Party’s massive victory.
Since the results were declared on May 23 giving the BJP 303 seats in the 545-member lower house and putting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in office for a second consecutive term, Opposition initiatives around the country seem to be collapsing.
Earlier this week in Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party led by Mayawati announced that it has decided to go it alone in the upcoming bye-polls for 11 Assembly seats. Though its alliance with the Samajwadi Party could not stop the BJP from cornering a majority of seats in India’s most populous state, the combination managed to put up the strongest challenge to BJP in North India – barring Punjab.
In Telangana, the Congress legislative party is in a shambles. With the leadership failing to act quickly to intervene in the post-election period to instill confidence in the state unit, 12 of its 18 MLAs decided on Thursday to merge with the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samhiti. With shock wins in four Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, the BJP is manoeuvering to replace the Congress as the principal opposition party in the state. Given the goodwill that the Congress earned for it efforts to create Telangana in 2014, bifurcating the state of Andhra Pradesh, its current position betrays poor strategy from the high command.
In Karnataka, the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance is walking a thin rope. On Thursday, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, son of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, asked party workers to prepare for Assembly polls that could be “announced anytime”. The two parties came together only last year to keep the BJP away from power. But a turf war has proceeded ever since, leading to a severe crisis in governance, so much so that even a routine expansion of the council of ministers has become difficult for the alliance partners to manage.
It is clear that the Opposition lacks coherent long-term strategy to take on the BJP. While some these alliances were put together quickly on the eve of elections, their focus was on short-term electoral gains rather than offering a consistent political and ideological challenge to the BJP.
This strategy cannot be expected to work. The Opposition parties must realise that their strategy cannot just involve fielding alternative candidates in elections: they must craft a solid platform of ideas that voter who may not be inclined to support the BJP can look up to.
In this, the Opposition could take a leaf out of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s playbook in Tamil Nadu. Even after the end of the Lok Sabha elections, the party and its allies have continued to build pressure on issues such as the Centre’s perceived move to impose Hindi on non-Hindi states and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test for medical education that is seen to place candidates from the state at a disadvantage. These ideas have won broad appeal, allowing the DMK to become the principal ideological and electoral opponent to the BJP and its allies in Tamil Nadu.
Unless the Opposition in other parts of India begins to create a long-term political counter-narrative to the BJP, recovering from the Lok Sabha elections losses will become even more difficult.