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The limits to a united opposition

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PM Modi recently inaugurated the first phase of the Delhi-Meerut expressway, which will be India’s first 14 lane highway. The plan for the expressway was approved when the Modi cabinet had just begun, in June 2014 and was targeted to be completed in two and a half years from the start of construction.

Construction on the $1.2 billion project got underway on 31 December 2016 and the project was completed a full year ahead of schedule. This is a feat that should be welcomed by all, regardless of their political leanings.

Projects in India rarely get complete on schedule, let alone ahead of schedule. The extremely shoddy handling of the preparations for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi immediately springs to mind and we all remember the pictures on TV of a portion of the roof falling down on the eve of the opening of the 2010 games. It was a sight that embarrassed the whole nation.

The Prime Minister and the Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari deserve praise for their efficient handling of the project.

As the country heads into the final year of Modi’s term as PM, naturally focus and attention has turned to the general elections. The opposition has started to unite and the gathering of leaders in Karnataka for HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in painted a compelling and intriguing picture.

AAP’s Kejriwal was there, who has become virtually irrelevant at the political stage. Just how he fits into the alliance with Congress, who he has vehemently fought against at the state level is anyone’s guess. The Congress has no members in the Delhi Assembly, but if they did then they would sit in the opposition against Kejariwal’s AAP in the Assembly.

Then there was Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee who shared the stage with the CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, both those parties sit in the opposition in West Bengal where Trinamool is in power.

Just how this united opposition alliance will take shape in the face of such open contradictions is anyone’s guess. Suppose this alliance was to formally be stitched up then will Congress and CPI(M) continue to be in the opposition in West Bengal or will they all become one large alliance government in West Bengal.

If they choose to fight against Modi together in the general election but continue to be rivals in the state then will that not send out some very strange and confusing signals to the voters?

The truth is for now those questions are irrelevant to the parties and the parties themselves don’t care about it.

Their primary aim is to simply defeat Modi in the general elections. They feel that by coming together and preventing the split of anti-Modi votes, Modi could be defeated. What happens after that has not been discussed, or more accurately, no one has had the courage to discuss.

I am no political pundit, but it seems that such an alliance would be successful only in one scenario, that is if people are so disgruntled with Modi, that they just want to replace him at any cost. Who’s the replacement doesn’t matter then. In this scenario, the people would be ready to replace Modi with any other party if such a party exists, with another alliance if such an alliance exists, and if they can’t find an alliance then they will replace him with a lamppost if they could.

This attempt at a unified opposition alliance is in many ways a reflection of the alliance cobbled together to defeat Indira Gandhi in the 1977 elections, which was a post-emergency election. Following the imposition of emergency, the anger in the people was indeed at anyone but Indira Gandhi level and the united opposition won the election.

If things are indeed so bad for Modi, then such a contradiction-filled alliance will indeed work. Whether the things are actually so bad, I am inclined to think not. People, even if they are unhappy with Modi, will look at the alternative and if they don’t find the alternative to be fit enough, they will stick with Modi, grudgingly if need be.

That is not to say people are not unhappy with Modi, of course they are and no one will deny that PM Modi no longer enjoys the mass support he did before the 2014 elections. However have things got to the point where people are willing to say just anyone as long as it’s not Modi, I am not so sure.

Nearly all media outlets had a debate or a shouting contest where everyone tried to shout at everyone else in the debate simultaneously, depending on which channel you watched, on how the upcoming general elections will shape up.

Two topics invariably dominated all these debates, namely, the united opposition and fuel prices. The fuel prices issue is a simple one.  When in opposition the BJP had made it a key issue against the incumbent UPA government, but now when they are in power they fuel prices continue to skyrocket.

The NDA ministers have not given any reply which could be said to have even a semblance of a coherent response to the questions asked of them on the issue. With each inconsistency that shows up between the stance of the PM on an issue in 2013 and 2018, the sincerity of the PM is called into question and his credibility takes a hit.

However, the inconsistency doesn’t lie with just one party. I recall that soon after PM Modi had taken office the fuel prices had taken a tumble and the current opposition had been quick to point out that PM Modi had little to do with the fall in fuel prices.

If you don’t give the person credit when fuel prices fell, why blame him for when the prices rise. Equally when the current government was happy to claim credit for fall in fuel prices, why are they now shying away from the questions when the prices are high?

The second issue that dominated the news cycles was that of the united opposition. Everyone wanted to know just how does the united opposition change the picture of the coming general elections.

I feel, again as a layman in this regard, that the Indian media has started to over-complicate the general elections. First of all, BJP is not an all India party, and so whether CPI(M) does tie up with Trinamool is by and large irrelevant. BJP doesn’t have much presence in West Bengal and is just as likely to lose to Trinamool alone as it is to an alliance of Trinamool and Congress and CPI(M).

In states like Gujarat and Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, etc. there are no regional parties worth mentioning. It’s a direct contest between BJP and Congress where (say) TDP and JDS coming together will have no bearing on the results.

The only alliances that really mean anything will be between the regional parties of UP and Maharashtra (if Shiv Sena goes with the Congress and NCP). The rest of the parties don’t really bring much to the table when it comes to defeating BJP in North India, which is BJP’s base.

The general election isn’t about how united the opposition is. That is an unnecessarily complicated road to go down.

During the tenure of PM Modi, BJP has claimed a lot of work has been done and they speak about a lot of them, however, of these, they lay emphasis on a few more than the rest.

These few are gas cylinders to the poor, toilets in all or most villages/homes and electricity in every village. If PM Modi has indeed delivered on these three fronts then he won’t lose the elections.

The fact is that the poor are most active voters in India. If the poor indeed have these very basic of amenities for the 1st time since India’s independence, because of PM Modi and his govt. then they will not vote against him.

The one active voter section that remains is the farmers and there is no disputing the fact that farmers are currently in a very poor condition. Even on that ground PM Modi, after holding off on the announcement so far, was forced to announce an increased MSP of 1.5 times the production cost for both Rabi and Kharif crops.

If this is implemented properly and the farmers are satisfied then they will be another key category of voter who will back Modi in the general elections. If this is not implemented properly then it will hurt BJP and Modi.

The general election doesn’t depend on how united the opposition is. The general election is really all about what Modi has done in these 3 or 4 areas. If the poor are happy with Modi, Modi wins. Everything else seems irrelevant.

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