Northern comfort elusive for INDIA : The Tribune India

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Northern comfort elusive for INDIA

The electorally important region presents a picture of chaos and despondency for Opposition bloc

Northern comfort elusive for INDIA

SHOW OF UNITY: Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra with the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, AAP leader Gopal Rai and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav (right) during an INDIA rally. PTI

Radhika Ramaseshan

Senior Journalist

THE Opposition’s INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) bloc has reasons to feel buoyant about its prospects in the southern states in the Lok Sabha polls. In contrast to the promising scenario on the other side of the Vindhyas, where INDIA is well placed in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala and relatively so in Karnataka, the North presents a picture of chaos and despondency for the alliance. The shambolic state of affairs derives in large part from the flaws inherent in every Opposition grouping against a near-hegemonic ruling force (till 1989, it was the Congress, and now it is the BJP), arising largely from ego clashes and a marked reluctance of the self-styled ‘stronger’ entities to share power equitably with their comrades, and the BJP’s smash-and-grab approach towards razing a level playing field.

The centrality of Arvind Kejriwal, Hemant Soren and Tejashwi Yadav shows that the Congress is forced to play second fiddle to regional satraps.

The BJP’s predatory tactics have caused major depletions in the critical mass INDIA required to put up a respectable challenge. The Congress — which remains the Opposition’s only pan-India party — has suffered the highest casualties. Several high-profile leaders have switched sides, enhancing the impression that an enfeebled Congress’ innards have been hollowed out and it is, therefore, in no position to credibly confront the BJP and the NDA.

Jammu and Kashmir contributes only five seats to the Lower House of Parliament, but even in its truncated version as a union territory (the Kashmir valley has three seats and Jammu two), its symbolic significance stands undiminished for the BJP and INDIA. A recent development classically illustrates INDIA’s inability to unify the Opposition, which includes the National Conference (NC), led by the Abdullahs, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), headed by Mehbooba Mufti. Notwithstanding the earlier averments of an alliance, the NC and the PDP decided to fight each other in the Valley and have fielded their own candidates. The Congress failed to cement the grouping. Either the Congress lacked the political and moral authority to broker peace between the Abdullahs and Mehbooba Mufti or the party thought it more ‘prudent’ to go with the former. However, it is useful to recall that a splintered Opposition could give the BJP the opening it sorely needs in the Valley. Moreover, the NC and the PDP have partnered with the BJP in the past after shedding their supposed aversions to its ideology.

Cut to Uttar Pradesh and its bountiful 80 seats, much of which were netted by the BJP in 2014 and 2019. The Lucknow bazaar buzz has it that there’s no jaan (life) left in INDIA after successive routs. The Samajwadi Party (SP) is the fulcrum of the alliance by a mile, but the prelude to the elections has been marked by bumps. The SP has fumbled in candidates’ selection (it wasn’t as though it was spoilt for choice); it has the shell of a party, namely the Congress, for an ally after losing weightier partners such as the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party to the BJP, which nimbly put together a seat-sharing arrangement to the apparent satisfaction of the NDA’s constituents. The SP chief, Akhilesh Yadav, was discernibly defensive about countering the BJP’s blatantly divisive agenda, as revealed in PM Narendra Modi’s speech last week at Ghaziabad.

Muslims have always constituted a strong vote bank of the SP and the projected outcome of the alliance with the Congress is the consolidation of minority votes. Yadav’s unwillingness to affirm a public stand on minority-related issues did not go down well with Muslim opinion-makers, clerics and minority members of the SP. His party’s members periodically spoke up against it. The recent death of Mukhtar Ansari, a convicted criminal and politician with a strong base in eastern UP because of his Robin Hood image, drew massive crowds at his funeral, crowds that were undeterred by massive police deployment. The episode prompted Yadav to call on his family, especially since the SP has nominated Mukhtar’s brother Afzal from the Ghazipur Lok Sabha constituency in Purvanchal. Afzal Ansari had won the seat in 2004 as well as in 2019.

On the other hand, the BJP has left no stone unturned in its marquee state as it is determined to recompense the NDA for the loss of nine seats — from 71 in 2014 to 62 in 2019 — and perhaps win more. Modi has hit the ground running with a roadshow in Ghaziabad-Meerut; the BJP’s tieups are in place and it has declared over 50 candidates. The Congress, crippled by a weak organisational setup and bereft of charismatic regional leaders, is still expecting the Gandhis to contest from the family boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli in Awadh. Should the family back off — especially in view of Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi defeat in 2019 — the UP rank and file fears that the Congress might draw a blank.

Where does INDIA’s salvation lie in the North? In Haryana, the BJP seems to have willingly forfeited its ally, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), and the Jat votes it brought to the table. But the Congress doesn’t look like the gainer it is notionally projected to be. The break-up only signifies that the JJP would split the votes of a dominant community, depriving the Congress of the cutting edge it might enjoy under Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s stewardship.

What about Delhi? Arvind Kejriwal is undeniably INDIA’s protagonist after his arrest. The AAP has gone on the front foot, unfazed by the fact that many senior leaders, including the CM himself, are in jail. Its campaign pivots around Kejriwal and his government’s flagship programmes, but is that enough of a counter against the BJP’s all-too-powerful leader and a well-defined campaign replete with exaggerated claims about the Centre’s ‘achievements’ and hard work on the ground?

The centrality of Kejriwal, Hemant Soren (also incarcerated) and Tejashwi Yadav shows that willy-nilly, the Congress is forced to play second fiddle to north India’s regional satraps. On the other hand, its direct faceoffs with the BJP in states such as MP, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Chhattisgarh will be the ultimate test of its ability to reassert its political leadership.

#Kerala #Lok Sabha #Tamil Nadu #Telangana

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