Entry of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu-a veteran at the game of forging unity among the opposition groups against the ruling parties- in the ongoing exercise for forging a united front of the opposition parties to take on the ruling BJP is a significant political development in the country.
Naidu is old horse in forging alliances at the national level. He was at the forefront of the 1996 United Front experiment and was the convener of National Democratic Alliance during former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He played a decisive role in strengthening the NDA under the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in 2013 when he was declared the main face of the BJP. He withdrew from the NDA early this year on the issue of denial of a special package for Andhra Pradesh by the Modi government and his transition into the opposition camp has been smooth.
Naidu had first sought to from a non-Congress and non-BJP front among the opposition parties but realizing that objective of defeating the BJP at the next general elections could not be achieved unless the Congress was part of the opposition front, he decided to take the country’s oldest party on board
Making his second trip to the national capital within a fortnight, the Andhra CM met Congress President Rahul Gandhi and said that it was a “democratic compulsion” to work with the Congress. He acknowledged that the Congress is the lead Opposition party in the country. Naidu stressed that they are joining hands to protect the country and admitted that Rahul Gandhi is the main Opposition leader.
“Congress party is the main principal Opposition party. We are all there we will sit together and chalk out a programme. WE have our own base. But it is a reality we have to understand, that the Congress party is the main opposition. And all other parties are necessary. So we will work on these things. Our motive is to save the nation”, Naidu went at length to put his view in perspective and added that this situation has arisen because the Modi government was “destroying all institutions”.
The Congress President called his meeting with Naidu “a momentous occasion” saying that the two parties were ready to forget the past to take on the BJP. Gandhi said the Congress and TDP would work together in the Telangana assembly elections and the Lok Sabha polls. “The gist of the meeting was that we have to defend democracy and institutions of this country. WE have to defend the future of the country. So we are coming together. We are going to work together and all opposition forces are going to work together to defend India”, Gandhi said while talking to media after the meeting.
When confronted with the past animosity between the two parties, Gandhi was quick to explain and admitted, “We have had a past but we both have agreed that we are not going to get into the past”. “We are going to talk about the present and future because it is critical for our country”, the Congress chief pointed out.
Earlier, Naidu had met Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar along with former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah. The three addressed a joint press conference saying that they were looking at ways to come together “to protect the future of the nation”. Abdullah said that the parties would “work on a common minimum programme” to take on the BJP in 2019 elections.
Pawar, who has been working for over a year to forge a front of the opposition parties, said they had discussed the issue of the “assault on institutions” such as CBI, ED and RBI. “The situation is deteriorating day by day. Chndrababu has suggested that we should all come together and discuss it. We have decided to call all non-BJP parties to discuss a way out and save democracy”, the Maratha leader said.
Samajwadi Party chief and former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav described his meeting with the Andhra Chief Minister as “good” and added, “we hope to keep meeting like this. Naidu also met three times UP chief minister and veteran Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.
In is earlier trip to the union capital, Naidu had met four times UP chief minister Maaywati, Delhi CM Arviind Kejriwal, former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and Loktantrik Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav.
Naidu has reinforced the work done earlier by Pawar who has been stressing for over a year now that an opposition front to oust the BJP from power needs to be welded around the Congress. Whether such a front becomes a reality would be in December when results of five assembly elections are known. Ideally, the Congress, if it has to play a lead role and emerge as a credible force to claim the lead role, has to defeat the BJP in the three Hindi speaking states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. But even if it manage to wrest power from the BJP in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh then it would be acceptable to even those leaders who have prime ministerial ambitions and are therefore reluctant to accept the Congress.
If the electoral alliance between the Congress and TDP is able to defeat the TRS of Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao in Telangana, Naidu and Gandhi would gain further traction making the formation of a potent anti-BJP front possible. In this scenario, the Congress-led Opposition front would only have to add a narrative that goes beyond ousting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It would need to present a credible alternate vision to the people that does not promise but a concrete plan of action.
In case, the Congress fails to win Hindi speaking states then the BJP’s return to power in 20i9 is going to be a foregone conclusion. >
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation