The leaders of Opposition parties from 13 states held hands on the stage during the oath-taking ceremony of new Congress-JDS coalition government in Karnataka recently, sending out a clear message over changing political dynamics in the country. Political pundits have since started analysing the prospects of Opposition unity and its impact on the next Lok Sabha elections.
While some experts have dismissed the event as yet another photo opportunity for the regional political parties, others have predicted that it’s going to change the political scenario of the country. But the united face of Opposition has clearly sounded the bugle for a tough electoral battle next year.
Going by the recent statements of political parties, gossip in political circles and sources, the united Opposition has earmarked as many as 400 out of 543 seats, on which it’s going to challenge NDA candidates, especially of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On these 400 seats, the Opposition parties will field their candidate against the BJP or the NDA candidate in one-to-one fights, taking a cue from recently held bypolls in Uttar Pradesh.
Many political leaders maintain that discourse on such a grand alliance of Opposition parties had actually started well before the outcome of Karnataka assembly elections. Leaving aside several contentious inter-state issues, they said, representatives from regional parties from Kashmir to Kanyakumari are said to be the part of this poll strategy that aims to dethrone BJP in 2019.
According to sources, several political stalwarts including Farooq Abdullah from Kashmir, MK Stalin from Tamil Nadu and Pinarayi Vijayan from Kerala have been participating in the ongoing deliberations.
While a single formula is not going to work in all the states due to their peculiar local regional issues, the broader objective is the same, that is to oust BJP from the power at the Centre.
The beginnings of Plan 400
The idea of a united Opposition front to defeat the BJP is said to be the brain child of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, which was deeply appreciated by the senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and expelled Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, who eventually shared it with other regional political players. Other observers believe that the idea was initially mooted by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. She had a round of meetings with several leaders during her Delhi visit in March. Speaking on the prospects of such an alliance, she had maintained the whichever regional party is in stronger position in its state, it must get the support of other alliance partners. Moreover, BJP’s unprecedented debacle in recent bypolls in Uttar Pradesh against united Opposition candidates has given a boost to the idea of united Opposition against the saffron party.
Even though a section of media is overplaying the differences between non-NDA parties, the declaration Samajwadi Party (SP) chief and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Sunday that he was willing to play second fiddle to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has put many speculations to rest.
He stated that to ensure defeat of BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2019, his party is ready for any sacrifice. “Even if we have to sacrifice 2-4 seats after entering into an alliance with the BSP, we will not back out.”
Madhya Pradesh Congress has already made it clear that seat-sharing with regional parties won’t become a hurdle in the way to defeat BJP in upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The state election in-charge of the party and Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia, said that his party is open to an alliance with like-minded parties not only for the assembly polls, but also the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
He added that the party is willing to let regional parties take the lead wherever the need of the coalition warrants. “What matters to us is that we share ideologies and value system. Therefore, we don’t see any major hurdle in seat sharing arrangement.”
Asked about possibilities of alliance with BSP in the state, he said: “Our doors are open. We have the clarity of thought and action to achieve our political objectives.”
A break-up of “Plan 400” for 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the following major states:
Uttar Pradesh, 80 LS seats
In this state, Akhilesh Yadav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP are the most prominent parties. In Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the alliance of both the parties made the ruling BJP bite dust in recent bypolls. As per the new plan, the SP-BSP alliance along with some non NDA parties in Western Uttar Pradesh supported RLD in Kairana. Congress and AAP also supported the move and it led to the victory of Tabassum Hussain.
West Bengal, 40 LS seats
In this eastern state, Trinmool Congress of Mamta Banerjee is the biggest political party followed by Congress and Left Front. Despite so-called Modi wave, Mamata has been holding the fort successfully. Clearly, anti-Trinamool parties would also put up a united fight against her and rest of the parties will give or take support on most of the seats accordingly.
Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, 65 LS seats
These states are largely dominated by two-party politics except for a few independent candidates. But the main contest remains between the Congress and the BJP. All these states have strong anti-incumbency wave, as evident from the recent bypolls. According to sources in the Congress, the party will emerge as a major force to reckon with after Lok Sabha elections. The decision on seat-sharing would be taken after ensuing assembly elections in December.
South India, 130 LS seats (Tamil Nadu 39, Kerala 20, Karnataka 28, Andra Pradesh 25, Telangana 17 and Puducherry 1)
In South India, BJP doesn’t have presence in any other state barring Karnataka. In Andra Pradesh TDP has already parted ways with the NDA. In Telangana, K Chandrasekhar Rao is already at odds with the BJP whereas in Tamil Nadu, according to a recent poll survey, the BJP is expected to score a duck. In Kerala, despite all out efforts, the BJP has not been able to get a foothold. On all these 130 seats, Opposition parties are opposed to the BJP and a united alliance is working to strengthen itself to keep the BJP out.
West, 76 LS seats (Maharashtra 48, Gujarat 26 and Goa 2)
In Maharashtra’s Bhandara-Gondia, an Uttar Pradesh-like experiment proved successful during recent byelections. Congress-NCP alliance clearly has an edge over other parties including BJP ally Shiv Sena. Several regional parties here seem disenchanted with the BJP. The recent statements of Sharad Pawar asking for united opposition further clear the picture.
Bihar and Odisha
Apart from this, RJD is gaining ground in Bihar. The fissures in JD(U)-BJP have started emerging now. In Odisha, BJD seems in no mood to bow down before BJP despite several efforts by the latter, and it has no option other than joining united Opposition front.
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