• Thu. Jun 23rd, 2022

nes: Chemistry in opposition camp eases equation for nes

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Jun 9, 2022
Just as the chief election commissioner announced the timetable for the presidential elections on Thursday, opposition Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge made phone calls to leaders of some friendly parties, seeking unity on a “common opposition candidate”. against the ruling NDA candidate to succeed President Kovind. Yet the political task of securing “maximum opposition unity” over a common presidential candidate against the ruling establishment is generally not seen as an easy task at a time when the government and the NDA led by the BJP are working to exploit potential loopholes in the opposition. armor to make up for the tiny deficit of NDA votes to cross the electoral halfway to place its candidate in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Two prominent regional parties, the BJD and the YSRCP, are holding hope for the BJP and the opposition camp, already burdened with internal fault lines, unnerved.

Of the estimated 10,86,431 cumulative electoral college value for the presidential elections, the NDA needs just under 2% more votes to get its candidate over the midterm mark. Yet the on-paper ‘advantage’ that the ‘Combined Opposition’ has over ‘mathematics’ may not hold up to the ‘chemistry’ test required for ‘all opposition parties’ to shake hands for a candidate combined against the NDA candidate. Such unity has so far not taken place, even in Parliament.

After Prime Minister Modi’s recent separate meetings with Odisha CM Navin Patnaik and AP CM Jagan Reddy here, the ruling front seemed optimistic about securing the support of the BJD and YSRCP, which together have a vote worth of around 7% in the presidential elections, although the duo have yet to go public with their stand. Both parties had backed NDA’s Kovind in the previous presidential poll (with Patnaik subsequently doing the typical balancing act of extending BJD’s support only to then lose the opposition vice-presidential candidate).

Although there is no public evidence of the BJD-YSRCP equations with the Modi regime turning hostile so far, the third major regional party that had split from the opposition to support Kovind, the TRS, is since become hostile to the Centre/BJP. Moreover, the camp in power traditionally holds the tactical upper hand by playing the “regional” and “religion-caste” cards. The UPA had done the same during the two presidential elections of 2004-2014.

Although compared to previous presidential elections, the opposition now has the tactical advantage of some former BJP allies such as Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and TDP deserting the saffron camp in addition to a drop in the number of states controlled by saffron. Yet the upcoming polls are also taking place against a backdrop of violent divisions within the opposition camps – such as Congress v TMC, Congress v AAP, Congress v TRS, Congress v SP, Congress v BJD and Congress v YSRCP (the Congress-CPM fight in Kerala, however, is turning into a tactical “residence” in Delhi).

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi delegating Kharge to reach out to other opposition parties is therefore intended to demonstrate that the largest opposition party is fulfilling its duty to fight for opposition unity, which he has never been able to do since the party’s 0-5 election rout in recent state polls, especially when some large regional groups try to take the lead in coordinating presidential elections.

Before aiming to take on the NDA, the Congress leadership will face a test among the anti-BJP opposition, as many regional parties may try to put forward a common candidate and ask Congress to expand its support by playing a supporting role. If the Congress leadership imposes its own party’s candidate, it could incite some regional rivals to break “unity”. Binoy Viswam (CPI), among the leaders whom Kharge called, said: “When Kharge called and stressed the need for a joint opposition presidential candidate, on behalf of CPI, I told him that to meet the challenges posed by the BJP, we need a common secular and progressive presidential candidate.”

The turf war between Congress and many regional parties could, some argue, prompt some regional biggies to push for the role of “more palatable” leaders such as NCP boss Sharad Pawar as coordinator and mediator in the search for a common candidate. Some regional opposition parties may be using the polls more as an opportunity to draw the broader outline of tactical ties, equations and composition in the opposition tent for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.