The meeting of non-Congress Opposition leaders and sympathetic civil society figures at Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar’s residence in the Capital on Monday under the aegis of the avowedly non-party political Rashtra Manch launched by former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha is unlikely to amount to much.
Unless, that is, there is clarity on key issues in the attempt to forge a viable alternative to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
If that clarity is forthcoming, though, this could be the beginning of the most serious challenge to its political dominance faced by the BJP in over a decade.
The first issue which requires thrashing out by the Opposition is: What is the role of the Congress Party in this matrix? The Communists, for example, who hounded their own leadership for decades from the 1940s for suggesting that working with Jawaharlal Nehru may be a good idea, are today a strong votary of involving the family concern which rules over the rump of India’s oldest political party in any effort to take on the BJP.
Many regional parties represented at the meeting and for whom both the Congress and BJP are opponents at the state level, however, feel the Congress has singularly failed to provide leadership or take the initiative in forging Opposition unity.
The Rashtra Manch meeting could to that extent be seen as a not-so-subtle hint to the Congress to either get in or stay out. (The irony of the situation would not be lost on Mr Manish Tiwari of the Congress who played a vital role in setting up the Rashtra Manch.) Then there is the question of who will bring in the vote for an Opposition bloc.
It is all very well to ideate on issues of national concern which the Rashtra Manch was purportedly conceived to do though those with longer memories would definitely hear echoes of VP Singh’s Jan Morcha in this proposition.
But whether or not the Rashtra Manch converts itself into a political outfit for the 2024 General Election, it is the regional satraps who will have to deliver the Lok Sabha seats. On paper, Chief Ministers Pinarayi Vijayan, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, K Chandrashekar Rao, Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Uddhav Thackeray and Arvind Kejriwal form a formidable group. Add Capt. Amarinder Singh and Ashok Gehlot (both Congress veterans) to the mix, and one can see why Monday’s meeting has got the political temperature in New Delhi soaring. That Mr Pawar, one of the most experienced leaders in the country, hosted the meeting has given the gathering considerable political heft.
On the other hand, election strategist Mr Prashant Kishor, who met Mr Pawar twice in the run-up to Monday’s meet, does not have any political stature to speak of; what he does have in abundance is election-management competence, ambition, and good working relationships with Ms Banerjee, Capt. Singh, Mr Stalin, Mr Reddy and Mr Rahul Gandhi among others. That may be just what is required for the diminished politics of the day.