As a show of support for Sharad Yadav the gathering of leaders of 14 political parties was impressive, and there was much sting to the rhetoric about saving the “composite culture” now allegedly under attack from saffron forces. Political realities, however, are not determined by “shows” or a collection of party leaders ~ else Mr Ram Nath Kovind and Mr M Venkaiah Naidu would not have been elected to high office. Sharing a platform does not signal a sinking of ingrained differences, or a commitment to fight unitedly against a common adversary, so it would be premature to read too much into the Sanjhi Virasat Bachao exercise.

Even in the limited context of an expression of backing for Sharad Yadav in his bid to challenge Nitish Kumar’s joining forces with the BJP the real test will lie elsewhere ~ mustering the rank and file of the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar. Few of its activists were present at the “Sharad Show”, and his political future in his home state will depend on which side they take in coming days.

What is a trifle intriguing are reports suggesting that at the multi-party meet the estranged JD (U) leader was asked to prepare a blueprint for Opposition action in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha poll. Intriguing because only days earlier Sonia Gandhi had been invited to conduct a similar exercise. Some tongues were indeed set wagging: Sonia and the Congress had been taking a lead in the “Opposition unity” drive, was the task being handed over to Sharad Yadav? That suggestion alone would suffice to open the proverbial can of worms, for there is no dearth of “ambition” in the Opposition ranks ~ remember that it was Mamata Banjeree who tried to build a common base in the wake of the demonetisation misadventure. Would Rahul and his “sultans” be willing to hand over their nonexistent Sultanate to Yadav ~ a known Congressbaiter of yesteryear. The presence of Sitaram Yechury and Farooq Abdullah had only notional importance ~ Yechury was not capable of convincing his party to abandon its obsolete practice of limiting the number of terms a CPI-M nominee could enjoy in the Rajya Sabha. It is the “junior” Abdullah who now manages the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir. Spent bullets hardly serve as firepower.

As a beginning the “save composite culture” endeavour is not to be ridiculed, an Opposition that genuinely hopes it can turn the electoral tables is vital for that democratic essential ~ holding government accountable. Setting sights on 2019 is important (the BJP is already doing so) but the groundwork should begin with upcoming elections to certain state assemblies. Winning in the states will be a more solid platform than rallying around Sharad and slamming Nitish for “crossing the floor”.