Once again efforts are on to forge opposition unity. With the upcoming winter session of Parliament, the opposition is gearingn up to take on the Modi government in Parliament and outside. A meeting convened by senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Monday, which was attended by 13 opposition parties, also decided to step up the agitation against the policies of the Modi government on several issues and floor coordination. As expected, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Aam Aadmi Party did not attend the meeting.

The opposition also signed a memorandum, to be given to the President of India, expressing concern over the alleged snooping by an Israeli agency on politicians and journalists after the WhatsApp revelations arguing that they clearly violated the right to privacy as pronounced by the Supreme Court of India. The Congress party, which has taken a lead in mobilising opposition support has already launched an agitation for a fortnight from November 5 to highlight the “failures” of the Modi government on issues such as economic slowdown, rising unemployment and rural crisis.

While it is indeed a good political move, it should have been a joint opposition movement rather than that of individual parties. The Left also has taken to streets on the same issues. After the BJP’s impressive win in the 2019 polls, the opposition remained weak and divided. The first session of the 17thLok Sabha saw that the BJP was able to push through important legislations like Triple Talaaq bill and the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir despite lacking majority in the Rajya Sabha. But the recent Haryana and Maharashtra poll results, which showed that the BJP was not invincible as it could not obtain a majority in either state, has given some encouragement to opposition parties.

The Congress now hopes that this could help build consensus upon electoral understandings and political positioning among the opposition parties. The winter session is likely to be noisy. Opposition leaders indicate that the two key issues which could come up in the ensuing session will be the state of the economy and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The economy grew 6 per cent in the quarter ended June, the slowest pace in over six years, and according to a recent Nielsen survey the growth in rural spending was down to a sevenyear low. In Kashmir, normalcy is yet to return.

On both issues, the government has weak defences. However, opposition unity might be still elusive judging from the way the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and AAP did not join the meeting convened by Congress leader Azad. Regional satraps like Naveen Patnaik, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and K.Chandrasekhara Rao are not part of the opposition group. The BJP could still push through important bills like the proposed citizenship amendment bill with the help of these parties in the winter session. It might be emboldened to introduce even the controversial Common Civil Code. Opposition unity is elusive so far despite several attempts.

First of all, despite the Congress’s aggressive stance on the economy, the party has had limited success in forging joint programmes with other opposition parties. Monday’s meeting only agreed to a national level common protest during the winter session of Parliament that begins on November 18. Secondly, there is no credible leader at the national level to unite the Opposition. Now that Sonia Gandhi is back as the Congress President there was some hope that she might do some thing. However, she did not even attend the meeting. Rahul Gandhi is playing truant and has gone abroad on his meditational trip. The Left parties are on the wane.

Moreover, the Congress is not willing to play second fiddle under the leadership of another opposition party as it is still living in the past. Thirdly, the BJP has been able to make separate deals with individual opposition parties, particularly the regional parties and get their support in Parliament. Fourthly, most regional parties are inward looking and are not so interested in national issues with the result they start making independent plans to take on the BJP. While there is need for a stable government, there is also need for a credible opposition in a democracy.

So far, the 17th Lok Sabha has only seen feeble voices to check the Modi governmenent’s policy decisions. If the opposition is serious, it must first unite under a strong leadership. Secondly it must formulate a credible strategy to take on the saffron brigade in and outside Parliament. Thirdly, some like the Left parties should see the changing world and give up their old ideas. The duty of the opposition should be to engage the government and participate in debates rather than making noise and walking out. There was a time when Parliament had several articulate parliamentarians from all parties and now is the chance to build such a team.