Potential Pole of Opposition

yashwant_sinha

Yashwant Sinha says his morcha will kick off in Delhi and then organize events across India till the next general election, rallying against the Modi-led BJP government

Pictures: Yashwant Singh with Arvind Kejriwal and senior Congress leader Manish Tiwari; Sharad Pawar with Sitaram Yechury

By DANFES

“It is a question of the country. Wait for few weeks more. While I would not like to reveal the names now, as we all know the kind of pressure they can put (Modi and Shah), but good and decent leaders from the BJP, Congress and other opposition parties are with me in this morcha (movement)” said senior BJP veteran and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha.

Sinha says his morcha will kick off in Delhi and then organize events across India till the next general election, rallying against the Modi-led BJP government of which he has been a vocal critic. Sinha says this is not a new organization, nor will it ever take the form of an organization. This is a clever move as it ensures that diverse leaders from across the opposition including AAP, Sharad Yadav, the Trinamool and the Left can come together to take on the Modi government on issues without breaking from their parties.

Sources say Sinha, who was consigned (along with LK Advani) by Modi and Shah to the Margdarshak Mandal (mentors’ committee) of the BJP, which has not even met once, has also managed to find support within the Mandal, which was publicly expressed at the formal launch of the morcha on the 30th. Expect fiery speeches with attacks on polices of the Modi government, he says.

Sinha, 80, says the model for his new enterprise is Jai Prakash Narayan’s “Sampoorna Kranti” (total revolution) which took on Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. “JP has always been my inspiration at every level, but you cannot compare me to that giant,” said Sinha. Among his cohorts is BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha, who is a member of parliament and who, through vocal opposition to virtually every Modi policy, has been daring the BJP to expel him. So far, Modi and Shah have not obliged.

While former Finance Minister made an official announcement about his plans, the import of his morcha is that it has started a conversation between a fractured opposition which was recently hit by the CPI(M) refusal to support the Congress, a decision which split the Left party between Prakash Karat, whose line prevailed and Sitaram Yechury, the party’s leader who wanted to team with the Congress to take on the BJP.

Opposition unity has proved elusive as the BJP claims one state after another. A body blow was dealt in July last year with the defection of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to the NDA corner after he was hailed as an opposition “messiah” for his role in the BJP’s defeat in Bihar in 2015.

A lot has changed since then. Lalu Yadav of the RJD and a Bihar heavyweight who is a key liaison within the opposition is hobbled by his multiple convictions in corruption cases and is doing time. The erstwhile Congress ally of the ill-starred Uttar Pradesh alliance and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party is still feuding with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and is fighting for political survival. Yadav Junior recently firmly ruled out any alliance with the Congress. Another former opposition heavyweight, Mayawati, who has found her political space contracting as newer Dalit leaders gain popularity, has also firmly ruled out any alliance with the Congress, stating her Bahujan Samaj Party will fight the general election alone in Uttar Pradesh.

After Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as Congress president in December, Sinha’s will be the first opposition unity movement of its kind and much will depend upon its reception and success. Leaders such as Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have made no secret of the fact that they were far more comfortable dealing with Sonia Gandhi than her son. While Rahul Gandhi handled his alliances deftly in Gujarat, ensuring that competing interests such as Patidar leader Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani were linked with the Congress and got along, it’s not clear if he can pull off that sort of maneuvering at the national level.

Sources say that Sinha’s morcha will be a dry run of opposition unity and the Congress, which has had several conversations with Sinha, will certainly “second” some leaders to be part of the movement. While the protest may not draw central leaders of the opposition parties as that may look like organizational commitment, well-known faces from all parties will be in attendance.

Sources say that senior opposition leaders have taken very seriously a plan by Modi and Shah to advance the general election. “We have long suspected it. The need of the hour is for opposition leaders to sink their egos and sense of underserved entitlement and come together, else they will give Modi and Shah another walkover,” said a senior opposition leader who has been conducting hectic parleys between parties.

But that would entail the coming together of all those who are opposed to Modi and BJP at the state level but have a tacit understanding with the BJP at the centre – such as Sharad Pawar of the NCP and Naveen Patnaik of Odisha. Pawar wants to ally with the Congress in Maharashtra but fought against the party in Gujarat. Pawar took hold a march with Yechury in Mumbai on January 26 to “Save the Constitution”. This pits him against Sinha as a potential pole of opposition unity. He could simply have joined Sinha’s morcha. But Indian opposition leaders always have competing ambitions which cancel out any potential impact.

Also, the Congress is unwilling to bite the AAP bullet because it is convinced that by cutting into its votes, AAP is to be avoided at all costs. Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, is happy to work with Arvind Kejriwal. Sinha will try and unravel these contradictions and get the leaders together on “substantive issues”.

A tall order.