Author : Satish Misra

Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Jun 05, 2018
Emerging contours of opposition unity for coming general elections

The formation of a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance government in the southern State of Karnataka and the declaration of the intent of the two erstwhile political opponents to contest the coming general elections in alliance was possibly the first concrete step towards the emerging shape of the opposition unity.

Success of the ongoing talks between the Congress and the BSP for a pre-poll alliance for the coming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will prepare the ground for giving a credible fight to the BJP in the general elections. Opposition parties and regional political outfits still are undecided.  Efforts are underway in the spirit of give and take to ignite the public imagination and make electoral understanding-cum-alliances credible. The trend seems to going a way that understandings and alliances will be arrived in State capitals and not in New Delhi.

"If driven to a logical conclusion, one to one contests between two opposing ideological camps is likely to  pose a serious challenge to the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi."


Though several efforts have been going on for over a year now to unite the opposition parties to take on the BJP, much success could not be achieved so far in the backdrop of the contradictions that are the hallmark of the anti-BJP parties. In the past, majority of the opposition parties have been rivals of each other and have fought many elections against each other.

Seeds of the opposition aligning itself to take on the common enemy that has literally threatened the survival of these parties were sown in February-March this year when the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) fielded joint candidates in the Lok Sabha bypolls against the BJP at the prestigious constituencies of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress had contested separately. The crushing defeat of the BJP candidates in both constituencies, that had been vacated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, exploded the myth of the BJP’s invincibility.

In fact, the outcome of 14 Assembly and Lok Sabha bypolls, held on 28 May in 11 States, including the UP, is more or less a continuation of the efforts to forge an understanding that can pave the way for a set of electoral alliances across States and Union Territories.

While the opposition took 11 out of the 14 seats, the BJP got three in its kitty. The BJP’s vote share and its core constituency is almost intact with only a marginal knockdown.

The biggest State of Uttar Pradesh is a mighty challenge for the Modi-Shah duo. Conversely, it is the most decisive boost to the anti-BJP opposition while the losses in other States is possible to make up by BJP’s victories in other regions and States, but losing a State that had elected 71 of its MPs would make retaining power literally impossible. The BJP’s allies had won another two seats from UP in 2014.

Further, recently, BJP candidate Mriganka Singh lost in the Kariana Lok Sabha seat in western UP, giving the party the biggest setback.

Kairana has only reconfirmed the age-old saying of “united we win, divided we lose” which was followed by the opposition parties, turning the contest into a direct fight. United opposition candidate Taassum Hasan won the seat with a margin of 44,618 votes.

Kairana was won by BJP’s Hukum Singh by a margin of over 2,30,000 votes in 2014. The seat fell vacant after his death and the BJP fielded his daughter Mriganka Signh to gain sympathy votes, but the Rahstriya Lok Dal candidate supported by the SP, BSP and the Congress roped home in a closely fought contest. The opposition -- the SP -- also wrested the Noorpur Assembly seat from the BJP.

The other victory of significance is that of the RJD in Bihar where it wrested Jokihat Assembly seat from the Janata Dal (United) of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with a convincing margin of over 41, 000 votes. The Trinamool Congress of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee retained its Assembly seat of Maheshtala while the JMM won two seats in Jharkhand. The CPI-M won the Assembly seat in Kerala.

The Congress won three Assembly seats in Punjab, Karnataka and Meghalaya. After winning a seat in Meghalaya, the Congress has become the single largest party in State Assembly. Earlier, by improving its tally in the Gujarat Assembly election and subsequently winning two byelections held in Alwar and Ajmer Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, the Congress had shown that it is on a comeback trail.

"Victories of the opposition parties has convincingly exploded the myth of the invincibility of the RSS-BJP electoral machine that is controlled, supervised and run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Is it enough? Are the numbers alone enough to take on the mighty BJP that is in power at the Centre as well as in 21 States?"

The answer to above the questions is an emphatic no. Opposition need to work hard, striking alliances and evolving a new narrative of development and an alternative vision of good governance, welfare and all round prosperity. Alliances need to be hammered out in a spirit of give and take. Leaders of all the parties without any exception would need to ensure that animosities and rivalries of their respective cadres and leaders towards cadres and leaders of foe turn friendly parties do not come as obstacles but should be turned into creative energies.

Individual egos and personal ambitions of leaders also need to be set aside if the non-BJP opposition is indeed serious to defeat the BJP that poses a danger to democracy, rule of law, social and communal harmony.

The biggest challenge to opposition unity come from West Bengal, Odisha, UP, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has a set of peculiar problems that is creating hurdles on the way of the opposition unity to take on the BJP. There are four major political parties in the State. While the TMC, Congress, and left parties are opposed to the BJP and wish to defeat it, but the TMC is also bitterly opposed to left parties, creating unresolvable contradictions that are likely to help the saffron party.

"Mayawati, in UP, is going to prove a difficult nut to crack as her prime ministerial ambitions are driving her to strike hard bargains for her party to join the common fight. The Congress’ move to strike an electoral alliance in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh may help in dealing with Mayawati to bring the BSP around."


In Kerala, the CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front have been sharing the power for over two decades, leaving literally no space for a third party. The BJP has been striving its best to end the monopoly of the two fronts but it has so far failed in its mission, though its vote share has been going up in every election. Leading parties of the two fronts are friends at the national level but are political opponents in the State and therefore Kerala is not going to be a problem.

In Odisha, the BJP is hoping to gain. In the 2014 general elections, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) had won 20 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats, leaving one for the BJP. From all accounts, an electoral understanding between the Congress and the BJD would not be possible here. The three-cornered contest may go to the advantage of the BJP.

In Andhra Pradesh, an electoral understanding-cum alliance between the ruling Telgu Desam Party (TDP) of Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and the Congress seems to be  possible. The TDP had extended outside support to the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre after the last general elections but recently, it has withdrawn the support and has created space for an alliance against the BJP. The BJP is hoping to exploit the historical contradictions between the TDP and the Congress and thus make electoral gains here.

Ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) of Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has been striving to create a non-BJP and non-Congress federal front of regional parties, but much support from other regional parties has not been forthcoming. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the TRS had won 12 out of 17 seats in the newly created State. A seat each had gone to the BJP, Congress, TDP, YSRC and MIM. Therefore, there is a strong likelihood of multi-cornered contests in the general elections giving some political advantage to the BJP.

In this backdrop, the contours of electoral alliances in different States and regions depending upon specific political situation of the State have begun to shape up. These alliances and electoral understandings are bound to result in direct fights between the BJP and the opposition, making a repeat of 2014 almost impossible.  It is still a work in progress.

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Satish Misra

Satish Misra

Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...

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