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Saturday, 26 May 2018 | Navin Upadhyay | New Delhi– Rarely in the history of Indian politics, a non-event like swearing-in of a Chief Minister, that too heading a fledgling coalition, has been watched so keenly as was the case with HD Kumaraswamy’s coronation in Bengaluru on Wednesday. Kumaraswamy is nothing but a caste leader and a ‘sub-regional’ satrap whose appeal is limited to certain pockets of Karnataka. And yet, he was successful in presenting the united colour of Opposition before the nation as a clear message to the Modi-Shah combine that the battle lines have been drawn for the 2019 challenge. But the warmth, greetings, hugs and smiles which pervaded the ambience on Wednesday at the majestic Vidhana Soudha could be misleading. The Opposition has a long way to go before it could think of presenting a respectable challenge to the Modi Government as it completes four years in office on Friday. It’s one thing to collectively raise hands in a show of unity and it’s another thing to transform that ‘photo-op’ image into reality. The Opposition has several handicaps to overcome. To start with, it would require to present an acceptable face to take on Modi. In the absence of it, Modi would certainly present the Opposition as a warring clan of leaders incapable of providing any sort of stability to the nation. The Opposition would also require to come out with a progressive agenda, which went beyond the jargons of social justice and secularism and kept focus on economic growth and all-round development. But more than anything, the Opposition would need to address State specific issues that could come in the way of a broad-based anti-BJP unity. There are at least eight to nine States where the Opposition is sharply divided. These include Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi. In these States, Opposition parties would have to come together to either put up a united challenge against the BJP, or preempt the possibility of any of them drifting to the BJP in post-poll scenario. Take the case of Andhra Pradesh. The absence of Jagan Mohan Reddy at the Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in function was grist to the rumour mills that kept churning speculation about some underhand deal between him and the BJP. Of course, Jagan Mohan could not risk entering into any direct electoral pact with the BJP because of the prevailing anti-BJP mood in the State, but post poll he could easily break the Opposition rank. Given the animosity between the Congress and the TDP, the prospect of an Opposition unity in Andhra is also a difficult proposition. Telangana poses another challenge of a different kind. Here the BJP is not a force, but the TRS and the Congress are locked in a bitter political battle of supremacy. K Chandrasekhar Rao is not ready to do any business with the Congress and wants to project himself as the torchbearer of the unity of the regional parties. His dislike for the Congress is so profound that he preferred to fly to Bengaluru a day before the swearing-in to congratulate HDK without being forced to rub shoulders with the Congress leaders a day later. The BJP has reasons to gloat over the Telangana situation. Odisha presents another test for the anti-BJP opposition. In the recent past, Chief Minister Navin Patnaik has missed no opportunity to let down the Opposition. His absence at the Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony did not surprise anyone. There is little chance that the BJD and the Congress could bury their differences and take on the BJP united in the 2019 general elections. Maharashtra offers a unique opportunity for the Opposition. The Congress and the NCP fought like cats and dogs in the 2015 elections and rightly paid the price. In the upcoming May 28 bypolls for Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha seat, the Congress is supporting NCP’s Madhukar Kukde against the BJP’s Hemant Patle. Interestingly, the Shiv sena has not fielded any candidate here, ostensibly to help the Opposition. On the other hand, the Shiva Sena is taking on the BJP at Palghar in a four-cornered contest where the Congress and the CPI(M) are also in the fray. If the Sena went ahead and contested the 2019 election on its own, the Congress and NCP may gain tremendously in Maharashtra. The State sends 48 MPs to Lok Sabha, and a reverse here could be a big setback for the BJP. If the Sena did not go back to the BJP, then a tacit understanding between Congress-NCP combine and Sena could not be ruled out for the 2019 general elections. In Delhi, much will depend if the Congress and the AAP could leave their hostility behind to take on the BJP, which had won all the seven Lok Sabha seats in the national capital in 2014. Similarly, the AAP and the Congress will need to mend fences in Punjab to prevent the Akali Dal-BJP combine to resurrect itself from the ashes of the Assembly poll debacle. In Haryana, too, the Opposition is badly fragmented. If the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal decided to go separately and the AAP also jumps into fray, it will be advantage BJP. In West Bengal, where the BJP has emerged as a major challenger to the TMC, there is little prospect of an Opposition unity given the hostility between the Left and the TMC. However, Mamata may be forced to join hands with the Congress to stop the BJP from turning its growing acceptance into seats. A top BJP leader on Friday said they hoped to win at least 22 seats in West Bengal. While this could be a tall claim, if the Opposition remained divided the BJP is bound to make spectacular gains in the State. The year-end Assembly polls of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh will also test the sincerity of the Opposition to put a joint front against the BJP. It will be interesting to see if the BSP joins hands with the Congress in these three States to consolidate the Dalit vote bank. While the BSP is not a major force in any of these States, it could play a key role in deciding the outcome. On Thursday, MP Congress Committee chief Kamal Nath said his party was open to an alliance with like-minded Opposition parties for the Assembly polls. Congress leaders say that the party would like to have understanding with the Samajwadi Party and the BSP in the State where the BJP bears the burden of 15 years of anti-incumbency. Between now and the 2019 general elections, regional satraps will also have to decide whether they want to forge a third front without the Congress or cobble together a broad-based anti-BJP platform where the Congress will naturally like to be the big brother.

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