('Modi versus who' is a question the opposition cannot avoid)
A few political developments over the past one month have triggered a lot of debate over 'Modi versus who' question. It started with the shock defeat of the BJP candidates in Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha bye-elections, seats vacated by the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of the state. It also buoyed the prospects of two strong regional parties in Uttar Pradesh (SP and BSP) who had been licking their wounds since their mauling in the assembly polls a year ago.
Opposition unity has not yielded many results:
On the national level, the pulling out of Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party and the back to back meetings over opposition unity also led to much writing and discussing in the mainstream media about whether Narendra Modi victory run was losing steam. The meetings for opposition unity haven't yielded much yet. Perhaps because too many leaders are striving to act as the anchor and have initiated moves which appear contrary even at this initial stage. For instance, Mamata Banerjee wants to include the Congress but has nothing to say when the question of Rahul Gandhi's leadership is raised. She also needs to explain why K Chandrashekhar Rao and Naveen Patnaik should agree to align with Congress at a time when they are doing fine in their respective states.
Amit Shah regime has been a glue:
To be sure, the fear of a brutally ambitious BJP under the Amit Shah regime is a glue which can bring foes together for survival's sake but no neta in his true sense would like to sacrifice his or her politics in the home state he or she is ruling to fulfill the ambitions of someone else in Delhi. Perhaps, that is why the much-touted Federal Front has gone out of news and parties like the Left front do not know what to say when their cadres get beaten up daily in West Bengal while Mamata Didi holds her Darbar in the Central Hall of Parliament to bring 'secular' forces together. Chandrababu Naidu is now the next wannabe 'anchor' for the opposition trying to a 1996-redo. To be sure, Sharad Pawar's NCP has been consistent in its political support but while the senior Pawar plans to hold his own dinners his nephew Ajit Pawar doesn't refrain from giving statements like 'we can't play second fiddle to the Congress'.
Modi vs Who?
An overview of all the developments related to opposition activity in the past few weeks has one common thread. And that is, while opposition parties from all four corners of the country have started feeling the need to bury the hatchet and stick together, none has yet shown any enthusiasm for the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
That brings us back to the moot question Modi versus Who? Since we still do not know who it is going to be, the question has to be dealt in hypothetically for now. Let us look at it from the two possible scenarios. What happens if the opposition decides to take on Modi on a state-to-state basis as proposed by Mamata? Or they forge an umbrella alliance at the national level but without projecting a leader till the polls? Some people who have grievances with the Modi govt would veer towards this umbrella alliance. But a majority of voters would assess both the alliances and would be put off by the prospects of a leader-less crowd. India's past experiences in this regard (1989, 1996, 1997) do not inspire any confidence in the people's minds and hearts.
For those who have pointed out 2004, it may be relevant to recall that Sonia Gandhi was the undisputed face of the Congress charge then and the move to 'decline' the PM post was a post-poll development. The very prospect of a squabbling group scheming to bag the PM's post is enough to put off the fence-sitters in favour of Narendra Modi. One may disagree with his policies or ideas or their implementation but everybody knows there has been no let-up in his hold over the reins.
Modi will only benefit:
If, and that is a very big IF, the opposition does come to an agreement and decides to go for a projected face against Modi, the choice still remains tilted in the latter's favour. The opposition with its innate contradictions and regional balancing is unlikely to go for any state leader as the Prime Ministerial candidate for the simple reason that one Chief Minister would hardly be enthused to work for the victory of another contemporary CM and help him\her become the country's boss. That leaves us with the Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar. Since Sonia Gandhi letting Pawar to lead over her son is almost unlikely, we are finally left with Congress President Rahul Gandhi as the challenger to Narendra Modi. The possibility of Rahul scoring over Modi can only arise if anger against Modi reaches an extreme level where people are ready to throw out the incumbent at any cost. Such a scenario has not presented itself anywhere in the country at all in the past four years. While some reaction is visible in states against the administration where the BJP is ruling, areas hitherto unconquered by the party are actually embracing the BJP with enthusiasm. These certainly, are not the indications of an angry electorate.
(Smita Mishra is Adviser, Prasar Bharati)
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