Opposition’s choice for the next President of India, too little too late
The fact that the opposition has been struggling ever since the emergence of Narendra Modi on the national stage, as he became the prime minister in 2014, is not too hard to understand. Especially since the Bharatiya Janata Party has been winning elections in different states, one after the other, barring a few examples.
With the party in power in 17 states in the country (13 on its own and four in coalition), along with holding a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, such numbers have been able to push the opposition into a corner in the last three years.
Instead of fighting back, as most in such a situation do, the opposition looks confused in what methods it should adopt when it comes to taking on a strong opponent. And even if it finally decides to take a step forward, it ends up being the wrong one.
And this is what has happened in the case of choosing its candidate for the election of the next President of India, to be held on July 17.
While the election is viewed as a chance for the opposition to showcase unity and to put up a common front against the Modi-led BJP, the choice and delay in deciding the candidate have ended up proving that the there is still a long way to go before such a grouping can make any major impact and challenge the prime minister in 2019.
The timing was wrong
The Congress-led opposition, mostly made up political parties that were part of the UPA alliance that was in power from 2004 till the BJP came to power, announced former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar's name as the presidential candidate.
The announcement came two days after the BJP announced Ram Nath Kovind's name as their nominee. This brought to an end more than a month of speculation over the names in the fray to be the new resident of Rashtrapati Bhavan after current President Pranab Mukherjee's term ends.
The initial attempt from both groups was to outmaneuver each other by waiting as long as possible forcing the other side t announce first and then to reply with a candidate that would be able to be an improvement on the other.
A strategy that could be considered clever given that it works. Sadly for the opposition, it seems to have backfired. And the group will have no one but themselves to blame for it.
This is so for two reasons. The first being that a plan, which instead of pre-empting the opponents move and taking the first step, depends on the opponent taking the first step, is a very defensive approach, far less suited to those with their backs against the wall than those who have far more options available to them like the BJP in this case. It also makes it impossible to gain momentum needed to complete what is already an uphill task.
This handed the ruling party the initiative and brought forward the second problem with the oppositions strategy. The delay in announcing their candidate even after the BJP had made its choice. The opposition should have at least studied the nature of the various options out of which Modi was likely to decide, and keep alternatives ready to be announced immediately.
It would not have given time to parties not aligned with either side and sitting on the fence in terms of who they were going to support, to be able to come forward and declare it Kovind's favor. As those crucial in the terms of votes required for electing the President, such as Janata Dal (United)'s Nitish Kumar, BJD's Naveen Patnaik's, both factions of Tamil Nadu's AIADMK, Shiv Sena, among others, ended up doing. Thus handing the BJP the momentum.
The opposition made the wrong choice
Such mistakes have been compounded by the choice of candidate in the form Meira Kumar. And this is by no means is a reflection on a Kumar's long and decorated career in public life.
Her candidature though seems to be less based on who she is and her achievements and more on what she is. Almost all the political analysts have called the choice of Kovind, a Dalit, a masterstroke as it is expected to be beneficial for the BJP in terms of popularity among those belonging to the same category.
And Kumar has been chosen as the answer to it based on the same logic. The logic though appears to be faulty as if Kovind was selected only due to his caste, the BJP could have gone for a more prominent leader of the same background, which would have ended up giving it even more of an advantage based on such a scale.
It was rather based on his nomination giving Modi an upper hand not only in terms of political opponents along with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and with having a President favorable for his government in terms of ease of the working relationship.
But the Congress has focused on the caste factor and chosen to play the same caste angle that has time and again been criticized as vote bank politics, of which all parties in India can be held guilty. And the UPA has just proved that the kind of politics that should have been left back in the last century is a reality of the 21st.
Though Kumar is a leader of significant stature, the chances of her beating Kovind appear less, as compared to if the opposition had chosen a stronger candidate with more political muscle and support across party lines who would have been able to put up a much stronger fight. For example NCP's Sharad Pawar or JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav.
Instead, it feels as if senior political leaders of the opposition felt that victory would have been difficult given the numbers in favor of the BJP, and so they ended up fielding someone who could not say no even though they knew the chances of their win to be slim at best.
And when a tough choice of a top leader, even in the case of a loss, would have given a strong message of the oppositions strength and willingness to take on the BJP, they chose Kumar, though a respectable choice, is definitely not someone who's candidature can achieve the same.
It's symbolic of the opposition's overall problems
The process of the election for the next President of India so far not only been able to show that while the BJP has a leg up on the opposition when it comes to playing politics, but has also again given a full view of the struggles of the opposition, especially laying bare the problems that they are besieged with when facing a formidable opponent.
The quick jump from regional parties that technically make up the opponents to the Modi government, but are not part of the UPA, has brought the focus on the splintered nature of the opposition.
In addition the Congress at present does not look capable enough to provide the leadership that in the past had led to these parties coming together and performing well in electoral politics. The who's in charge question in the party has also played havoc when it comes to its relation with others, and the infighting between the old and new guard of the grand old party of India remains a constant source of confusion.
And most of the regional parties that are part of its alliance such as the NCP, RJD, DMK, etc., barring few examples, are those, which currently do not have a strong foothold in their own states as well. While the ones who have been able to take on the BJP and defeat it, like the BJD, AAP among others are not associated with it.
All things aside, the fact of the matter is that the opposition looks to have already accepted defeat, not only in the current elections but overall as well, with regional parties seemingly more concerned with holding on in their states against a strong or growing BJP, than looking to take it on the at centre.
With most of the opposition parties, including the Congress are functioning in a manner which gives out the impression that they are waiting for Modi to make a mistake rather than forming a viable strategy to take him head on.
Though Kumar might still be able to pull an upset and become the next President of India, chances of this happening though seem bleak. And the attention would soon be shifting to the nominations of both sides for the post of vice-president, which manages the all-important Rajya Sabha, as it's the arena for the battle between the government and the opposition, with the BJP still lacking numbers in it unlike the lower house of parliament.
It would be interesting to see whether the opposition learns from its mistakes in the current process or repeats them, in turn clearing the way for a BJP victory in the 2019 elections.