The political landscape of opposition parties in India is bubbling with excessive activity, planning, partnerships and in-fighting. With the NCP stealthily emerging as the new opposition aggressor, Congress- the only national opposition party at the moment is struggling to keep its government afloat in Rajasthan and Punjab.
To add to it is the party’s glaring loss, every time it gets into an obscure alliance for state assembly elections, if at all the coalition manages to come into power, the tectonic shift makes it difficult to survive- Maharashtra and the ‘Chinese whispers’ from Jharkhand being the latest examples.
Congress’s alienating behaviour especially in Maharashtra hints at the party’s disinterest to form the ‘Maha-formidable’ force to take on its biggest opponent- the Bhartiya Janta Party.
With all the five Congress members of the so-called ‘Rashtra Manch’ giving the recently convened meeting a miss, Congress Maharashtra chief asserting on going to polls alone and Congress cheerleaders wanting the party to regain its glory, seems like the party has sketched another plan.
This is presumably why the possibility of a ‘third front’ has become the talk of the town.
What is the Rashtra Manch?
Formulated by senior Congress leader Manish Tewari and former diplomat KC Singh, the Rashtra Manch was designed to be a non-political platform in 2017. Eminent personalities such as writers, artists, trade union leaders, and journalists were brought together in this umbrella who shared the common ‘Idea of India.’
January 2018 saw the formal launch of the political action group. The platform since then has been bringing together the anti-BJP voices trying to give it some shape and form, however, one or the other party keeps falling out with each trying to rally ahead and dominate their own space.
Sharad Pawar’s June 22 Rashtra Manch meeting
What made NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s Tuesday meeting so special? The meeting came amidst the growing turmoil in the Maharashtra government evident since over a week. It was also after Pawar had met the former political strategist Prashant Kishore twice, raising speculations over the formation of a ‘third-front.’ Finally, the Congress leaders personally invited giving it a miss left the meeting convenors to look for a face-saving reason.
“I want to clarify that today’s meeting is not called against BJP, and also the meeting was not called by Sharad Pawar but by Yashwant Sinha under the banner of Rashtra Manch. You cannot call it a political meeting,” justified ex NCP Rajya Sabha MP Majid Menon.
Whether the meeting was a regular round-off and indeed not a political one or a politically inclined meet turned out to be a dud due to the absence of some senior leaders, cannot be determined. However, with Congress leaders like Kapil Sibbal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Vivek Tankha and Manish Tiwari being invited, the meeting could not be called a non-political one.
Congress supporter Sanjay Jha sharing bits of information from the meeting declared, “At the Rashtriya Manch meeting organized by @PawarSpeaks and @YashwantSinha , it was unambiguously agreed that a robust opposition pushback against a failed NDA government needs the Congress. But the Congress needs to get out of its patronizing Big Brother attitude. Get real.”
At the Rashtriya Manch meeting organized by @PawarSpeaks and @YashwantSinha , it was unambiguously agreed that a robust opposition pushback against a failed NDA government needs the Congress.— Sanjay Jha (@JhaSanjay) June 24, 2021
But the Congress needs to get out of it’s patronizing Big Brother attitude. Get real.
Thereby, giving a glimpse into the nature of the meeting.
NCP’s national executive meeting
Sharad Pawar on Tuesday, just before chairing the Rashtra Manch meeting had also called for NCP’s national executive meeting to have “a detailed discussion” with his party leaders on its “future policies”, its role in the next Lok Sabha polls and current national issues.”
Shiv Sena sailing in two boats
Shiv Sena’s double-edged stance and obnoxious statements have also made the irregularities in the non-BJP front evident. Shiv Sena in its mouthpiece Saamna expressed its shock over Congress’s absence from the meeting.
Highlighting the total absence of strong opposition, it said, “Congress should take the lead for this task but the party itself has been struggling for the past several months without a national president. To be honest, a major opposition party like Congress should approach this entire development with equality. A prominent Congress leader like Rahul Gandhi must join Pawar’s effort to unite the Opposition. Only then will the consolidated front of the Opposition parties get the real strength,” said Shiv Sena.
It also mocked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for attacking the party in power only on Twitter and not taking any real efforts to take on their common opponent.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut had even recommended making Sharad Pawar the in-charge of UPA and including the left out regional parties.
On the other hand, the Shiv Sena has maintained a soft stand against the BJP after Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi a fortnight ago.
Sena MP Sanjay Raut, while speaking with the media earlier this week, objected to the term ‘Modi or BJP opponents’ used by the media while referring to the third front and insisted that there is a need for a ‘strong opposition.’
Prashant Kishore meets Sharad Pawar again
Making it a hattrick meet in a fortnight, Pawar once again met Prashant Kishore the next day after the Rashtra Manch meeting. The closed-door meeting lasted for an hour, however, Kishore continues to stay tight-lipped on the nature of the meeting.
However, as per a Times Now report, Prashant Kishor is allegedly working under ‘Mission Delhi’ to unite people against the Modi government before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
What does this mean for Congress?
Congress giving such meets a miss, wanting to go solo in Maharashtra and the Gandhis refusing to meet JMM Chief Hemant Soren gives a hint that the party might want to swim with the tide at the moment.
It is also imperative to note that while the regional parties have their stronghold in their respective states or regions, almost all of them act as opposition for Congress in the state elections making the Maha-alliance unattractive for the party.
Remember how Congress was not at all gung-ho about its ‘Samyukta Morcha’ alliance in the West Bengal and the backlash it faced for supporting the Left in one state while opposing it in another? Also Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole cribbing about being ‘sidelined’ and JMM demanding its share in the Jharkhand cabinet?
As newer avenues open and Congress distancing itself from all, it will be interesting to track how the political game plays out before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.