Insensitive response to national security issues as also divergent political interests are exposing the short sightedness of leaders trying to knit a unified front to confront Prime Minister Modi and his BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress party supremo, Mamata Banerjee, has raised doubts on the timing of Pulwama attack, which from all accounts was the deadliest in Kashmir since 1983. So does Chandrababu Naidu, who, like her, is working overtime for a Mahagathbandhan. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress Chief, also “found” enough ammunition in Pulwama attack to dub Modi as the “Prime Time Minister”. Whether these comments are warranted is not germane to our discussion but the question: Should our leaders stoop low to score with an eye on the ballot box? Put differently, should national security issues be reduced to a political football that too after a terrorist group based in Pakistan has publicly owned responsibility for killing 40 of our unarmed paramilitary personnel?
After paying her homage to the martyred jawans, the West Bengal Chief Minister has gone to the town firing on cylinders. “When elections are knocking on the door you (Modi) are trying to stage a war…a shadow war. Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are delivering political speeches….The government knew of the matter. Intelligence inputs were there. Then why so many people had to die? Why no action was taken,” Mamata Bannerjee thundered accusing the Modi government of wanting to go to war with Pakistan for electoral gains. As Chief Minister she is not unware that intelligence is not the manna, and there is no quick fix solution to checkmate terrorism that is pump primed from across the border. Certainly, this is not the discourse the nation expects to hear from a person, who is a potential Prime Minister.
Chandrababu Naidu has gone the Mamata way. In fact, he tried to do one up on the Bengal tiger. Modi is capable of doing any dirty tricks to stick to power, he said. One such trick, according to him, was the Godhra massacre of two thousand people, when Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002. Godhra issue is a dead horse and his attempt to resurrect it in the context of Kashmir killings is counter-productive.
Naidu has declared war on Modi a while ago to be relevant in the Andhra politics. He is the senior most politician in today’s India; he has hands-on experience in dealing with Leftwing extremism, which targeted him once on an election eve. That the Naxalite ambush did not pay him any electoral dividends is a matter of history. As Sherlock Holmes would have told his dear Watson, it is elementary not to reduce a grave national threat posed by the Islamist jihadi adventurism aided and abetted by Pakistan to a petty political squabble. In any country, under such circumstances, people rise in one voice, keep aside the craving to undermine the government in power.
Mamata and Naidu, have sadly opted to err on the wrong side. It may not cost them politically in the surcharged pre-electoral atmosphere; well it may have little or no bearing on their campaign to create a nation-wide front, the Mahagathbandhan to give a one-on-one fight to the BJP. From what is in public domain, their efforts set to end as a lonely march to nowhere. Because, most opposition parties are paying no more than a lip service to front formation. In fact, the leading lights of the non-BJP spectrum give the impression that such alliances are a liability for their individual party interests. They are attending unity rallies just not to offend old colleagues; so much so the whole exercise has acquired the trappings of a proforma show.
Two examples. When Chandrababu Naidu staged a fast in New Delhi accusing Modi of being insensitive to Andhra demands, many national leaders visited him. One of them was Samajwadi Party patriarch, Mulayam Singh Yadav; like others, he too expressed support to Naidu’s fight against Modi. A few hours later, he took the floor in the Lok Sabha to declare his wish to see Modi as Prime Minister after the elections.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Aam Aadmi Party supremo Arvind Kejriwal have been attending Opposition conclaves and Opposition rallies. So, what about a tie-up between the GOP and AAP? “We are tired of convincing the Congress for an alliance….they do not understand,” says Delhi Chief Minister in a public lament. “If there is an alliance, the BJP will lose all the seven Lok Sabha seats it currently has in Delhi,” he adds without hiding his urgency for a Congress prop to take on the BJP.
Congress party has gained a new confidence after the December victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It sees a potential to be the big brother, which in a way insures Rahul Gandhi’s position. But the two biggies of Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have delivered a snub; both have gone their own alliance way. The Congress has to turn to Priyanka Gandhi, and hope for the best in a solo fight in UP. The Party plans to go solo in Andhra and Telangana as well. Alliance with the TDP in the Telangana elections paid no dividends. It indeed proved very expensive, according to ground level Congress leaders. Anyhow, Congress has few options in Andhra Pradesh, where the fight is primarily between the TDP and the challenger to the Amaravati thrown, YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) which is Congress amoeba. Mamata does not need Congress either in West Bengal.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not in pink of health but it is marching ahead putting together its own alliances. Its tie-up with AIADMAK in Tamil Nadu has succeeded in weaning the PMK from the DMK-Cong coalition. The BJP also patched up with Shiva Sena in Maharashtra punching holes in the armour of Mahagathbandhan. In both states, the saffron party pocketed its pride. It will contest for 5 Lok Sabha seats out of 39 in Tamil Nadu, while sharing almost equally with Sena in Maharashtra.
In Bihar too, the Modi-Amit Shah combine has shown dexterity, to win over the Janata Dal (United) of chief minister Nitish Kumar, and the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) headed by Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. BJP and the JD (U) will contest 17 seats each, while the remaining six by the LJP. The BJP is also believed to have an unannounced understanding with some regional parties like the ruling TRS in Telangana and YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh. The message from BJP camp therefore is cause for concern to the Mahagathbandhan, which is faltering in taking even baby steps. Naidu and Mamata had for long taken the agitational approach to hit at and corner Modi sarkar. Such an approach is losing traction; Arvind Kejriwal was quick to realise this truism, and has since put his act together;
For Naidu, undoubtedly, the stakes are high; he is facing a formidable challenger in Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress party. TDP is projecting Reddy as a corrupt king, who would sell the state if he comes to power; but this campaign is undone by some of Naidu’s ministers and party leaders, with their “coercive” corrupt practices. Dole outs, Naidu is giving from borrowed funds, have not gifted him many talking points to put his best foot forward. Not just yet, at least.
Clearly, back to basics is the only mantra for Mamatas, Naidus, Rahuls, and their ilk. `Hate Modi’ alone is not a good enough adhesive for the Mahagathbandhan.