POST TIME: 19 May, 2019 09:20:23 AM
Make or break?
It is no secret that Sonia Gandhi had taken a backseat after her son Rahul Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress party as its president

Make or break?

If the people of India are waiting for the results of the much- hyped general elections on May 23, the political parties are sharpening their strategies. Even while the exit polls could provide some indicators, it is on May 23 that there will be a finality on political futures of stalwarts and more importantly political parties which in turn will determine the political destiny of India.
That the writing on the wall is clear emanates from United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi writing to all allies including the non-UPA ones — namely the BJD, YSR Congress, TRS and TDP — inviting them all for a meeting on May 23 to discuss the future course of action.
In a bid to muster the support of old friends and lead the opposition front, Sonia Gandhi  has sent letters to all key players, including former Chief ministers Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav.
Letters have also been shot off to key allies, DMK and Nationalist Congress  Party (NCP) for working out instant strategies to stake claim for forming the government at the Centre, in case the NDA, led by  Narendra Modi  falls short of attaining the half-way mark.
Sonia Gandhi is banking on the support of the Uttar Pradesh duo, Mayawati and Yadav given that the BSP-SP alliance is going to reap benefits in the elections, much to the dismay of the BJP. That coupled with Congress bagging some seats will surely add to the tally. In addition  neutral players like BJD’s Naveen Patnaik, Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s K.Chandrashekhar Rao are other likely players whose support the Congress is seeking.

Sources said the Congress is keen that "no time is wasted" on May 23, and the opposition comes together in Delhi so that if and when it is time to form a coalition, they throw in the hat.

With the UPA chairperson personally writing to UPA allies and non-NDA parties, the meeting could discuss the road- map  for  future action, were the numbers fail the NDA.  

Even while Congress has pegged its hopes on getting  Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav for the proposed meeting,  Congress leaders, are sparing no effort to rope in Naveen Patnaik and K Chandrashekhar Rao even though  Rao has been busy  organizing a non-Congress, non-BJP front.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent meeting with Mr Patnaik after both of them conducted the aerial survey of the cyclone-affected regions of Odisha, had given a lot of grist to speculations regarding the BJP sending signals to the BJD in case there is a case of an alliance after the results.

Ms Gandhi’s outreach to the Odisha chief minister, therefore, holds a lot of political significance. In this context his counterpart Kamalnath is being pressed into service given that he knows Patnaik personally.

It is no secret that Sonia Gandhi had taken a backseat after her son Rahul Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress Party as its President. With this invitation it seems she has returned to take up a leadership role and steer  opposition parties to form an alliance. There is evidence that backroom channels are active and efforts are on to get West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on board too.

It is well known that Banerjee is hopping mad and recent clashes between her cadres and the BJP has only escalated matters. The Congress is trying to cash in on this. Whether Mamata plays ball and comes on board remains to be seen though it is quite clear that as of now she and the BJP are sworn enemies.

However, animosity to BJP does not  guarantee friendship with the Congress: at least not in Mamata’s scheme of things who decides her politics from her heart. Therefore to expect that a letter  by Sonia Gandhi would soften her is a far cry. Having said that emotion works best with Mamata and she could just decide to break bread with Sonia Gandhi.

As of now, it seems that Mamata Banerjee is not upbeat about any meeting till the results are out.

Mayawati too seems cold to the invite. It is quite clear that the reluctance stems from the fact that both Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee are in the race for the top job.

Against this backdrop, the Congress’s doublespeak has only worsened matters.  If there is a section of leadership that is saying that  the Congress would not "make an issue" if the PM's post is not offered to them, there are more voices clamouring for the top job on grounds that they will have a stake in leadership if the numbers favour them.

It is this leadership question that may keep leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav away from Sonia Gandhi’s meet.

 Given that Sonia Gandhi has taken the lead, it would augur well if she made it clear that keeping Modi out is the goal rather than who would be the Prime Minister. If the Opposition unity is sought on this plank, chances are that Sonia Gandhi’s invite may have takers otherwise it would remain an exercise in futility.  

In another development, Opposition parties are also working on a draft letter to be jointly addressed to the President which asks him not to call the single largest party to form the government.  As many as 21 Opposition parties are planning to sign a letter and meet President Ram Nath Kovind after polls with a request that the single-largest party not be invited to form the government .

These parties, who are united in their opposition to the Modi government, are reportedly planning to produce letters of support to the President for an alternative government.

The rationale behind this move is to make sure that the single-largest party does not get a chance to break regional parties and alliances.

The two clubbed together are enough indication that the political scenario after the Lok Sabha election results may not be entirely black or white. It is the shade of grey that may stare hard in the face and it is this that the BJP would not want and the Opposition is vying for: this being its best bet.

It is against this backdrop that the Opposition needs to rework its strategy and from eyeing the Prime Ministership or looking at grabbing power should focus on keeping the BJP out of power: and if that seems to be a tall order then it should look at keeping Modi out of office. This effectively means that the joint Opposition should work towards a common goal of what is being seeing the second best option if the first is a far cry: if the BJP falls short of numbers then the Opposition can bargain for having a BJP government without Modi at the helm.

This strategy could work given that both the RSS and the disgruntled anti Modi camp would like a BJP dispensation minus Modi.

Credence is lent to this by the fact that the RSS cadres have not put their might in this election and it is largely the Modi-Shah duo which is at work. Pitched against this are other contenders like Nitin Gadkari waiting in the wings to move in were the numbers to fall below 200 seats for the BJP. Therefore it is not only the Opposition outside the BJP but also within that Modi-Shah combine need to worry about because having made this a Modi-centric election, it may be a make or break for them. Under the circumstances if they sink they do so without anyone throwing in a life jacket to rescue them.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)