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Why a weaker Congress is bad news for Opposition unity

  
  
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  For the Opposition to be stable and strong, there has to be a pivotal force which can bring together regional aspirations and translate state-level sentiments into a national-level unity to take on its adversaries. (News Agencies) Now that the exit poll predictions are out for the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections, it looks like the Congress will have to wait longer to see its happier times. Yes, the exit polls in India have regularly been off the mark. But as all such polls indicate a common trend, win for NDA and defeat for the Congress and its allies, it’s hard to ignore a sign of the times. A possible win of the BJP in two key states will of course consolidate its leadership position at the Centre. And in the Opposition’s crumbling edifice, the results may mean more damage. For the Opposition to be stable and strong, there has to be a pivotal force which can bring together regional aspirations and translate state-level sentiments into a national-level unity to take on its adversaries. In 2004, the Congress (145) had just 7 seats more than the BJP (138), making it the automatic leader of a bunch of diverse regional powerhouses to form the first of its kind non-BJP coalition government that went on to run for 10 years. But the Congress’ clout with its allies and even potential supporters weakened in 2014 when the party bagged just 44 seats, insufficient for the party even to take the seat of the leader of the Opposition. In the last five years, the Opposition space saw groups and sub-groups as different parties tried to create a leadership role for itself in the absence of a clear commander. Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party—all these parties have tried to form their own groups or pockets of influence and in many states, including Uttar Pradesh, the Congress failed to find a suitable partner to fight polls together in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And in the first three months of the new Lok Sabha, the unity is further shattered as the NDA, although in minority in the Rajya Sabha, successfully cleared bills of triple talaq and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, exposing the vulnerability in the Opposition ranks. A strong Opposition party at the Centre can certainly change the way politics is being played out in the national theatre. The BJP could have faced a tougher Opposition headed by a strong national party. And the Congress, too, could have enjoyed a more assertive role and a larger maneuvering space in the Opposition bloc. Many parties would have dared not discount the Congress’ ability to take on the BJP in these tough times.
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