Regional parties have largely set the opposition agenda and dominated the anti-Narendra Modi narrative in the last four-and-a-half years of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government by seizing opportunities to build aggressive public theatrics against the government.
This has resulted in the principal opposition party, the Congress, and other national parties such as the Left parties or the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), having to play second fiddle to the powerful regional parties.
However, parties such as Tamil Nadu-based All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which is close to signing up as part of the NDA, are the ones that have made the more significant strategic moves since 2014.
Last year, it was the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) that walked out of the NDA and tied up with the Congress for the assembly elections in Telangana. TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has emerged as one of the rallying protagonists against Modi in four-and-half years.
The most recent instance of a relatively small party dominating the anti-Modi narrative is the ‘Remove Dictatorship, Save Democracy’ rally hosted by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at Jantar Mantar in Delhi and attended by several opposition parties.
Two days ago, senior opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi, NCP president Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal, and Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) joined Naidu who was on a hunger strike against the Modi government to demand a special status for his state.
Much to the BJP’s chagrin, even Shiv Sena member of Parliament (MP) Sanjay Raut attended the Naidu protest though his party is part of the BJP-led NDA. In fact, the Shiv Sena, one of the oldest regional parties in India, has often deployed aggressive tactics against the Modi government in the last four-and-a-half years.
Earlier this month, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee took centre-stage against the Modi government by launching a sit-in protest in Kolkata against the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team’s attempt to question the Kolkata police commissioner in the Saradha chit fund scam. The mercurial Trinamool Congress chief drew quick support from Rahul Gandhi, AAP convener and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, Naidu, NCP’s Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, and Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati.
Last month, representatives from several opposition parties, including the Congress, joined Banerjee’s ‘Save India, Save Democracy’ rally in Kolkata where the Trinamool chief said the BJP government had met its expiry date.
It is not that the Congress has not initiated strategic opposition tie-ups against the Modi rule in the last five years. It was some swift manoeuvring by the Congress in May last year in Karnataka that showed the grand old party was ready for strategic alliances against Modi-BJP, which eventually led to the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition forming the government to stop the BJP. It was at H.D. Kumarswamy’s swearing-in ceremony in Bengaluru that the opposition unity or mahagathbandhan, as it has come to be called, had its maiden pictorial representation on a public platform.
In March last year, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s convener Sonia Gandhi had hosted a dinner for all opposition parties.
However, when it has come to aggressive public posturing against the Modi regime, it is the regional parties which have so far hijacked the agenda from the Congress.