Among those expected to attend the meeting are TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, leaders of Left parties and NCP leader Sharad Pawar.
However, even before the leaders come to the table for discussions, cracks have appeared in the opposition unity with the meeting already postponed once since Mamata Banerjee thought it was too early to hold a meeting of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’.
Another sore point is the likely absence of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati — two leaders critical for any anti-BJP alliance given their formidable presence in UP. The road to Delhi has always been through Uttar Pradesh. The BJP’s excellent performance in the state had led to a brute majority in 2014 general elections, bringing Narendra Modi to power. With both Akhilesh and Mayawati playing hard to get, the anti-Modi front looks shaky at present.
The problem also lies with the Congress. Akhilesh and Mayawati have made it clear that the grand old party’s “big brotherly attitude” is unacceptable. This was reflected in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections in which neither party tied up with the Congress. A weak Congress with little to show on the electoral report card will not be able to stake claim to the leadership of an opposition front.
In 2004, the Congress wasn’t weak. It was still in power in some states. More importantly, regional parties didn’t hold national ambitions nor were they as powerful as they are today. The weaker the Congress gets, the more powerful and ambitious these regional parties will become.
This “big brotherly attitude” has ticked off Mamata Banerjee too. The West Bengal CM was reportedly upset that an earlier date in November for the Mahagathbandhan meeting was announced by Chandrababu Naidu and Ashok Gehlot without consulting her. When Naidu visited Mamata in Kolkata, she prevailed upon him to defer the meet to December.
Individual ambitions and the critical leadership issue remain a reminder to how disunited the so-called united front could be.
For the time-being, this issue has been kept on the backburner. However, faced with a formidable Modi, the opposition would have to, at one point, put up a leadership face. More importantly, the BJP is sure to cash in on the fact that it took so many to take on one man.
On Monday, the opposition meeting will steer clear of the leadership issue. It will look at the strategy to take on the BJP in Parliament and also a blueprint for 2019 elections.
Issues that could be discussed include countering the Ram Mandir narrative, polarisation and economic policies. For now, one strategy is also to ensure that parties concentrate on their strongholds and muster the numbers to add to the opposition tally.
The Congress, the only national party in the opposition camp, would be on edge. A poor election record would mean it gets eased out by the regional parties. It will also look like a coming together of weak constituents, all of which would make Modi look stronger around polls.