THE ‘maha rally’ of opposition parties in Patna on August 27 hosted by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) does not by itself pose any serious challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is going to seek a renewal of the people’s mandate in 2019. It was just a rally, after all. True, it was planned well before the Janata Dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar broke away from the grand alliance with the RJD and Congress; so it would be wrong to say that Lalu Prasad, the supreme leader of the RJD, convened the rally to get other opposition parties to express solidarity with him and his son Tejaswi Yadav who was deputy chief minister in the Nitish cabinet and faced charges of corruption along with his father. But at the same time it was apparent that Lalu Prasad tried his best to use the rally as an exhibition of support for him and his family that have been accusing the Modi government of heaping up “false charges” of corruption against them.
So, the first thing the other parties in opposition have to decide is whether they would allow Lalu Prasad and family to go around wearing the halo of martyrdom in “politically motivated” inquiries by the Modi government. That is an important question because even if for a moment we accept that the cases were deliberately started by the CBI and other central agencies at the instance of the Modi government we can be sure that the Modi government would not stop targeting of Lalu Prasad but take it well through the campaign of the parliamentary elections of 2019. Even if the investigations are not concluded and even if Lalu Prasad and members of his family are not jailed, the charges would be like arrows stuck in their bodies for the BJP campaigners to take maximum advantage of. The warning the other opposition parties have to take from this is Lalu Prasad might prove to be any anti-BJP grand alliance’s Achilles’ heel. Lalu Prasad is already a convicted politician. No matter how strongly he speaks about defending the principles of secularism, he cannot claim to be a politician of high moral integrity. He served jail sentence in a corruption case that involved loot of public exchequer.
On the road to building a united anti-BJP front the other opposition parties must therefore take care that Lalu Prasad does not get to play a central role – something that he is aspiring to do, the organizing of the Patna rally by him being a clear evidence of that. Of course, Lalu Prasad cannot be ignored by any anti-BJP grand alliance. The paradox of our politics is that while voters want politicians to be honest they do not mind voting for corrupt politicians on grounds of caste loyalty or personal obligation such as getting a job or promotion or other work done. Lalu Prasad is one such example of a politician. Despite his conviction in a corruption case his support among his caste, the Yadavs and the Muslims did not wane. With such subjective evaluation of morality by voters who can stop Lalu Prasad emerging as a big force in the 2019 elections in his state Bihar? So, the other opposition parties cannot ignore him if they want to pose a challenge to the BJP-led grand alliance in 2019 in Bihar.
The example of Lalu Prasad and his political base in Bihar brings up a very pertinent question before any anti-BJP grand alliance. This question relates to the fact that most of the opposition parties are regional parties. These parties have their strength in the states they have their support in; they have no influence outside their state. That lays bare a great weakness in any likely grand alliance against the BJP: these parties cannot transfer their votes to each other as they have no supporters and voters outside their states. The Trinamool Congress cannot help the Samajwadi Party win votes in UP; nor can the SP do it for TMC in West Bengal. The RJD cannot influence Yadavs and Muslims of UP to vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party; nor can the BSP get Dalit votes in Bihar for the RJD.
But that is also the case with most of the regional and small parties that have chosen to ally with the BJP to become a part of the NDA. The BJP is a national party; so it will be a gainer of votes of regional parties in their respective states and thus put up a good overall performance in 2019. In the anti-BJP grand alliance the Congress will be the national party and the biggest gainer. The regional parties could be a big gainer in UP if the BSP also joins the Congress-SP alliance.