Divided they have fallen too often. United they expect to rise again. Battered by three years of the relentless fury of Modicane, demoralised and disconsolate opposition parties are anxious to regain the power—mental and physical—to contain the prime minister’s power drive. Subsequently, marginalised leaders of minimised political parties have settled on the upcoming presidential election as a common ground to pitch their tent, ready for jousts against the saffron knighthood and its captain.
What better day for sunny dreams than at a birthday party, which promises to be a new D-Day for Opposition unity, however weary the dreamers may be? Last week, Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK founder M Karunanidhi, flew to Patna—perhaps for the first time on an important political mission—to invite Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and master puppeteer Lalu Prasad to her father’s 94th birth anniversary celebrations in Chennai on June 3.
With less than 24 months left for the Lok Sabha elections, non-saffron parties are desperately seeking a credible leader and a slogan to take their anaemic ambitions off the ventilator. In the past, it took a combined Opposition to dethrone leaders with power and charisma such as Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. In 1977, Indira was trounced when a united political voice warned voters of her dictatorial style threatening democracy. But Modi is not she.
He is a leader above reproach so far, resolute yet reverential about democracy, having committed no political sin unlike Indira & Sons. The Opposition is left to digging deep and deeper in the political dung heap for filth to be flung at Swachh Modi, but have only succeeded in dirtying its own hands so far.
Opposition draftsmen are betting on a war machine ‘Made in North, South and East’ to take on Modi’s mojo. Kanimozhi is in the turret right now. Satraps of JD(U), CPI(M), NCP and Congress have been holding consultations to forge an anti-Modi front, prompted by former JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar after meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi over choosing a common candidate for the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Yadav felt that such successful interactions could go a long way in stalling the BJP’s nationwide surge.
He admitted disunity in non-BJP ranks as the key reason behind the saffron party’s wins in the Uttar Pradesh polls and the Delhi civic elections. Following which, the CPI(M) moved into the Operation-Oppose-Modi-Mode swiftly; its amiable, high-profile general secretary Sitaram Yechury met Sonia in Delhi and Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar to mull a strategy to avoid a breakup of the non-BJP vote in the prez poll. But geography makes history. The Opposition’s choice of Chennai as the ground zero for rebirth rings a bell.
Almost two decades ago, Karunanidhi had created political history by bringing ideologically opposed parties together at a rally he organised on March 17, 1988, at Marina Beach. The political velocity it generated led to the formation of a national front led by V P Singh, supported by veterans like N T Rama Rao, Devi Lal, Biju Patnaik, Prafulla Mahanta et al which eventually toppled Rajiv Gandhi a year later.
Following the Chennai Summit, other conclaves organised by non-Congress chief ministers had added to the momentum. On January 9, 1989, the NT Rama Rao-led TDP government held a public rally in Hyderabad to celebrate its seventh anniversary—attended by S S Barnala from SAD, V C Shukla from Jan Morcha, Vijaya Raje Scindia from BJP and Devi Lal from Lok Dal (B). The constellation of non-Congress planets were coming into alignment.
Next, to celebrate five successful years of the Janata government in Karnataka, then chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde organised a public meeting in Bangalore attended by V P Singh, Bahuguna, Jyoti Basu, Mahanta and E K Nayanar. The Comrade’s inclusion was significant, since it was the first time the Left was corralled into participating in an anti-Congress front. Interestingly, all three initiatives were taken by three chief ministers of three states. History took an ideological U-turn again in 1996 when various regional leaders, the Left and the Congress conjoined to topple India’s first BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Now in 2017, little-known woman politician Kanimozhi, who is better known for her social than political networking, has been chosen to woo the North where Modi magic reigns unchallenged.
Her Patna trip was the tip of a national Opposition iceberg formed to sink the BJP’s Titanic by building a consensus for the next president. She connected brother M K Stalin with Lalu and Nitish. The conversation was more about politics than pineapple pastries; and the massive rally after the Kalaignar’s birthday bash.
Though DMK insiders claim Karunanidhi’s state of mind is too feeble to think up such a strategy, Kanimozhi’s sojourn carries his typical stamp of forging impossible alliances, forcing a movement to rise when the moment arose. When Indira was isolated by top Congress leaders in 1969 during the Syndicate split, Karunanidhi asked his 25 MPs to stand by her. In 1971, he followed her cue by dissolving the Assembly when she dissolved the Lok Sabha for simultaneous elections. His strategy paid rich dividends and his party won an unprecedented 184 seats; a state record.
Now, with the ruling AIADMK in disarray, Karunanidhi wants to capitalise on the waning clout of his opponents. With uncanny foresight, the constant centrist in this family party has decided to introduce his political heirs—Stalin and Kanimozhi—to national leaders before he is rendered physically inactive.
He has played a major role in choosing prime ministers in the past. He has always aligned with one national party or the other in New Delhi. The DMK has been part of many ruling coalitions at the Centre.
The fact that for the first time it is out of power in both the state and Delhi after many years has vastly eroded its clout.
Birthdays, weddings and anniversaries have acquired new meaning in Modi era politics. Karunanidhi has the rare ability of converting challenges into opportunities.
Now he has found one. Modi bashers and baiters seem confident that the waves of Marina beach will break out in applause lauding their efforts once again. They are looking forward to landing in Chennai to celebrate Karunanidhi’s birthday, expecting to have the cake and eat it too. But do they have the reach to swat the flies on the walls, wandered in from Modi’s kitchen where ideas are cooking faster than you can say 2019?