N Chandrababu Naidu spent Thursday in Delhi opposition-shopping that saw him meeting Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah, Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, and Mulayam Singh Yadav, among others. He is said to have spoken to Mamata Banerjee on the phone as well. It is likely that in his mind, Naidu might be working on the 1996 United Front (UF) template in which he played a key role as its convenor in keeping the BJP out of government. But on the ground, it’s a very different political landscape. For one, the UF was a post-poll alliance that was easy to cobble given the lure of power. The fact that despite the existence of a Congress-led UPA, the opposition is tying itself into knots to be seen together shows that the idea of a united opposition before elections is tenuous at best if not stillborn.
Overlooking the fact that this is the umpteenth attempt at opposition unity this year, Naidu’s road is one choc-a-bloc with landmines. Even the one soundbite that he gave after meeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar and NC principal Farooq Abdullah had to be cautiously worded. First, he said that there are many senior leaders in the opposition, but Sharad Pawar is the senior-most. Then he realised that Farooq Abdullah is equally senior (who incidentally left before the joint appearance as he had a flight to catch), so he added that Abdullah was also senior most. The list of equal senior-most leaders in the opposition ranks could go on to include HD Devegowda, Manmohan Singh, Prakash Karat, Mulayam Singh Yadav as well. Of these, two have Prime Ministerial experience, and at least two – Pawar and Yadav – have nurtured visible PM ambitions.
It is intriguing that Pawar, who led the first attempt at opposition unity hosting a dinner at his residence during the last budget session, has perhaps concluded that he need not lead the effort any more. Abdullah left the meeting before it ended ostensibly because he had a flight to catch, leaving Naidu and Pawar to handle the media. Naidu described his meeting with Congress president Rahul Gandhi as overcoming hesitations of history. But hold on. Does Naidu choose Congress over BJP for the cause of secularism, a glue that would bind anti-BJP parties earlier? Of course not. Just hear what Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted. And we have not even reached Mayawati who has so visibly snubbed the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Naidu used the word “democratic compulsion” to describe his coming together with the Congress. It was a Freudian slip perhaps but gave away the story of entire exercise at opposition unity till date. Each has a compulsion to stick together. Is that compulsion called Modi?