The events on December 11, the day the assembly results for five states were announced, can explain why.
On December 16, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief MK Stalin set the cat among the pigeons by proposing the name of Congress President Rahul Gandhi as the DMK's prime ministerial candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Reports suggest that other opposition parties that are a part of an amorphous anti-BJP alliance, such as the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam Party, the Trinamool Congress, the National Conference and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have objected to the proposal.
Why did Stalin do this at a function held to unveil a statue of his late father and former Tamil Nadu CM M Karunanidhi? What does this mean for the future of the united opposition?
December 11, the day the assembly results for five states were announced, holds the key to both questions. However, before that a bit of background is necessary.
Ever since the BJP transformed into a political behemoth, relegating the Congress to the sidelines and threatening the existence of many regional political parties, the clamour for an anti-BJP grand alliance grew. Thus, the raison d'etre for this alliance is: a powerful and intimidating BJP, a marginalised Congress, and regional parties that feel threatened. Itâ€™s an amalgamation of these three factors that holds the alliance. The events on December 11 have shaken up these reasons.
The BJP's defeat in the three Hindi-heartland states (Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan) has not only stopped the national party's juggernaut, but has also pushed it back in its stronghold. The BJP's defeat boosts opposition confidence; and, it has opened the playing field in the 2019 polls. For the united opposition thatâ€™s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that the Congress is no longer the beaten-up and marginalised party it was in 2014. The party, under Rahul, has dared to look the BJP in the eye and has won 3-0 in a direct contest. A confident and resurgent Congress has the potential to upset the opposition apple cart.
December 11 also showed that regional parties are not in dire straits. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Mizo National Front (MNF) beat both the BJP and the Congress to win Telangana and Mizoram respectively. This is bound to increase the morale of other regional parties as well.
These developments could mean that the Congress refuses to be the â€˜first among the equalsâ€™ in the alliance or play second fiddle as it did in Karnataka to the Janata Dal (Secular). The regional parties, which were happy to 'accommodate' the Congressâ€™ national stature will now drive a hard bargain.
When seen in this light, Stalin's proposal could be with the calculation that when the resurgent Congress wins, the DMK will benefit for its early endorsement of Gandhi. It's another matter that other regional parties do not feel so.
All this hinges on the premise that the BJP is on the back foot â€” but if there is anything that the BJP has shown over the four-and-a-half years, itâ€™s the partyâ€™s appetite for a good battle.