The meeting between Akhilesh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee is definitely not good news for opposition unity. If anything, it will most certainly impede the process of unity. This might also deflate the Congress's campaign to nail the Modi government on the Adani issue. If Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav had said they are coming together to defeat Narendra Modi, then it would have added a different flavour to the unity process. But the two being openly critical of the Congress and trying to keep their distance from the grand old party smacks of short-sightedness and parochialism. I have been saying for a long time that regional leaders today lack a national vision and ideological conviction, unlike opposition politicians of the Congress era, who belonged to small parties but were tall in national stature. Those leaders had a national perspective and were willing to sacrifice their small interests for a larger national goal.
It is no wonder that in 1977, all opposition parties except a few merged to form the Janata Party. They were driven by the conviction that Indira Gandhi's dictatorial regime had to be defeated to save democracy.
Today, that conviction is missing and self-interest is the prime mover. This is the single most important challenge that the opposition today is facing in its fight against Modi and the BJP. Since the Congress is the biggest party in the opposition, it is duty-bound to constantly be in talks with opposition leaders and make them understand the urgency of opposition unity. Since Rahul Gandhi is the leader of the Congress, it will be a test of his leadership skills to corral the opposition despite these impediments.
The Congress, which has been accused of arrogance while dealing with opposition parties, offered a major climb-down when Mallikarjun Kharge said in Chennai that the Congress was not stuck on leading the opposition front. Kharge, while replying to Farooq Abdullah's statement that the Congress should not insist on the post of prime minister, said that opposition parties should sink their differences and be united to defeat the BJP at the Centre.
A similar sentiment was expressed by Priyanka Gandhi at the Raipur session of the Congress when she said, "The world is looking at us (opposition) and opposition unity is needed to defeat BJP." Rahul Gandhi, during his London visit said, "A lot of coordination is going on with opposition parties and conversation is also happening among them." He further said, "There are complications in many states, but the opposition is very much capable of having this discussion and resolving it."
These three statements by the three top leaders of the Congress are indicative of the fact that the Congress, as a party which has ruled country for more than five decades, is aware of its weakness and knows that it cannot defeat the BJP on its own; like the anti-Congress-ism of the past, anti-BJP-ism can be the only glue for opposition unity.
This political clarity was absent in the Congress thought process during the 2019 general election. The opposition was a divided house. Every party was pulling in different directions. Rahul Gandhi was the president of the Congress, which had just won assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Rahul Gandhi was confident that the Congress alone could give a tough fight to Modi, and he proved to be dead wrong.
Not only the opposition but even the Congress was divided into factions. Big and older leaders had no faith in Rahul Gandhi's leadership skills. In fact, Rahul Gandhi said the same in his resignation letter after the election defeat - he was "fighting alone".
It is also said that more than the BJP and the Modi government, it is Congress leaders who were instrumental in the whisper campaign that rose to a crescendo about Rahul as "Pappu" (good for nothing). But now, Rahul Gandhi is a changed person and the Congress is no longer a fractured house.
Those who underestimated Rahul Gandhi were in for a shock when he embarked on an ambitious project like the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Some were skeptical about Rahul Gandhi completing the Yatra and others ridiculed the very idea.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra proved to be a beam of light in the darkness for the Congress. Skeptics and critics were shocked by the response that the Yatra generated throughout. I am sure the Congress must have organised crowds for the Yatra, but the overwhelming response could not be the result of just party management. People genuinely came to see and meet Rahul Gandhi. It is no secret that the BJP initially tried to malign the Yatra with their below-the-belt propaganda but soon they realised that it might boomerang on them, so they stopped.
Rahul Gandhi is no longer the "Pappu". He has emerged as a serious politician. He has earned this for himself through his hard work and sincerity. Now the accusations of entitlement will not cut ice with people. It is this transformation of Rahul Gandhi from a so-called 'Pappu' to 'Pundit' that is a singular achievement for the Congress.
In their desperation to soil Rahul's newfound image, the Modi Government and the BJP are going out of their way to paint him as anti-national.
The Yatra has also caused heartburn for many opposition leaders; the space which many of them clamoured to occupy is no longer vacant.
It's no secret that Mamata Banerjee wanted to be projected as prime ministerial candidate for the opposition. Nitish Kumar is another aspirant, along with Arvind Kejriwal. Now it is incumbent on Rahul Gandhi to break the ice with these leaders and involve them in a one-on-one conversation for larger unity and make them understand that leadership is not an issue at all, and that the first priority should be to unseat the BJP.
There is undoubtedly some movement in the direction of opposition unity. In this session of parliament, more than a dozen opposition parties have not only been meeting regularly and but they have also coordinated effectively on the Adani issue, except Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. Even the BRS of KCR (K Chandrasekhar Rao) and AAP, who were seen to be staying away from the Congress until recently, have been active in this exercise. They have quietly accepted the leadership of the Congress and Mallikarjun Kharge. This is a welcome sign for opposition unity but the news from Kolkata must have dampened the spirit of this unity and gladdened the BJP.
There is no denying that opposition unity has always been tricky business and a complicated affair. It is time consuming too, but it is also an opportunity for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress to show their leadership and turn adversity into opportunity.
(Ashutosh is author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and Editor, satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.