New Delhi, March 2: Opposition unity will continue to elude the non-BJP parties in the run-up to the 2024 parliamentary polls unless they decide on a common prime ministerial candidate. 

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge’s statement in Chennai yesterday that a joint PM candidate was not their priority is, therefore,  misplaced.  All the quarrel and bickering in the Opposition ranks is centred on the issue of leadership. If settled amicably, the major hurdle in unity efforts will be over. Taking on the Modi juggernaut will then become doable.

What stands in the way of a joint PM candidate? Soaring ambitions of a few regional leaders who may be capable in their own right but are unwilling to sacrifice in a spirit of give and take to bring about Opposition unity. A birthday event of Tamil Nadu CM   M.K.Stalin yesterday turned out to be a meeting for  Opposition unity attended by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah,  SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav. Conspicuous by their absence were Mamata Banerjee of the TMC and Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, now re-christened Bharat Rashtra Samiti. 

There is no point in guessing why Mamata and KCR were not present at the Chennai event.  They may or may not have been invited but Mamata sees no meeting ground with the Congress and KCR has begun to beat his own trumpet. Nitish Kumar was ably represented by his deputy.

If the Opposition is serious about taking on the resurgent BJP with Narendra Modi as its mascot, it will have to sink all differences and sacrifice individual ambitions. For, if they really unite,  the BJP could be in trouble. And the only way to unite is to decide on a common prime ministerial candidate followed by seat adjustments in all parts of the country. After all, the BJP  is ruling with 37 per cent votes.

Agreed that the Congress is the biggest among the opposition parties with a pan-India presence. It, however, continues to sink since Modi came to power in 2014. For the sake of Opposition unity, it may give up the prime ministerial claim, at least once,  in favour of another party. Kharge’s point that a joint PM candidate was not the priority has everything to do with his party’s prime ministerial ambition. Conversely, other Opposition parties,  namely TMC, BRS and others could wholeheartedly express support for the leadership of the Congress.  A lot has changed in Congress after Kharge took over as President. Maybe  Kharge, a Dalit, could emerge as a joint PM candidate. For that matter, a firm decision could be made in favour of any leader, including Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar. What is crucial is that a common candidate is firmed up to avoid splitting of Opposition votes.

Hope for post-poll unity is unworkable because of the inevitable fratricidal feud for leadership if they are within a striking range. Voters have tasted such situations in the past and are unlikely to fall for it. The BJP, then, is the better bet. There is no quarrel in their ranks. Neither is it likely under Modi.

The time is ticking away fast. The BJP has already gone into election mode with assembly polls due in four major states by the year's end.

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