Galaxy of regional leaders in attendance as Kumaraswamy is sworn-in as new chief minister of Karnataka
New Delhi: India’s fractured opposition on Wednesday seized on a new way to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s powerful Bharatiya Janata Party: bringing bitter national and regional rivals together to take on the might and sweep of the ruling party.
The venue for the occasion was the inauguration of H.D. Kumaraswamy as the chief minister of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, heading the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government.
Kumaraswamy was administered the oath of office by state governor Vajubhai Vala at a grand ceremony in the Vidhana Souda complex, the seat of power in state capital Bengaluru, in the presence of a galaxy of regional stalwarts and chief ministers from across India as well as Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia.
State rivals such as Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, both from Uttar Pradesh, brushed aside their bitter enmity to attend the ceremony together.
Vala also administered the oath to state party Congress chief and prominent Dalit community leader G. Parameshwara as the deputy chief minister. Other members of the council of ministers will be inducted after the Kumaraswamy government wins the trust vote on Friday.
The reversal of the BJP’s fortunes in Karnataka — where it emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats but was ousted by a coalition composed of the Congress party and the regional Janata Dal (Secular) party — marks one more election loss at the hands of a united opposition. Despite a string of state poll victories, regional alliances have also thwarted Modi in recent Uttar Pradesh by-elections and in the 2015 Bihar state elections.
West Bengal chief minister and avowed Modi rival Mamata Banerjee, and her Andhra Pradesh counterpart N. Chandrababu Naidu, present at the ceremony in Bengaluru yesterday, said their participation was meant to strengthen the alliance of regional parties.
“All regional parties are present here to support Kumaraswamy and his government. We hope for the best. We will keep in touch with all regional parties together so that we can work for the development of the nation … If regional parties get together, they will have maximum strength. It is said in Hindi that whoever will fight us will be destroyed,” she said.
Naidu said this was a critical juncture in Indian politics. Asked about the possibilities of a federal front against the BJP, Naidu said: “We are watching. We all want to promote more regional parties — that is our and Mamatatai’s mission.”
Rahul Gandhi had earlier said the Congress party will rally regional groups into a common front against Modi: “I am very proud that the opposition has stood together and defeated the BJP, and we will continue to do so,” he said.
According to analysts, the Karnataka result shows India’s main opposition Congress party may be prepared to take junior roles in coalitions if it means taking down Modi. So even if the BJP remains the most popular party, they could still lose upcoming state polls or suffer losses in next year’s national election. That support among regional rivals suggests growing national interest in an anti-BJP alliance, said N. Sathiya Moorthy, a Chennai-based senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, an Indian think tank.
“Very clearly it’s an effort to get an alliance of state-based parties — and a message to the Congress party that if they want a future they need to ally,” Moorthy said.
Although coalition politics is nothing new in India, but such arrangements of convenience can be unwieldy. The alliance that defeated the BJP in Bihar, a state of 100 million people, fell apart last year amid corruption allegations, allowing a BJP coalition to storm back to power. “The alliance in Karnataka is a platform for a larger anti-BJP coalition on a national scale,” said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist and pro vice chancellor at Jain University in Bengaluru. “But how much they build on that platform is an open question.”
According to political analyst Vivek Saksena, the Congress-JDS combine in Karnataka has sent a wave of cheer among anti-BJP parties across India. “JDS leader Kumaraswamy’s alliance with Congress has given fresh hopes to those working hard on the formation of a third front for the upcoming general elections,” he told Gulf News.
Yet, others feel the Congress party must take the lead and demonstrate its commitment to coalition politics. “The third front has to include Congress. Congress must lead it to check the influence of BJP among the voters. All major regional parties which stand against the ideology of BJP will also have no option but to join the front ahead of the 2019 elections so that a formidable alternative can be provided to people,” political commentator Vijay Chaturvedi told Gulf News.
Defeating Modi via a political alliance will not be easy. Local leaders for the Congress party, which led the fight for India’s independence, may not want to concede power to regional parties. Some upcoming state elections are also likely to be straight contests between the BJP and Congress. And then there’s countering Modi’s successful narrative.
“What will hold together this anti-BJP coalition is their negative view of the BJP,” Shastri said. “A negative view alone cannot keep an alliance together. There will need to be something positive.”
The result in Karnataka has boosted enthusiasm among Modi’s opponents to unite and try to defeat the BJP in the 2019 national elections, said Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP finance minister who left the party.
“The national elections are the real goal,” Sinha said. “Karnataka has been a major landmark and has encouraged opposition to the BJP to try and come together, whatever the cost.”
Sounding a note of caution, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that any federal front would not be successful if it is formed with the sole aim of coming to power. “The [federal] front should have a strong basis and policy under which it should be formed and would emerge only through public movements,” he said.
— With inputs from Bloomberg, PTI & Reuters
Rivals turn friends: Who attended the ceremony?
Sonia Gandhi; United Progressive Alliance chairperson
Rahul Gandhi; Congress party president
Mamata Banerjee; chief minister of West Bengal
N. Chandrababu Naidu; chief minister of Andhra Pradesh
Pinarayi Vijayan; chief minister of Kerala
Mayawati; BSP chief
Akhilesh Yadav; Samajwadi Party president
Sharad Pawar; NCP chief
Tejashwi Yadav; RJD leader
Sitaram Yechury; CPI-M general secretary
Ajit Singh; RLD chief
Sharad Yadav; socialist leader