Why the anti-BJP Front is refusing to name a PM candidate ahead of the polls

While Stalin had endorsed Rahul Gandhi for PM in an event in Tamil Nadu last month, in Kolkata, he was conspicuously silent on the issue.
Why the anti-BJP Front is refusing to name a PM candidate ahead of the polls
Why the anti-BJP Front is refusing to name a PM candidate ahead of the polls

In the run up to General Elections 2019, the biggest buzz is around the anti-BJP Front – an alliance of regional parties across the country, along with the Congress. At a humongous rally in Kolkata on Sunday organised by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, leaders of numerous parties – 21 in total – came together on one stage to oppose the BJP. However, opposing BJP is so far the only thing that the parties seems to have agreed on; none of the leaders made any mention of a Prime Ministerial candidate. And this includes DMK president MK Stalin, who famously endorsed Congress president Rahul Gandhi for PM at a public event in Tamil Nadu last month.

When Stalin was asked to comment on the matter, he confirmed that the anti-BJP Front had decided to pick a PM only after the elections are over. “I had said this about Rahul Gandhi in Chennai, what was wrong in it? It is the wish and aspiration of the people in Tamil Nadu. But in West Bengal, they have decided to finalise it after the election. It is their wish,” said Stalin.

What does this mean for the  anti-BJP Front in the run up to the elections, and will leaving the decision till after the elections are over, hurt their chances of winning?

‘Don’t want a personality fight with Modi’

Sources in the DMK tell TNM that opposition parties in the anti-BJP Front including the Trinamool Congress, Telugu Desam Party, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are opposed to announcing a Prime Ministerial candidate ahead of the polls. Reports even suggest the AITC Chief Mamata Banerjee is unhappy with the DMK's 'premature' display of support to Rahul Gandhi.

"From DMK's discussion with other opposition parties, we have gleaned that they believe naming a candidate now will suit the BJP's agenda," said a source in the DMK, “The BJP basically wants to see who will be pitted against them and when a candidate is projected, it will become a personality fight with Modi.”

“All other issues will take a back seat. Such a narrative is harmful,” the source said.

Political analysts who are keenly watching developments across the country agree that a personality battle will prove to be detrimental for the alliance.

"Stalin making such a statement at that time was premature. But this was done more to please his own party constituents and projecting a secular front. It was not about pleasing the Congress," said Professor Ramu Manivannan of the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Madras, "Rahul Gandhi is yet to evolve as a complete leader of both the opposition and his own party. The Congress no longer enjoys support in all states. So a personality battle is not what is required at the moment.”

What happened in Telangana must not repeat’

Another issue that the parties are worried about is whether the Congress can in fact win seats in many of the states. While the party managed to win Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh in the recent Assembly elections, their poor performance in Telangana is playing on parties’ minds.

The TDP, which had a pre-poll alliance with the Congress in Telangana, has been having several internal discussions since, as many in the party believe that their dismal performance in the state was mainly because of the Congress.

The party's national spokesperson Lanka Dinakar told TNM, "As far as we are concerned, there is no Prime Ministerial candidate before the poll.”

In the run up to the elections, parties should focus on winning each region, he said. “Our concern is about the B-teams of the BJP, which is YSRCP in Andhra, and TRS in Telangana. There are certain compulsions in each state but we are all united in our aim to remove Modi. We will sort it out amongst ourselves after the elections," he added.

Political analysts too agree that this approach by regional parties will reap better benefits.

"You can't put all parties together and expect them to project a leader. Rahul Gandhi for instance does enjoy support in the Hindi belt, in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. So this is not the solution," pointed out Ramu Manivannan. "They need to tackle the BJP independently in their respective states in order fight them. Forcing the BJP to go into coalitions in each state itself is a victory for these regional parties," he added.

Which is why, officially, the parties are all claiming that ‘people will decide’ who the PM will be.

"After the election we will leave it to the people to decide who they want as PM. We are certain that they will give us a clear indication,” Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi said.

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