The coalition government comprising the JD(S) and Congress in Karnataka has set a precedent for future alliances between the most unlikely of political partners. It has raised hopes of a unity among the opposition parties for 2019 general elections.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to JD(S) national general secretary Kunwar Danish Ali, who helped his party regain power after a decade. The formula to keep the BJP at bay was thrashed out by senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and Danish Ali.
IC: The presence of all important leaders from opposition parties at Kumaraswamy's oath ceremony as Karnataka chief minister was nothing short of show of strength. Have you set the roadmap for 2019?
Kunwar Danish Ali: The swearing in ceremony where all the opposition party leaders shared the dais was a starting point. It was the first public platform where Akhilesh and Mayawati were seen together. Mamata Banerjee and Sitaram Yechury too were present. Chandrababu Naidu and Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were there. These leaders had in mind 2019 elections. We have a roadmap and we are discussing with each other as to how to go forward. It was very much a position event and people at large got the confidence that the opposition parties can come together and there can be an alternative. People have reacted and the moral of opposition cadres has gone up. After the Karnataka episode, generally the opposition parties’ cadres’ morale boosted. The by-elections have reflected the changing mood of people; BJP was defeated in assembly and parliament elections and particularly in UP.
IC: Do you think the UP victory can be replicated in other states?
Yes, this is possible. As a starting point, we entered into pre-poll alliance with the BSP. So it was a first step and then BSP and SP came together in by-polls. Already, talks of seat sharing in Uttar Pradesh between the opposition parties is at an advanced stage. Most likely, BSP, SP, RLD and Congress may go together for pre-poll alliance.
IC: You do not foresee any conflict between Congress and other parties as the former has a habit of demanding lion's share in seat sharing.
There is a realisation among the opposition parties that instead of wasting energy in fighting with each other, we should utilise and channelize this energy to fight the BJP. For the sake of democracy and maintaining our constitutional institutions, we should leave our self-interests – of parties and individuals – and work for the major goal.
IC: What worked in your favour in Karnataka was swift planning. How did it happen?
After exit polls, we realised that it is going to be hung assembly. So we got in touch with each other and decided that if situation arises then we should act swiftly. So even before counting began, Gulam Nabi Azad and I sat in Delhi about the formula. Congress high command sent Azad and Gehlot and I discussed all the possible situations. We discussed formulas and before the counting completed, we acted and decided to come together. Unfortunately, BJP misused the Governor's office and got the invitation to form the government. We did not give scope to BJP to manipulate and managed to defeat the BJP in formation of government.
IC: In Bihar elections, the opposition parties got together and managed to keep the BJP out but that grand alliance did not last long. Now Karnataka has happened. How confident are you that the opposition unity will last long. What is the formula for keeping the opposition unity in 2019 elections intact?
In most of the states, we may have pre-poll alliance where BJP is a major party. We will have two track strategy, pre and post poll alliance. Post poll where regional parties are going to contest against each other so any regional party wins or loses and ultimately they will be together to keep the BJP out. Like In Kerala, LDF or UDF wins or loses. In AP, Telengana and Odisha, BJP is not a big force.
IC: Is there any coordination committee of opposition parties to avoid conflict for 2019.
No there is no need of such idea as of now. State specific alliances will be there. Leader or coordination committee ideas are not there.
IC: Won’t the issue of leadership arise?
Our consistent stand and as a policy matter, we are in a parliamentary democracy and people of this country will elect Lok Sabha which will choose the leader of the house. Pre-poll is BJP-RSS agenda. We will not show who will be our alternate leader is.
IC: How will you counter BJP-RSS on the leadership issue?
We will not show who will be our alternate leader. We have many experienced and capable leaders, young and old, available with us. It will be question of who will take the responsibility on his shoulder.
IC: If you have many, then that means there will be fight for leading the country?
That is good for the democracy but the question will be – Who will take the responsibility will be the main issue.
IC: Deve Gowda can be one of the candidates?
He had already had his innings. Opposition has lot of potential leaders who can lead the country. Congress, for instance being the single largest opposition party, too has a leader.
IC: Rahul Gandhi in one of his election speech in Karnataka elections had stated that if his party emerges as the largest party then he is willing to take the responsibility of PM. What is your take on it?
He has all qualities to lead this country. Mr Deve Gowda is a former Prime Minister of India. Ms Mayawati is four time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Mamata Banerjee is two time Chief Minister of West Bengal. There is no dearth of experienced and capable leaders in the opposition camp.
IC: Some of the regional parties like the TRS still say that they would like to maintain equal distance from BJP and the Congress and try to form a front for 2019. Can such a front be formed in reality? Will it be a strong front to give fight to both the BJP and Congress in next general elections? Is it possible to have a front without Congress in the existing political scenario?
In some states, there is a compulsion. Prior to May 15, the same compulsion was with the JD(S) also. Similarly, TRS has a fight with the Congress party and the BJP. Do not read too much into it. In the present scenario, there cannot be opposition unity without Congress party. That is the reality.
IC: Then how will these parties be convinced to be flexible and work for opposition unity?
Chandrababu Naidu, KCR and Arvind Kejriwal are our good friends. That’s why they came to Karnataka for the oath ceremony and shared platform with Congress's Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. So, do not worry. Opposition has the leaders who can bridge this gap.
IC: How many seats do you expect to win in 2019?
BJP will not get more than 125 seats in 2019. They will lose 50% of their current strength in Lok Sabha. Start from UP, if SP and BSP come together, the BJP will lose minimum 60 seats in UP itself. In Jharkhand, BJP may not get more than one or two Lok Sabha seats if Jharkhand based parties come together. If all come together, Babulal Marandi, Hemant Soren, Congress and RJD come together, the BJP will be decimated.
IC: According to you, 2019 is for opposition unity…
Modi-Shah jodi will fail. Save the democracy will be the opposition parties' agenda. It will work and 2019 will be for the opposition unity and not the BJP-RSS combine.
IC: Congress is your partner in Karnataka. What kind of difficulties you anticipate in running the government?
Whenever you have post poll coalition, there are some difficulties. Since every leader of both parties realise the compulsion of coming together to save the democracy, individual aspirations have been kept aside. That is the strength of this coalition.
IC: The coalition governments often face difficulty in coordination. In the beginning there is enthusiasm, but it withers away as time passes. What will you do to avoid such a situation?
This is first time in history that we have a written agreement to run a coalition government in Karnataka. With BSP, JDS had a pre-poll alliance. With Congress, JDS has a post poll alliance. I do not find any difficulty. It is good for both the parties.
IC: The BJP-RSS have an agenda, how will you counter it?
People have realised that the BJP-RSS are fooling them. Youngsters are not getting jobs, farmers continue to commit suicide. BJP's jumla baazi – Rs 15 lakh will be deposited in their account and black money will come back to India – will not work. Polarisation politics will not work anymore. Opposition unity is equal to save the democracy.(Published on 18th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 25)