There is a lesson in the fact that the regional parties did a better job in countering the Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi than the Congress. Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are the stories of success, and West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh of partial success. The Congress trajectory in states where it was directly contesting the BJP has been dismal to say the least, with the party conceding even those states where it had won the Assembly elections recently.

What went wrong? Well almost everything starting from a certain inability to understand the nature of the new beast in play, and that it could not be countered with a business as usual approach. That the regional parties were able to stem the BJP surge somewhat is simply because they have a fairly good organisational structure, and despite the fury of the BJP offensive, were still able to prevent a total collapse at the hustings. The Congress, on the other hand, has no organisation to speak of with the reliance on the ‘there is no other alternative’ factor that has seeped deep into the party psyche coming a cropper yet again.

Look at it from the beginning. Modi came to power in 2014. A stunned opposition went underground and little was heard from it for a good two plus years, while civil society provided the ground for some sort of a comeback. Congress president Rahul Gandhi busily stitched alliances with individual leaders like Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mewani to t give a good fight to the BJP for the the Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017.

He kept up the momentum. And in Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi reached out to build an alliance despite opposition from within and as a result the party along with the Janata Dal(S) came to power. This was followed by a huge opposition rally at Bengaluru, where Sonia Gandhi and Bahujan Samaj party chief created a historic moment for the photographers, by touching foreheads and looking smilingly into each others eyes. The Congress won the Assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan.

The shift came soon after. A return of the arrogance that Rahul Gandhi had tried to discard, albeit briefly. And in the run up to the Lok Sabha 2019 polls, the Congress made it clear that it’s commitment to unity was paper thin. That it would not just forego Opposition unity, but teach potential allies a lesson if they came in the way of its search for more and more seats. As in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress cracked the gathbandhan first by refusing to go along with it, and then fielding candidates in all 80 seats that cut seriously into the opposition votes. Similarly in West Bengal it chose to ditch Mamata Banerjee, tried to forge some kind of understanding with the Left, and then dropped this too. Just as well, for had this alliance taken place then the performance of the BJP in West Bengal would have been even better.

In Bihar too the Congress kept up the offensive, until it was given the seats it wanted. A great deal of damage was thus done to the coalition led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, with the quarrelling further pushing the already polarised electorate to the BJP-JD(U) that seemed more stable in comparison. There was no Lalu Prasad Yadav to apply the balm, and his son was unable to mend the damage done.

As a result the Opposition went into the fray, disparate and uneasy. And fighting each other in crucial states. A last minute approach to an election that Modi and Shah had started preparing for since 2014. With no common strategy or understanding of the ground situation. No analysis, no real game plan. Just business as usual without even realising what was coming from the other side.

The Opposition should have:

  1. United on as broad a platform as possible. Not yesterday but at least three years ago;
  2. Formulated an aggressive and yet progressive counter narrative, that did not hesitate to take the bull of communalism by the horns, even as it focused on livelihood and jobs and equality and justice;
  3. Campaigned together, for all bypolls, Assembly elections;
  4. Put together a minimum common agenda to cement the coalition;
  5. Worked together to finalise candidates in the states for the Lok Sabha, and stuck closely to a one vs one fight;
  6. And not got fooled into joining a presidential campaign, which is what Rahul Gandhi was made to do, but countered the spectre of authoritarianism with the diverse narrative and leadership of India.

All do-ables. But for the Opposition of the day not just an uphill, but impossible task.

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