By arresting Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Bharatiya Janata Party government has united the Opposition. It has done what the Congress party to give its due has been trying for a while now, but without complete success. One or the other regional party remained outside the grouping, with the exit of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar from the larger Opposition alliance back to the BJP led NDA conglomeration having an adverse impact. At least on regional parties like the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, that took a step outside with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sounding off against the Congress party in no uncertain terms.

The arrest of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren rang some alarm bells but not sufficiently where the regional political parties in the country were concerned. The core group of the Congress, Left parties, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the DMK apart, the others have not taken the threat to their very existence seriously, preferring to play barter politics particularly now just before the Lok Sabha elections. NCP leader Sharad Pawar has been fairly unwavering but his party and family members have played havoc with principled politics.

Kejriwal’s arrest has come as a bolt and a warning now recognised by all. The rally at Ramlila grounds just a day ago took over the headlines of even the supine media, by its size and its content. All the opposition parties were there along with the wives of Soren and Kejriwal on the dais. The speeches were actually beyond par, bold and loud and resounding, with a rare unity and bonhomie visible on the dais. It is difficult to say who was better than the other although RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav stood out, as did Rahul Gandhi. However Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Shiv Sena’s Udhav Thackeray and others were not far behind, all responding to a highly responsive and attentive crowd that flooded the grounds inside of course, but on the outside as well.

The points made by the leaders were broadly centered around the a) threat to democracy;b) the collapse of all democratic institutions and the efforts to bring in a ‘one-man-one-party rule; c) run away corruption as reflected in the election bonds scam at the expense of the common person; d) joblessness and economic hardship; e) divisiveness; f) and the need for all to unite to ensure the protection of democracy and the Constitution of India from dictatorship.

Each leader brought in his or her own style with Tejaswi Yadav ending his remarks with a song from a Govinda movie ‘tum dhokebaaz ho”’and Akhilesh Yadav sprinkling his address with his usual quips, both to the delight of the crowds. Priyanka Gandhi who read out a statement by the I.N.D.I.A block urging the Election Commission to ensure a level playing field and stopping the government agencies from vitiating the free and fair environment was as popular as ever with the crowds that however, listened to every speech with rapt attention punctuated by applause and roars of approval.

The size of the rally and the response did indicate a churning at the ground level, largely among the youth who formed the bulk of the Ramlila grounds meeting. This kind of response, apart from the size, comes when the people want to listen and appreciate those they are listening to. It was not a distracted crowd at all, and the experienced leaders on the dais did not let the masses down with their speeches and their promises. There was this amazing rapport between the speakers and the people with the solid unity visible on the stage adding to the euphoria. There was no pettiness, no “I over You” as all embraced each other and democracy. A very fine show indeed.

A good start to the Lok Sabha polls in every which way. The voting phases begin this month in different states at different points and the people go to vote with a message for change. Whether this works or not remains to be seen. Two factors remain - one, the misuse of EVMs that the opposition parties have been hammering at; and two, the ability of the Opposition to mop up the votes through good booth management and mobilisation. The Congress organisation in states like Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat where it is in direct confrontation with the BJP is wanting although I.N.D.I.A allies have a fairly good reach in their respective states.

While the ballot box , or rather the EVM machine will carry the voters verdict, it is a matter of fact that the Opposition today has matured considerably over the last ten years. It has not been able to come together before in an effective manner, but has realised that it is under direct threat now from the ruling party; and that it does not have the ability to fight the highly efficient and ruthless BJP-RSS combine on its own. Kejriwal was reluctant to join hands with anyone, but after his arrest his party has reached out to the Opposition leaders who have also embraced AAP and picked up cudgels on its behalf.

The Ramlila rally was the message many were waiting for. Whether it influences the vote remains to be seen as the other side is formidable, and many tricks remain in the book regardless of the appeal to the Election Commission.