In politics, more than in any other sphere of public life, an enemy’s enemy is a friend. This is the only reason why many of the opposition parties met at the invitation of Ms Sonia Gandhi to break bread. The meeting is remarkable because most of these parties are contenders with the Congress for the same political space. That space can be labelled, for the lack of a better term, the secular space. The case of the Congress and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh can be taken as a convenient example. Both parties appeal to roughly similar constituencies and thus are not natural allies. What brings them together is the perception of the Bharatiya Janata Party as the real threat in UP and in the rest of the country. There are two aspects to be underlined here. One is the fractured nature of the polity. No one party is in a position to dominate the polity on its own. The BJP comes closest to doing so but it has to depend on the National Democratic Alliance to remain in power. In UP, it plays second fiddle to the Bahujan Samaj Party. Only in Gujarat, after a bloodbath, is it in a position of complete dominance. The opposition has been slow to acknowledge this fracturing. It has taken time to accept that the threat of the BJP cannot be countered by any one party.
The dawning of this awareness is most important for the Congress, which has been living in a delusion. There was a refusal to admit on the part of the Congress leadership that it was no longer India’s premier political party and that its past counted for very little. In large parts of India, most significantly in north India — or the cow belt in the parlance of journalists — it is no longer a crucial player but an also-ran. It has to sup with those whose company it considered infra dig even a decade ago. Ms Gandhi’s dinner party is the first step in the making of an anti-BJP alliance. But these are very early days. The other opposition parties have also realized that however weak the Congress may be, no front against the BJP is viable without the Congress in it. Leaders like Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Sharad Pawar have been forced to accept that they can no longer squabble over Ms Gandhi’s foreign origins. It is not clear if this attempt to come together is based on sheer expediency or grows out of a genuine ideological commitment to fight the evil of communalism. The Congress, it appears, is no longer very eager to hold aloft its secular credentials. Expediency, as the experience of the NDA demonstrates, can be the basis of an alliance if it leads to power. The non-BJP front, if it does materialize, must be in a position to make a bid for power. One dinner does not make a government.