There seems to be a difference between the much-hyped effort to give a structural shape to the proposed coming together of anti-BJP parties — although the move received a shot in the arm after the defeat of the BJP in the Karnataka Assembly elections earlier this year — and the one recently mounted by Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.
In the first edition of the venture which still hangs loosely in the air, awaiting the results of crucial state polls in December, the initiative taken by Mr Naidu emphasised “democratic compulsion”, to use his own words to the media after his meeting with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi last week.
The meaning of this is understandably stark — the BJP will be hard to dislodge unless its opponents came together.
It is useful to understand that the Andhra Pradesh leader did not use the word “secular”, so favoured by non-BJP parties. This is probably because practically all the parties he has been approaching are indeed secular in their outlook.
At the same time, not fixing a description leaves some room for manoeuvre in relation to a party like the Shiv Sena (which is not secular) if the Sena sticks to its current stance of going it alone in the Lok Sabha polls and not align with the BJP, with which it has had an extremely fraught relationship in government at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
But beyond all that Mr Naidu enjoys a political stature no political leader in the country enjoys today, barring Sonia Gandhi. And — like her — he is not in play as a prime ministerial hopeful, unlike Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati, whose bosoms heave with ambition.
The Andhra Pradesh CM has met all of them in recent days, in addition to Mulayam Singh Yadav and Farooq Abdullah. And he is on course to have discussions with Karnataka CM H.D. Kumaraswamy and DMK leader M.K. Stalin this week.
Along with the late Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the CPI(M) stalwart, Mr Naidu was a prime mover in the processes that had produced the United Front government in 1996. Politically, he crossed over to the BJP side subsequently, leaving his UF partners nonplussed. He has now crossed back — but this time to a grouping that fundamentally includes the Congress, besides other secularists.
While making his acute observation about “democratic compulsion”, Mr Naidu made his current politics more than evident when he proposed that among the BJP’s opponents the Congress alone was a trans-regional entity (no matter its many weaknesses) and would in that sense be at the centre of things.
How matters shape here on, and whether Mr Naidu’s efforts click, will crucially depend on the Assembly results next month.