Modi Vs All
By Poonam I Kaushish
History has an uncanny knack of repeating itself. Circa 1971, 1977 and 1989 Opposition Parties bandied together to form a grand alliance against a formidable Congress. Circa 2018 is another show of grand unity of 20 incongruent Opposition leaders led by the Congress including Mamata’s Trinimool, Mayawati’s BSP, Akhilesh’s SP, Naidu’s TDP, Pawar’s NCP, Lalu’s RJD, Yechury’s CPM etc against the BJP, to the loud drumbeat of mere saath rahogay to aish karoge … kursi and power at all cost. Most of them have little in common but an intense desire to stop Modi from getting a second term. Clearly, the Karnataka results have, sounded the bugle for Battle 2019.
Fighting for its political survival and left governing only three States, the Congress despite losing, outsmarted the Sangh’s by doing a Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya and anointing JD(S) Kumaraswamy as Chief Minister. Not only did it succeed in keeping the BJP at bay, bolstered Congress workers morale as it takes on arch-rival in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh but also paves the way for regional Parties to cohabite akin to the SP-BSP tie-up for UP’s Phulpur, Gorakhpur and Kairana by-elections.
Raising a moot point. Can this be the template for an anti-BJP front at the national level for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? Does mere physical proximity automatically translate into a foolproof alliance? Will this show of strength impact BJP’s electoral chances?
The only common thread uniting the Opposition is the fear of losing their political base to Modi. Four years into his tenure, the Prime Minister’s popularity is hardly waning and Amit Shah has turned BJP into an electoral machine which reaps rich dividends, 21 States including terrains that are not too friendly as Tripura showed recently.
True, the Parties know that it’s only in rethinking their old rivalries and laying their differences aside to fight the BJP together that they stand even a ghost of a chance. The elephant in the room is whether the Congress is willing to take this experiment, of playing second fiddle to a regional Party, as the model for a grand coalition to face NaMo’s BJP in 2019?
The problem is the Congress thinks it is a natural Party of governance. Rahul will have to realise the Party’s inherent weaknesses and be prepared to make concessions to regional satraps, to take on the BJP might. Perhaps he is using the coalition route to safeguard the Party’s own OBC-Dalit-SC-ST vote-share that it cannot afford to let slip out of its grasp.
Undoubtedly, Sonia’s warmth towards Mayawati papered over the bad blood of the past and the presence of diehard anti-Congress leaders like Andhra Chief Minister Naidu and NCP’s Pawar do raise hopes that Opposition unity is not an impossible goal. BSP Mayawati and SP Akhilesh joining hands is due to fear of being decimated in the 2019 polls.
Though the regional satraps revel in new-found bonhomie they will have to overcome a number of hurdles in cobbling together a viable coalition. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata sharing the stage with CPM’s Sitaram Yechury does not inspire confidence, given their bitter acrimony and differing political agendas. The Congress and TDP are bitter rivals in Andhra.
Already several octogenarians are nursing Prime Ministerial ambitions. NCP’s Pawar and SP’s Mulayam are waiting to push their case, depending on their Parties’ performance in 2019. As are Mamata, Naidu and Mayawati if numbers work to their advantage. The only problem with this is their limited areas of influence they have.
Moreover, having debunked ideology, policies, values, ethics and morals can the enemies-turned-friends remain friends? Mayawati and Akhilesh might be together today but can their tie-up hold for UP’s 80 Lok Sabha seats? Who will have the upper hand? Ditto with southern AIADMK and DMK.
Further, the camaraderie could not conceal the wrinkles. Mamata continues to keep her distance from the Gandhis’ after she and TRS’s Chandrashekhar Rao mooted a “Federal Front” (non-Congress-non-BJP Parties) signalling the regional chieftains reluctance to acquiesce in a diminished Congress’s claim to be the natural leader of an anti-BJP front.
Undeniably, the Karnataka defeat has acted as a wake-up call for the BJP as it realizes 2019 is not going to be a cake-walk. Consequently, it is busy sharpening its strategies and finding new allies. Already, it has made overtures to Karunanidhi, Pawar and Jaganmohan Reddy, Naidu’s enemy in Andhra. Alongside, it is shedding its arrogance to provide elbow room to Shiv Sena, JD(S) and Akali Dal who are unlikely to break ties.
Certainly, given the proliferation of Parties in our long-suffering democracy, electoral alliances are the only way to put a brake on a strident and sharp BJP. However, dreams are not reality. True in the short term the disparate Parties will hold together. But the problem is that our I-me-myself dynast Opposition leaders are so inward-looking making it difficult for them to join hands in any meaningful way in the long run resulting in Opposition disunity. And therein lies the BJP’s real strength.
It has been exposed that when Parties cohabit with strange regional outfits for all the wrong reasons to attain power, it could and in an anti-climax. History shows most of these alliances did not have a long shelf life, given their leaders’ competing personal ambitions, insecurities, conflicting perspectives and the lack of common political agendas.
Hence, cobbling an alliance with Opposition Parties which have few things in common might not be that easy. One, they will not be able to transfer their votes enmass to allies. Two, they need a common minimum understanding which can ensure channelising of anti-BJP votes to one candidate. Else, ensure the strongest candidate gets the support of other Parties in maximum number of constituencies.
Notably, Bengaluru showed that the challenge will not deter the Opposition from trying. Thus the success of this experiment in the forthcoming assembly elections will go a long way in deciding whether a coalition of disparate Parties is feasible in States where they have to confront the BJP.
It remains to be seen how long the anti-BJP Opposition can hold together, who will be its face to fight the expanding BJP? Who will make way for another to achieve their common goal –keeping BJP out of power in 2019.
Given the Lok Sabha’s arithmetic there are enough straws in the wind to suggest that the BJP will emerge as the single largest Party as the coming together of Opposition Parties might not necessarily result in the transfer of votes to each other. This can only work if they enjoy a distinct and complementary voter base.
Also it might help Modi play the victim card. Recall, this strategy had worked well for him in Gujarat. The BJP could go to town saying everyone is trying to oppose NaMo as he is fighting for the poor. This polarisation could work in the Party’s favour.
In sum, Opposition leaders need to move beyond the optics. They would need astute political moves combined with election management to counter BJP’s superior war machinery. Certainly, numbers will decide who sits on the India’s Raj gaddi. But, at the same time, they have to face the harsh reality that governance and national interests cannot be reduced to a level of gharib ki joru, sab ki bhabhi! — INFA