There has been an air of cautious optimism ever since the results of the five state assembly elections began filtering in yesterday. The trifecta of defeats suffered by the BJP in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh has shown that the Opposition is not as hapless as the ruling party might have presumed. The Mahagathbandhan, or Grand Alliance, could prove to be a serious thorn in the BJP’s side during next year’s Lok Sabha elections, particularly if – against all expectations – it morphs into a cohesive unit by then.
As the euphoria of Modi’s sweeping win in 2014 died out, replaced by the thankless job of governance, the BJP has lost its invincible aura. And the signs have been visible for a while now.
The Karnataka assembly elections in May played out like a particularly gloomy opera for the BJP – the highs of counting day morning, when it looked like they had clinched the state; the lows of only a few hours later, when the Congress and JD(S) two-minute-noodled a coalition; and the depths of HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in where the opposition’s unity against the BJP was on dramatic display, set against the backdrop of BS Yeddyurappa’s ignominious two-day rule as chief minister.
It was a photo-op meant to send chills down Amit Shah’s spine – the political aristocracy from diverse regional power centres from across India, gathered on the steps of the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru, brought together by the sole intention of derailing the BJP election juggernaut.
For the Opposition parties, the mantra for survival could very well be “united we stand, divided we fall”.
Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
In the seven months since, the grand opposition is still nebulous and yet to reach critical mass. Monday’s meeting of these leaders is the first time they have all managed to sit down to talk business since the heady days of May. And Congress’ potential allies from Uttar Pradesh – BSP and SP – were conspicuous by their absence. Just a few days after Karnataka, the three parties together backed the Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate in the Kairana Lok Sabha bye-elections in Uttar Pradesh, where they trounced the BJP candidate.
Can that serve as the template for next year? Can the Mahagathbandhan/Third Front become a formidable force before the Lok Sabha election? Is there a possibility that the saffron wave will be overrun by the bright colours of the other parties?
Well, for starters, there’s BSP. The party was drifting away from this broad-based alliance, but was brought home with a thud when they chose not to fight any of the subsequent state elections with the Congress. Whatever it is that Mayawati had set out to prove to either the Congress or to herself, the answer lies in the meagre eight seats out of 639 (the party did not contest from Mizoram) BSP netted overall on December 11.
Clearly, the BJP is not going to have as easy a route to victory in 2019 as they enjoyed in 2014.
There’s no doubt that the coalition will have to be led by the Congress, the only party with a pan-India presence and relationships with regional parties. With the party finally being able to prove its dominance in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, it has firmly established its role as the nucleus of the anti-BJP coalition, around which other regional powers can cluster.
But the BSP’s reluctance to go into alliance with the Congress, is not the only shaky leg of this Grand Alliance. Across several states like West Bengal and Kerala, partners will have to decide if they are ready to put across ingrained ideological differences and bitter rivalries for the secular good of the nation and its democratic institutions.
However, the potential-alliance seems to have an able operator in TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu, who in late October had been crisscrossing the nation meeting the likes of TMC head and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, DMK chief and leader of opposition in Tamil Nadu MK Stalin, and Delhi chief minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. Since his split from the NDA over Special Status for Andhra Pradesh, Naidu has been aggressively championing the cause of an anti-BJP front.
He has denied his interest in the Prime Minister’s job, which none of the other candidates in the running have done. Banerjee’s ambitions for the job are well-known – the TMC cadre has long been preparing to market her as the first Bengali PM. And with Rahul Gandhi hinting that he doesn’t necessarily have to be the PM face of this coalition, this is a point of contention that will have to be resolved way before the alliance can be taken to the voters.
What the latest round of assembly elections has shown – especially in Telangana and Mizoram – is that success in 2019 for BJP or Congress rests on their ability to form reasonably stable regional alliances. When regional pride and identities are emerging as a strong factor across the country, BJP must absolutely begin to worry about the steady loss of partners from the NDA. And from Assam to Bihar, the party’s political partners have been showing signs of restlessness.In fact, present at the Mahagathbandhan meeting on Monday, was Rashtriya Lok Samta Party chief Upendra Kushwaha who had resigned from the council of ministers and walked out of the NDA that very day, saying he felt betrayed by PM Modi’s leadership.
Clearly, the BJP is not going to have as easy a route to victory in 2019 as they enjoyed in 2014. For the Opposition parties, the mantra for survival could very well be “united we stand, divided we fall”. And given that India is a land famed for unity in diversity, nothing could be more apt.