With the 15-year Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule in Chhattisgarh having been uprooted and the party displaced from power in the desert state of Rajasthan, the prospects of a Congress-led platform of non-BJP parties in the run-up to the country’s national general elections next year have been enhanced.
In the other Hindi-heartland state of Madhya Pradesh, India’s two mainstream political parties – Congress and the BJP – were engaged in a neck-and-neck contest at the time of writing.
Complete results of five assembly elections – in Mizoram, Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – are scheduled to be announced at the end of the day.
Current trends indicate that Congress will form the government in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and possibly in Madhya Pradesh as well, while the Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) have emerged victorious in Mizoram and Telangana respectively.
The results of the five state assemblies – seen as a dress rehearsal for the big political battle in next year’s parliamentary elections – the myth surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP’s invincibility as an election-winning machine has taken a jolt.
The big question now is how credible are the prospects that India’s regional political groups will be able to overcome inherent contradictions or personality clashes to come together in a Congress-led coalition against the BJP in the run-up to the national general elections in 2019?
The churn in Indian politics
On the day the leaders of 21 opposition parties went into a huddle in New Delhi to hammer out a pre-electoral understanding against the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the run-up to the national general elections, the two political biggies of Uttar Pradesh – Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav – were conspicuous by their absence.
India’s politics is now witnessing a state of churn. On Sunday, ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partner and Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha resigned from the union cabinet, citing disappointment over Prime Minister Modi’s attitude “in merely trying to please” the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) – the BJP’s mother organization.
In the western state of Maharashtra, BJP partner Shiv Sena has threatened to “go-it-alone” in the 2019 national elections. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telegu Desam Party (TDP) N Chandra Babu Naidu has already disassociated himself from the NDA and engaged in efforts for opposition unity. The saffron party’s unnatural alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir is already off.
The crux of the argument is in the run-up to the general elections next year, the BJP’s strong grip over the country’s polity is seemingly getting looser and India’s political formations have once again started to get rearranged.
The Monday gathering
Apart from Sonia and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, participants at Monday’s gathering included Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). But the question remains: Minus Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, will the opposition platform retain the traction to put up a credible fight against the BJP in the 2019 elections?
In the previous 2014 elections, the BJP won 72 of the 80 parliamentary seats in Uttar Pradesh – which sends the largest number of MPs to parliament. For the moment, the BSP chief has been keeping a distance from both the BJP and Congress. After the mini-revival of sorts for Congress, will Mayawati play along with the idea of opposition unity? The question remains unanswered.
Mayawati had chosen to stay away from Monday’s opposition conclave despite Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu – the meeting’s organizer – postponing an earlier plan of convening the gathering in November.
Mayawati had expressed her unwillingness to attend on that occasion. During the recent campaign for elections to the Madhya Pradesh assembly, the BSP chief had not only spurned the Congress offer for a pre-poll understanding, but had also persuaded SP leader Akhilesh Yadav from rejecting the Congress offer.
Therefore, the legitimate question is, could Mayawati be waiting for the right time and the right offer before putting in her lot with the anti-BJP coalition?
“Mayawati had the special responsibility to take the lead role in generating a nationwide campaign on the social justice plank. But this has not happened. At this stage, the future of opposition unity does not appear promising,” said HL Dusadh, national president of the Lucknow-based Bahujan Diversity Mission.
The Third Front experience
Ahead of every general election, newspapers have routinely published images of regional leaders sharing platforms with their arms raised in unison.
On three occasions in the past, purely Third Front governments have assumed power in New Delhi: The VP Singh government in 1989; the Congress-supported Chandrashekhar government of 1990 and the H D Deve Gowda government of 1996.
With the exception of the current government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress government of the Late Rajiv Gandhi that was elected with a thumping majority in 1984 in the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, all central governments in India since 1977 have been coalition governments.
Even the Modi government has chosen to remain a coalition government, despite the BJP having the adequate majority to have been able to form a government on its own.
Indeed, India’s coalition politics began as early as 1967, when the coalition of socialist parties – riding on a campaign of “anti-Congressism” – came to power in Uttar Pradesh and six other states. An essential feature of the purely Third Front governments – at the Centre or in the states – has been their instability.
None of these governments in Uttar Preadesh have lasted a full term. Over the years, the Third Front of regional parties have undergone several ideological reincarnations, having done business with both Congress and the BJP.
So how credible are prospects that such a coalition will not collapse under the weight of its own contradictions? From the point of view of the BJP, it is this question that provides and sustains its biggest hope of returning to power in 2019.
“The big difference now is that – because of the blatantly communal agenda pursued by the BJP and its affiliate organizations – the very existence of regional parties and their leaders has come under threat.
By force of circumstances, these parties will have to stay and work together. “Their leaders will also have to resist attempts by the BJP to keep them divided,” political scientist C P Bhambri said.
· The VP Singh government in 1989 lasted 11 months; Chandrashekhar remained Prime Minister for four months in 1990 and H D Deve Gowda was removed as Prime Minister after being in office for 11 months in 1997.
• 1967: Chaudhary Charan Singh (Bharatiya Kranti Dal) became chief minister of the first non-Congress coalition government which lasted 328 days.
• Mulayam Singh Yadav (Janata Dal–Socialist) became chief minister in December 1989, supported by Congress. Government lasted one year, 201 days.
• Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) became chief minister in 1993, supported by the BSP. Government lasted one year and 181 days.
• Mayawati (BSP) became chief minister in March 1997 with the support of the BJP. Government lasted 184 days.
• Mayawati (BSP) became chief minister in May 2002, with support of the BJP. Government lasted one year and 118 days.