Finding takers, givers & influencers is a new art that political parties are gaining knowledge about in times where Coalitions alone can save your day at the hustings.
Indian politics is fast pacing itself towards a paradigm where image building by various players among the masses is the new prescription. For far too long both the electorate & the elected have been having great fun at each other’s expense. Leading the pack is BJP that after a domineering era of Congress & ragtag coalitions of early nineties has held centre stage for few years now, albeit in a piece meal rule. One hasn’t seen such a serious challenge posed to the grand old congress party ever since 1977 post emergency elections. The major difference between then & now is the leadership. While Indira could bounce back purely on the strength of her charisma, it remains to be seen if Rahul & Priyanka can reinvigorate Congress & rebuild its status as the most dependable political formulation.
India has withstood major turbulence after Indira’s death. Riding on an unprecedented sympathy wave, Congress under Rajiv scored a resounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections that were conducted in the aftermath of a void created by Indira Gandhi’s death. It was only after 1989 when the political atmosphere got vitiated & we saw six Prime ministers in a span of 09 years between 1989 – 1998. It was the first 05 year Vajpayee & BJP lead NDA government between 1998-2004 that saw the coalition politics come alive on the Indian political scene; This continues to be the winning formula till date, except that BJP under Narender Modi won a comfortable majority on its own in 2014 even when it has few of its old time allies under its wings.
But there are challenges galore running a coalition & not every leader or a majority share holding party does have the acumen, the farsightedness & the power to accommodate & let go when desired. One of the tactic employed by V P Singh is his times was to organise weekly dinners to keep his flock together. But he did not succeed. The country was thrown into an unprecedented chaos during the Mandal – Kamandal agitation that ultimately saw the end of this experiment of outside support to a government. We saw I K Gujral, Chandra Shekhar & even Vajpayee during his first attempt lose the trust & hence the continuation in the government by a solitary vote.
Come 2019 & we see the resurgence of coalition politics yet again. Notwithstanding the criticism & ridicule by Modi of the Grand Alliance ‘Mahaghatbandhan’ as an instance of ‘Mahamilawat’, every major political party is rushing to grab some regional ally or the other. The fact remains that even BJP that rode on the 2014 Modi wave is finding it difficult to run home on its own & therefore it hasn’t fretted & fumed much when it comes to ceding some of its ground to the regional allies in order to wrest the power back. Congress on its part is trying its own ways to juggle up something or the other but it hasn’t been so successful thus far with precious little left before the first phase of election begins on the 11th April. It faces an inherent dilemma of whether to stick it out alone or go for implausible alliances like the one talked about like none else in Delhi with AAP. For a short term capital, it may jeopardise its long term gains, given that Congress & AAP are pathologically anti each other.
Yet another notable miss may be the failure to coax either BSP or cajole SP to join in the alliance with Congress. It is believed that Congress acted pricy & did not want to cede too much ground to either of the two powerful satraps. It is hoping to gain from its abysmal tally of 2014 to at-least reach the 2009 tally of 20 seats. In West Bengal, the Congress and the Left alliance has crashed before it could start. Trinamool & Mamta wasn’t keen for any Pre-poll understanding with Congress based on its assumption that congress was a spent force in the state. Brand Mamta enjoys considerable clout in the state. She has virtually become the Congress in the state, taking up the space that they once occupied. She remains that rare leader who left the Congress and managed to take the entire vote share with her. She knows that if her party was to align with the Congress, it would be the Congress that would benefit more in the state than the other way around.
Chandrababu Naidu faces an uphill task in Andhra Pradesh. Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has become a real challenger to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and, as a result, Chandrababu had to forge an alliance with the Congress to try and portray Reddy as an agent of the BJP. But does having Naidu on his side help Rahul Gandhi? Not really? Congress remains the main khalnayak since it was opposed to the formation of a separate state. Similarly in Maharashtra, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party relations have not been the best. Sharad Pawar has never, personally, been a trusted leader for the Congress.
What most of the political Pundits think & feel is that the Congress is not a very ally-friendly party. They believe that the Congress has a feudal attitude that is as deeply rooted to their party as its history itself. Rahul Gandhi has tried to bring about changes. Now, the Sonia-Rahul-led Congress Working Committee meetings are held in a corporate style unlike the ones where everybody sat on mattresses. But this is just a change in form, an exterior change that failed to address the underlying issues. When Rahul Gandhi took over the CWC, he also tried to go it alone. His goal was independent growth of the party. Why should the Congress presuppose coalitions? As a result, the formula for him was one of ekla chalo.
The veering around to forming coalitions yielded Congress dividends in UPA 1 & 2. This can only get repeated through the spirit of federalism, keeping the regional, so-called secular forces with Rahul Gandhi. We saw something like this happening in Karnataka Assembly elections, where Congress managed to unseat BJP only by giving up the driver’s seat to HD Deve Gowda’s son, HD Kumaraswamy. However at the national level, a more serious face is needed and the grand alliance still remains in a shambles.
It is ironic though that Congress, which was the platform where all religions, all castes, all regional aspirations and all languages would merge together, the same party has to literally kneel down to the smaller regional allies today.