By Harihar Swarup
Encouraged by the poll success in Karnataka and by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, Opposition unity looks certain in the run up to the general elections in 2019. If the Opposition sticks together, the BJP led by Narendra and Amit Shah, appears to be in trouble. Presuming the BJP is routed in Lok Sabha election in May, next year, what will be the scenario like? First, who will lead the grand coalition? The Congress, which may emerge as single largest party, is bound to stake its claim to leadership, but there are many aspirants for the Prime Minister’s post. These aspirants include Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Chandrababu Naidu.
There was a different scenario when Janata Party formed government following the 1977 rout of the Congress after Emergency. Morarji Desai was the natural choice to lead the Janata Party government, which included many senior leaders like Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram and H N Bahuguna. A tall leader like Jayaprakash Narayan was there to guide it, but he did not last for long and died following kidney trouble. There were ego clashes between these leaders, particularly Charan Singh, who was the then Union Home Minister, and Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Ultimately, the Janata Party collapsed under its own weight within little over two years, and Indira Gandhi returned to power heading the Congress party which got absolute majority.
V P Singh government, compromising mostly defectors from Congress, like Arun Nehru, Arif Mohammed Khan and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, collapsed within 18 months. The moral of the story is that coalitions in India have not seen grand successes. People prefer one-party rule. Even though Manmohan Singh’s government did good work and got a second term, but in the second it was haunted by corruption and failure on many fronts. Hence, the Congress was decimated in 2014 general election, could get only 44 seats, while the BJP secured a massive majority.
As Narendra Modi completes four years in office, his government’s performance is miserable having been mired in corruption as well as resulting in complete breakdown of law and order, secularism, and social peace. Modi made tall promises but could hardly fulfill any. Demonetisation was pitched as a master stroke to end corruption, but it’s more than evident now that it only facilitated more corruption among the political and corporate elite, while wreaking havoc on the middle and the working classes. The bank scams involving Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi further led to slide down of the BJP governments image. There is remote chance of success for Modi in the coming general election.
Cut to present time, the Congress on its own cannot defeat Narendra Modi, hence the need for Opposition unity, which has done very well at state level polls and by-elections. Will it do so well in the general elections also? Presuming the combined Opposition gets a majority, the scene appears to be frightful. One wonders if the Opposition unity will last for long, as the past experience has shown. That means a snap poll and it is difficult to predict what happens then. If India learns to live with coalitions, it is a different matter. It has not so far.
The ideal situation is complete polarization in which two parties rule India alternatively. The Congress has, therefore, to revamp itself. It has presence throughout the country which BJP still does not have. Either Rahul Gandhi or somebody from outside the dynasty has to give the grand old party a dynamic leadership. As a matter of fact, the hey days of dynastic rule is over and the Congress has to evolve new leadership. There is no dearth of bright leaders in the Congress party; they should be given chance to grow rather than stifled.
The BJP has grown up and shown it can rule the country but the party has to reform itself; give up its old ideology of Hindutva and take with it people of all religion and community. Then two parties can emerge who will face each other after every five year. This will be for the good of the country. Hotchpotch coalition of different parties may not succeed as the past experience has amply shown.
Going back to the sixties, a little nugget of history can help shed some light. In May 1963, the mighty government of Jawaharlal Nehru was rocked by three devastating by-election defeats. In Amorha, Farrukhabad and Rajkot, Congress candidates were resoundingly defeated by the combined Opposition candidates — Acharya J B Kripalani, Ram Manohar Lohia and Minoo Masani respectively. In Jaunpur, however, the Jana Sangh stalwart Deendayal Upadhyaya lost to the Congress candidate.
The impact of these by-elections was profound. Analyzing the verdict, a political scientist of those days wrote: “The results of elections… created a sensation in the country. While the extent of the defeat surprised everyone, it nearly stupefied the Congress, and raised jubilation in the ranks of opposition. The later lost no time in declaring the results as a clear ‘verdict’ of the people against the government and, in fact, called for a general election…the Congress declared that the election results had nothing to do with the policies pursued by the Government, adding that it had achieved significant victories in the by-elections.”
By-election upsets, invariably, create flutter and 55 years later, the excitement of the twilight years of Nehru has been replicated. Having been at the receiving end of the BJP’s formidable election machinery, the hitherto-demoralized opposition is now convinced that it has finally discovered a winning formula; arithmetical aggression. Confronted with direct election contests, the BJP has lost six Lok Sabha seats in three months, three of them being in Uttar Pradesh, where it won 73 of 80 seats in 2014. With less than 12 months left for the general elections, the political mood has undergone an abrupt change. As yesterday’s bitter rivals bury the hatchet, the inevitability of second term for Narendra Modi has begun to be questioned.
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