By Amulya Ganguli
The idea was always something of a will o’ the wisp. There weren’t too many politicians who seriously thought that a grand alliance of all the anti-BJP parties was possible to take on the ruling party at the Centre.
If half-hearted attempts were nevertheless made, the reason was the realization in the “secular” camp that none of the parties of the national opposition was capable enough singly to present the BJP with a serious challenge.
Hence, a few desultory attempts were made, the most notable of which was the gathering of the non-BJP parties at the swearing-in of H.D. Kumaraswamy as the Karnataka chief minister.
The fact that the two erstwhile adversaries – the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) – were able to sink their differences and form a coalition to run the state was seen as a harbinger of the kind of gathbandhan, which the national opposition had in mind.
Moreover, the Congress’s decision to let a smaller party, the Janata Dal (Secular), head the state government was recognized as another sign of the accommodative spirit which was necessary to form an alliance.
The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition was followed by the efforts to constitute a Congress-BSP alliance in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the secularists expected to replicate their Karnataka success.
A picture which apparently defined the bonhomie among the different parties at the swearing-in ceremony in Bengaluru was the one where Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati smilingly touched their foreheads. It was recognized even then that the BSP leader would be a key player in any anti-BJP formation.
But the Bengaluru event proved to be the last high point of the proposed Mahagathbandhan. After that, the road downhill began. It soon became evident that the Congress and the BSP will not have as easy a time in reaching an understanding in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) did in Karnataka.
As the seat-sharing negotiations between the Congress and the BSP seemingly entered a rocky phase, the Congress’s celebrated loose cannon, Digvijay Singh, threw a spanner in the works by saying that Mayawati was under pressure from the investigative agencies.
The slur prompted the huffy BSP czarina to walk out of the talks with the Congress. If Digvijay Singh had held his tongue, perhaps the two parties would have succeeded in striking a deal.
In the end, however, the first blow at the proposed alliance was struck by Mayawati’s angry withdrawal. After the failure of the experiment, the alliance never really gathered any momentum although the Congress managed to squeak through the three state assembly elections.
It is possible that a Congress-BSP combine would have scored a more substantial victory. It is noteworthy that even at the time of the break-up, Mayawati had said that she had nothing against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. She only regarded Digvijay Singh as the BJP’s frontman.
Since then, the Mahagathbandhan has increasingly resembled Narendra Modi’s carping description of it as a mahamilavat or a great adulteration.
Even Mamata Banerjee’s attempt to breathe life into the dying concept by holding a rally of 20-odd parties in Kolkata failed if only because she pointedly kept out Rahul Gandhi, presumably because she felt that his presence would distract attention from her own endeavour to hog the limelight and present her credentials for playing a larger national role, perhaps that of a prime minister.
It is the latent prime ministerial ambitions of Mayawati and Mamata which have killed the concept. The objective of both of them has been to keep the Congress at arm’s length in U.P. and West Bengal so that their two parties – the BSP and the Trinamool Congress – would be able to contest most of the 80 and 42 seats, respectively, in the two states and win a sufficient number of them to buttress their prime ministerial claims.
Since the Congress, as a pan-Indian party, is also capable of winning an almost equal, if not more, number of seats, Mayawati and Mamata have been seeing the Congress as a greater obstacle to their ambitions than the BJP.
Their fears may have been further stoked by the statements of Karnataka chief minister Kumaraswamy, DMK leader M.K. Stalin and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader TejashwiYadav in favour of Rahul Gandhi as the prime minister.
Mayawati and Mamata also could not but have failed to notice that the Congress president has been virtually the only “secular” leader who has been going around the country to campaign against the BJP while the others in the national opposition have been mostly sitting at home or nursing their home provinces.
That Modi and the BJP have concentrated their attacks on the Congress and its first family is also an indication as to who the saffron lobby considers to be the main enemy.
True, the Congress also should have been more accommodative, especially in U.P. where it need not have initially threatened to put up candidates in all the 80 seats, not least because the party is simply not strong enough.
In West Bengal, too, it should have tried harder to reach an understanding with the Left. Even then, the fact remains that the Congress did not strike the first blows at the Mahagathbandhan. That was done by others. (IPA Service)