Illustration by Peali Dezine
Illustration by Peali Dezine
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The alliance is also unlikely to have a strong anchor party to act as the glue or a sufficiently comfortable majority

The sundry forces seeking to oust Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have understood the importance of opposition unity. But the falling out between the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir shows that it is often easier to form an alliance than to sustain it.

The first national coalition was in 1971, when five parties came together to fight Indira Gandhi’s faction of the divided Congress. Gandhi said this “Grand Alliance” was focused on removing her, while she was focused on removing poverty. The voters believed her. She got 44 per cent of the popular vote, compared to 24 per cent for the alliance partners; she also won two-thirds of the seats in the Lok Sabha.

The second time round it was different. After the experience of draconian Emergency rule, most voters across the northern belt were willing to vote for the nearest donkey, if it stood against the Congress — whose vote share dropped to 35 per cent, while the newborn Janata Party (a similar grouping to the one in 1971) got 43 per cent and won nearly twice as many seats as the Congress (298 to 153). And yet the government collapsed before the mid-point of its term. More recently, the Congress led two coalitions under Manmohan Singh, but they became a by-word for paralysis and for corruption as some of the alliance parties ran amok.

Minority governments have done better than coalitions: Indira Gandhi post-1969, the Narasimha Rao government and the Vajpayee governments were all in a minority in the House, but survived and even managed to get a lot done.

These precedents suggest that the prospects for an opposition alliance in and beyond 2019 are distinctly iffy. The government has suffered in popularity, but the prime minister still stands tall, as in 1971. An opposition alliance next year could expect to do better than in 1971, but not the second time. The 1977 alliance worked because voters needed no additional urging to throw out the Congress. Little was expected of the opposition other than that it must present its candidates. That may be the situation today for a certain sub-set of voters, but nowhere near what prevailed in 1977, when the Congress lost every seat bar one across the northern belt. So 2019 will not be a repeat of 1977. Victory, if it is achieved, will be a hard-fought one.

Then there are the political complexities, since there is nothing other than the survival instinct that is bringing the different parties together (“hang together, or hang separately”). The personalities don’t mesh well, there are over-lapping voter catchments, and each leader might see the main chance and want to make a go for it. The BJP could fish profitably in these troubled waters, as the Congress did to split the Janata Party in 1979 and then VP Singh’s Janata Dal in 1990.

State-level reality also intrudes. The Congress does not want to deal with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, the Shiv Sena will not be acceptable in the Maharashtra tent, the Trinamool Congress may not want to yield any space to the Left parties in West Bengal, and likewise the Telugu Desam to the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. So what is more likely than an all-encompassing Grand Alliance is a mosaic of state-level adjustments with intense bargaining over seats, causing tensions even before voting day.

The key point, though, is that the parties represented in the government hold together if each one knows that it cannot on its own bring down the government by leaving the coalition. That underlines the importance of a strong anchor party as the natural leader and glue for the group, or a sufficiently comfortable majority for the alliance as a whole. As things stand, neither seems a likely election result. Minus these, you need someone who stands out by making things work even in a complex situation. Since such a leader too is not available, many wagers would be that an anti-Modi government would last no more than the BJP-PDP government. After that, could Modi have a second coming, as Indira Gandhi did in 1980?

By special arrangement with Business Standard

पढ़ें हिंदी में: मोदी बिना महागठबंधन ‘महा’ नहीं

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4 Comments Share Your Views

4 COMMENTS

  1. TN.Ninan has come to the following conclusions.
    1. Minority Governments of Indira (1969), Rao, Vajpayee were better.
    2. Coalition in 1977 failed. While that of MMS suffered due to paralysis and corruption of some alliance parties.
    3. Coalition in 2019 will fail as there is no anchor party.
    4 Modi will come back like Indira of 1980.

    Some observations :
    1. People, parties and circumstances vary widely now. Even if they are same, it does not happen in the same way.
    2. Modi’s failures are monumental.
    3. All parties in opposition have suffered.
    4. People and parties are afraid of Modi. That will be serving as glue for parties to hang together.
    5. The assumption of AAP and TDP of being a great force is wrong.
    6. It may be a bottom-up coalition, need not be a top-down coalition.
    7. People affected will vote for the party which defeats Modi/ BJP.
    8. Analysis of Ninan is more based on lack of confidence in coalition and notion of invincibility of Modi. He says no leader is available in GOA to deal with complexities. He underestimates Congress and Rahul.
    9. One should understand that no great powerful leader was available in 1991 and 2004. Sonia was not powerful then, in people’s vision.
    10. It is too early. Let us see what happens in BJP/ NDA; how events unfold; how Congress and other opposition parties deal with it.

  2. Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist, Barnala(Punjab)
    I beg to differ with Mr.TN Ninan ‘s view point. Mr.Ninan sans any doubt is a very seasoned and learned media personality ! But in modern day Indian Politics as well as Polity one cannot for that matter afford to take either past or current hard and fast criterias for granted ! Hence, it is safe to keep one’s fingers crossed in swiftly changing mindsets, values system and scenario !

    The author remarks,” The government has suffered in popularity,but the prime minister still stands tall, as in 1971 ”

    There is no comparison at all between then prime minister late Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the present prime minister Mr.Narinder Modi so far as their tallness in stature is concerned.

    There is a yawning gap between the intelligence and approach of both to deliver the goods and redressing the grievances of the masses!
    Both had a fine verisimilitude in luring and attracting the public with populist measures. Mrs. Indira Gandhi did achieve spactacular successes in her three stints as the prime minister of India because of judiciously selected issues which did not run the risk of political backlash or otherwise barring two biggest blunders of her political career of imposing the emergency in India in June 1975 and operation blue star in the Golden Temple Amritsar that too in June but the year 1984 ! The imposition of emergency recoiled in form of Congress Party’s debacle in 1977 Lok Sabha Polls.But for the operation blue star she had to pay the price by losing her life.However, despite these twin blunders she did reap wide acclaims-kudos for India’s historic victory over arch rival Pakistan paving the way for the birth of a new nation in form of Bangla Desh and political mileage for nationalisation of banks and doing away with the concept of privy purses ! Then if “Garibi Hatao” issue did not yield much of the political gains but it did not affect heror Congress party adversely in political terms either !
    But on the contrary, NaMo during his campaign created hype, made utopian promises and raised fallacious hopes among the people because of proxy regime of Dr.Manmohan Singh for ten consecutive years failing to come upto the expectations of the masses.The negative vote against the UPA rule proved to be a blessing in disguise for NaMo. The electorate reposed faith in NaMo for a change for the best with a clear cut mandate in favour of BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha Polls !
    Taking things for granted, Modi thought whatever decision he would take – right or wrong will click for want of suitable alternative or
    strong opposition ! That is why the ill- conceived and ill-timed decisions for want of vision, intelligence, planning, rationale, strategy and imprudent team of council of ministers and advisors left NaMo crest fallen and miserably exposed in his maiden stint as the prime minister of India ! Now he is awfully facing the music of trust deficit and credibility crisis !
    There is a popular adage,” Actions speak louders than words.”
    Mr. Ninan asserted that ” ……but the prime minister still stands tall, as in 1971 ” To my mind, NaMo stands certainly tall so far only in selling ploys, rhetorics, theatrics and befooling people to the optimum extent possible. His four years span has so many blemishes but not even a single achievement worth claiming applause.He will go to the people’s court now onwards to grant him a second term but on what solid or worthwhile premise ?
    The writer is of the view that ” grand opposition alliance will not work because it does not have a Modi ”
    But who knows sometimes what destiny has in store for the” golden sparrow ” that is India ?
    My optimism brims that a “golden sheet anchor” among the grand opposition alliance is in the making for shaping and guiding the
    destiny of India to rid India of a megalomaniac and authoritarian regime !

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest, Barnala(Punjab)

  3. We should not belittle the maturity of regional parties who would form the core of this proposed alliance, might even provide a Leader. The Congress, if it does well in R / M / C later this year, as seems likeky, would be well in three digits. So it would provide a dominant anchor. Whether Rahul Gandhi would be a natural claimant to the top job depends on several factors. 2. 2019 should not be assessed only in terms of personalities. The incumbent’s track record forms the basis for grant of a second term. Starting with the economy, the electorate would ask simple, direct questions. Convincing answers should be on offer.

  4. Good one, hang on together, or hang separately :)) question is why should anybody vote for such a group to lead their nation, except for certified modi haters. Even if it happens, re-election within a year is almost assured. Opposition looks like a 10 headed dragon to me, each have a separate agenda…

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