Common logic dictates selection of teams before a match or series is due. It makes little sense to examine different combinations for a future bout.
Yet, if a new line-up is indeed being contemplated, it must be for the game due immediately and not for the contest that is still a long way away, even though stakes for it may be higher.
This principle holds true not just for sports managers but for political parties too – you prepare for an imminent election and not for the one due after several others.
For more than a month since the astounding verdict of the Uttar Pradesh elections, talks about a hold-all anti-BJP front has gained currency.
While much of the spotlight has been on the subdued tone of the disgraced satraps from Uttar Pradesh – Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav – the move has been given legitimacy by several other non-BJP leaders, ranging from the comfortably ensconced Nitish Kumar to out-of-power Sharad Pawar.
So far, the entire conversation on an anti-BJP front has dwelt on the need to replicate Bihar’s ‘mahagathbandhan’ or grand alliance at the national level for the next parliamentary polls.
Unless advanced by PM Narendra Modi, these are due in April-May 2019. Urgency is being demonstrated by Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, still red in the face after the unprecedented humiliation in UP. This suggests that they are still smarting under the defeat and unable to focus on other challenges.
Instead of being driven by the goal of these two leaders to recover lost ground and by their timeline, other parties would serve the opposition’s cause better by identifying more immediate political goals.
Alliance Before Presidential Election
There are two ways to go about building an alliance. One can either endlessly pledge to work with each other and do little on the ground, or begin collaborating on immediate shared common goals and leave promises to a later date.
Instead of preoccupation with the attempt to put together a grand alliance of regional and national parties with the next parliamentary polls in mind, a better tactic would be to immediately open deliberations on the presidential election due in July.
Despite massive victories in UP and Uttarakhand, the BJP is still short of a majority in the electoral college for the presidential election. Consequently, opposition parties stand a good chance of giving the ruling party a scare.
The shortfall at 24,552 votes, down from 79,274 before the verdict, is not very high; but the deficit will become increasingly difficult to bridge as BJP’s belligerence grows towards its adversaries.
BJP vs Regional Parties
At its national executive meeting in Bhubaneswar, party leaders led by Modi and Amit Shah sounded the bugle against regional parties.
Given this stance, support of parties like the Biju Janata Dal that the BJP was banking on is unlikely because post-local polls and Modi's roadshow, the BJP has emerged as a challenger to the BJD. Already, allies like Shiv Sena have given sleepless nights to BJP leaders.
In the electoral college, members of Parliament have a vote value of 708 and the worth of each vote of the MLAs varies from 206 in UP and 176 in Maharashtra to 8 in Arunachal Pradesh and 7 in Sikkim. Vote value of MLAs from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are likely to be notified by the Election Commission once the polls are notified.
A total of 234 legislators of Tamil Nadu have a combined vote value of 41,184 and it is tough to take a take a call over which way the votes of the two AIADMK factions will be cast.
Estimates suggest that besides those MLAs who are already with the NDA, the BJP will require to win over almost another 150 legislators and that too from the bigger states as smaller states do not have the same high worth of votes.
Even if the dramatic events in Tamil Nadu reach their denouement and the two factions, after deciding to join hands, decide to go with the NDA, the presidential race will still remain tight.
Identifying a Politically Neutral President
If the opposition parties begin post-haste the process of identifying a presidential candidate, the BJP will have a spot of bother and for the opposition, a shy at the stumps will be worth the effort.
It is for the opposition parties to decide whether they opt for a ‘political’ candidate or identify someone not affiliated to any political party, more in the mould of APJ Abdul Kalam. He should be someone not seen as either pro-NDA or pro-opposition, but a person whose professional and nationalistic credentials cannot be questioned, making it tough for fence-sitting parties to oppose such a candidate.
If the BJP is not sure about its numbers, it will eventually consider opting for the path chosen by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he named Dr Kalam as his candidate and secured support from the Congress party.
Opposition parties can turn the tables on Modi by moving more swiftly in their bid to embarrass the ruling party.
Before deliberations on the grand alliance for 2019 are carried forward and other parties are invited for talks, it makes more sense to work together and demonstrate that one-party dominance can be challenged in India.
Previous lessons from history during decades of Congress rule and the experience in the past three years does not generate great confidence in the idea of a nationwide anti-BJP front, though.
Will Anti-BJPism Work?
In Bihar too, the alliance between Janata Dal (U) and Rashtriya Janata Dal has led to more doubts than assurances. Voters rejected the grand alliance against Indira Gandhi comprising Congress (O), Lok Dal, Jan Sangh and the socialists in 1971.
The subsequent failure of the Janata Party in offering a stable government and the fall of two anti-Congress governments in 1989-91 indicate that divergent parties cannot coalesce solely on the basis of opposition to the dominant party.
If anti-Congressism did not work in the past, how can anti-BJPism work now, voters are sure to ask.
Indian polity has been marked by several divisions, especially since 2014, when the country is increasingly being characterised along a single axis – Hindutva versus its opponents. In a bipolar contest, easy mathematical equations based on adding vote shares – SP plus BSP plus Congress in the just concluded poll in UP (50.2 percent) is more than BJP plus allies (41.4 percent) – will not work.
On the contrary, a grand alliance between dominant sub-castes from the Scheduled Castes and OBCs (Yadavs and Jatavs) may be counter-productive and even enable greater consolidation of the BJP's new social base. It is for opposition parties to decide whether they need to work together on specific issues before moving to stitch an alliance. Developments on this front will surely impact future politics.
(The writer is a Delhi-based writer and journalist. He authored ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’ and ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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