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If 2014 numbers hold, even opposition unity will not be able to trounce the BJP

The coalition of Congress and JDS, a regional party in Karnataka, has opened up the game for 2019 general elections. There was a sense of revival of an opposition in Karnataka yesterday as most of the opposition parties shared the stage to strategize for a united opposition or a ‘Grand Alliance’ to stop ‘The Modi Juggernaut’.

The narrative of an Anti-Modi front has brought an unusual combination of erstwhile political enemies such as SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh, TMC and Communist parties in West Bengal. Similarly, JDS and Congress have allied together to form a government in Karnataka to make sure that they keep the BJP out of power. The decreasing relevance of some regional parties in electoral politics, with some parties like BSP, NCP and the two Communist Parties which are also facing an existential crisis, has made them design some sort of grand alliance so that they can have some impact on the power structure. But, the obvious question here is, ‘Can the unity of the opposition parties pull up the required numbers in the next Lok Sabha elections’?

The answer is much more complex. One can easily say that the opposition parties cannot rely simply on the math to win seats. The opposition is of the view that a loose coalition of parties fighting the BJP at the very local level will be more productive for them rather than making it a one on one presidential style of an election where all opposition parties would come together to contest against BJP. It can be said that SP-BSP will fight together locally in UP against BJP, with tactical support from Congress rather than a national coalition where one national party is supported by small regional parties. This is an unusual case, where a national party like Congress has relegated to a supporting party to many regional parties in different states, who are fighting the BJP on regional issues. It is also interesting to see that what the post-poll outcome of these alliances looks like.

A report by The Times of India, suggests that even the Anti-Modi front is to come up, it will not cause any substantial amount of damage to the BJP. The BJP might lose around 56 seats in total, nearly losing 46 seats in Uttar Pradesh alone. The report says that even strong regional parties like NCP, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra combining together cannot create that much of an impact against BJP. The BJP will lose only 10 seats in all states combined baring Uttar Pradesh. The general sense is that BJP will still emerge as the largest political party with 226 seats. The loose coalition or pre-poll understanding of opposition parties might not work as they seemed to have to project. The BJP has more traction on the ground as a ruling party and the opposition party doesn’t have a positive agenda as yet, to set a narrative for the next election. It has been a more of an ‘Anti-Modi’ front with a negative narrative of stopping BJP from forming the government rather than a positive story as offered by the BJP.

The united opposition can't defeat Modi
Picture credit: Times of India

The Times of India has drawn up the above chart considering that the BJP is now in alliance with the JD(U) and assuming that BJP has a tie-up with AIADMK.

The Grand Alliance is trying to set an agenda to create popular resentment against the present dispensation. They have clung to fancy words of Democracy, Secularism, Constitutional values, etc. There are severe inherent contradictions within the coalition. For example, with Mamatha Banerjee in the coalition, they cannot have any moral high ground of speaking about being the ‘protectors’ of democracy and respecting the constitution. The utmost contempt for Constitutional values and democracy during the recent Panchayath polls in the state does not give them any right to criticize the present regime. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, who are out on bail for corruption charges cannot have the audacity to speak on the issues of corruption. The inclusion of AIUDF, Left parties will be laughable if they are seriously fighting against communalism.

It is also a question of the stability of the government; if at all the coalition forms the government. History has taught us that, the government formed on a negative narrative is bound to be a failed one. It happened in 1977 against Indira Gandhi, again in 1989 when the opposition came to stop Rajiv Gandhi and in 1996 some sort of coalition existed which created huge instability in governments. Generally, people tend to vote for an agenda based national party rather than an unstable coalition party. The Coalition has been a tried and tested model, which is often rejected by the people.

The most important point to be also considered is the transferability of the votes from one party to another coalition partner. The Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha by-election showed that the SP candidate got the votes of BSP supporters too, as there was an alliance between them. But, the SP vote base of Muslims, Yadavs, Gujjars and Jats tend to vote for a different party rather than voting to BSP, even if the candidate of the latter party is contesting from the same coalition. The transferability of votes might not happen as smoothly as the members of the alliance are expecting. Similarly, the core voters of Shiv Sena might not vote for NCP in Maharashtra. The Communist Parties and Trinamool Congress coming together to fight against BJP is unthinkable.

The voters are generally sceptical about the choices they tend to make in net elections. It is also interesting to see that, what narrative the ruling party will choose to play. It is most likely that the Modi led Government will stick on to the ‘Pro-Development’ plank and some social-engineering calculations pertaining to caste coalitions to garner enough numbers. One has to see what transforms after the 2019 elections. The citizen of this country will be expecting a majority, stable government rather than a fractured mandate.

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